From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
IOWA JEFFERSON JACKSON DINNER COVERAGE
DES MOINES, IA – Nearly one in three people at last night's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner was an Obama supporter. The campaign brought 3,000 supporters to a dinner that had 9,000 attendees. They also made sure to have a representative from each of Iowa's 99 counties in attendance.
When asked if all of the Obama supporters attending the event were from Iowa, Obama's Iowa Press Secretary Tommy Vietor said, "All of them. Except for my dad."
Even the press was not forgotten in the campaign's planning efforts. Each reporter was handed a fortune cookie by Obama staffers that predicted one of three futures: (1) "Iowans will caucus for Obama;" (2) "You're fired up! Obama's ready to go!" (3) "Your outlook will be more hopeful…When Obama is president."
The Obama campaign had been planning for the dinner for months, and the efforts put forward showed both a desire to stress their organizational strength and their support within Iowa. They said they brought buses from four staging locations across the state and printed 11,000 signs for the event.
"JJ is a place for him to deliver a message to nine thousand Iowa caucus goers," Vietor said. "It's also a chance to show that you've been building an organization and you have grassroots support across the state. Frankly, it's a pretty good dry run for the caucus night, to show that you can show your supporters to go to one place at one time and show up for it."
During Obama's speech, he didn't even need to mention the names of his rivals in the race for the Democratic nomination, because his target went without saying. By using words like "triangulation" and "poll-driven politics," and accusing Democrats of waffling on torture, Iran and the Iraq War, Obama slammed Clinton on her positions and for "acting and talking and voting like George Bush Republicans."
"When I am this party's nominee," Obama said, "my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the War in Iraq, or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, or I support Bush-Cheney policies of not talking to leaders that I don't like… or that I wavered on something as fundamental as whether it's okay to torture, because it's never okay."
In discussing why he was running for president, Obama took advantage of an old stereotype of Hillary Clinton -- that she was too ambitious.
"I am not in this race to fulfill some long-held ambitions," Obama said, "or because I believe it's somehow beholden to me. I never expected to be here. I always knew that the journey was improbable."
Saying he was running "because of the fierce urgency of now," a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that he frequently uses in speeches, Obama attempted to reach for a higher ground in his reason to be president. And in a room filled with 9,000 Democrats that had spent the better part of the night slamming the Republican Party, he told the audience that he was running to reach across the aisle to those Independents and Republicans disaffected by the past seven years.
Obama's message also focused on the politics of fear that he says Republicans use and Democrats have been hamstrung by in recent elections. In discussing the politics of fear, there was a subtle acknowledgment on his part of the potential handicaps that he could bring to the race as the first African-American president and as a senator who has spent only a brief time on the national stage. But in calling on Democrats not to be fearful, Obama also tried to present himself as tough enough to handle the mudslinging that a general-election contest could bring, a question that he has been receiving more and more frequently in town halls.
"And if those Republicans come out at me with the same fear mongering and Swift Boating that they usually do I will take them head on," he said.
Obama's speech was buoyed by his large crowd of supporters. They chanted, yelled and stood up and cheered as he evoked the civil rights movement to talk about how he could only stand on this stage because those who had come before him were not afraid to take the difficult positions that he is supposedly espousing now.
But rather than drawing energy from the crowd to give the pep-rally style, exuberant speeches he is known for on the stump, Obama's tone was somber, his demeanor serious. He ended on an appeal to Iowans and fellow Democrats.
"That's why I am asking you stop settling for what the cynics say we have to accept," Obama said. "In this election, in this moment, let us reach for what we know is possible -- a world repaired, an America that knows it can believe again."
Senator Obama remains in a tight race in Iowa and his speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner marks the end of a four-day campaign tour through the state called, "Change You Can Believe In." Speaking to primarily Democratic audiences, Obama pushed his message that he was the only Democrat who could be elected in a general election because he did not have a polarizing past and had a record that could be clearly differentiated from Republican opponents on issues like the war and foreign policy.
This speech as well as the past week's message, showed a candidate more energetic, clearer and harder hitting with his message than he has been. Obama at times refers to his fondness for basketball, and this speech showed that in the final two months before the Iowa caucus that he might finally turn into the candidate who "isn't afraid to get down low and stick [his] elbows out."
Before the speech, it was a bit of glitz, glamour and paparazzi. The campaign had Grammy winner John Legend sing for Obama at a pre-rally that the campaign estimated 4,000 people attended. Obama was introduced by his wife, Michelle, who stunned the crowd both with her dancing on stage and the most stylish outfit of the night -- a black suit with a high collar and knee-high, black stiletto boots.
In introducing her husband, Michelle Obama stressed his decency and talked about his role as a father, who took time off from the campaign trail to go trick-or-treating with his kids. "He wore a mask," she said, "and it wasn't an Obama mask" -- a reference to his appearance on Saturday Night Live.
When Obama came out on stage, he said to the crowd, "Seeing Michelle gets me excited!"
After giving brief remarks, Obama, with his wife, led a crowd of several thousands supporters three blocks from the site of their pre-rally to the doors of the Veterans Memorial Hall where the Jefferson Jackson Dinner was held. Dozens of photographers and reporters ran backwards with elbows out, shoving, tripping and snapping pictures as the couple danced and jogged through the streets.