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When is seeing believing?

From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
Sometimes seeing isn't believing.

Obama crowds of late are breathtakingly large, enthusiastic. The candidate is often speaking to a massive overflow crowd of people from a bullhorn. The standard crowd size now numbers in the several thousands. Covering him, it almost feels like that magically unreal time in the few days leading up to his Iowa win and when he road that victory into New Hampshire.  The candidate was swept up in an air of inevitability, generating a palpable buzz that even thrilled the reporters who reported on him on a daily basis.

Just yesterday Obama drew a crowd of more than 14,000 people in Boise, Idaho -- not necessarily a liberal bastion.  In Minneapolis later in the day more than 18,000 people rose to give Obama a standing ovation at the end of his speech, and in St. Louis 20,000 people stood in a cavernous indoor football stadium to hear him speak late on a Saturday night.

But what, if anything does it all mean? Is it a sign of the tremendous potential of an Obama candidacy? Is it simply that Democratic voters are more engaged and interested in this election than they ever have been before? Does a cheering crowd really translate into votes? Ironically, reporting on Obama everyday, traveling on the same plane that he does, being driven to events on a press bus as part of his motorcade leaves the reporters following him the poorest judges of what the sentiment of voters' really are.

Poll numbers show Clinton in the lead in most Super Tuesday states, with the only state where Obama is ahead in Georgia, according to the latest MSNBC/McClachy/Mason-Dixon poll.  The margins are in the single digits, but the lead is there and a new Gallup tracking poll shows Clinton gaining after three days of losing support. 

For those of us in the bubble, seeing the crowds and then hearing the poll numbers presents a quandary -- is what you see the reality of what's happening on the ground?

Take for example the case of Boise, Idaho. Obama's crowd was loud and boisterous at 9 a.m. in the morning. The candidate joked when he took the stage, "I thought they said there weren't any Democrats in Idaho."  Campaign aides claimed that it was the largest crowd that had ever gathered in the arena at Boise State University.  It appeared like Idaho had suddenly turned bright blue.

But in speaking to a couple who regularly canvasses for Obama in the crowd, the reality of the electorate outside of the arena hit home. In knocking on doors the biggest lesson that Kathleen Ferrell and Dave Esrol had learned was that even Idahoans wanted change, but they weren't necessarily willing to accept the candidates on the Democratic ticket.  One of the reasons Ferrell said that Clinton wasn't popular was because she was a woman.

"I think some people have a problem with her being a woman. They prefer that people stay in the house," Ferrell said.

Esrol piped in, "One quote would be: Do you believe the Democrats want to put a wife in the White House?" 

What do they have to say then about Barack Obama, who has the potential to be the first African-American nominee for the Democratic party.

Esrol and Ferrell hedged, saying people say "disparaging comments, racial comments" but they are the exception not the rule. When asked if it's because they were hesitant to voice what they were really feeling, Ferrell joked, "Not in our part of Idaho." 

So what does it all mean? Does an enthusiastic crowd in Boise mean that there is a potential movement for change that could hand Obama a decisive victory in a bright red state. Does it mean that like in other parts of the country Democratic turnout will spike? Or does one anecdote represent a parable for an unexpressed sentiment in the electorate toward women or minorities that could affect turnout and make the rally in Boise appear to be an anomaly?

That's the problem with being in the bubble.  You just can't tell.