Barack Obama Speaks: One Voice
The Amazing UCLA Obama Rally Changed the Course of the Presidential Campaign
Two days before before the closest thing America has ever had to a national primary, four extraordinary women put on what many observers feel was the best campaign rally in the last 20 years of presidential politics. The preeminent event in UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion began like every other Barack Obama event, chants of Yes We Can and signs praising the power of hope. Senator Obama was campaigning on the East Coast Sunday, but by the time this rally ended, Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey and Maria Shriver had defined the challenge that Hillary Clinton will face if she wins the Democratic nomination. She’ll have to figure out how to preserve the energy and excitement that Obama has stirred in his supporters, especially in once-marginalized younger voters.
The most recent polls from California suggest that Senator Obama has cut deeply into what had been a double-digit lead for Mrs. Clinton in the biggest delegate prize of Tuesday’s primaries. Certainly, in that moment at the rally, the Obama campaign seemed to have a monopoly on what is fashionable and glamorous in California.
Before the event got into full swing, giant screens were showing a video by will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. A visually diverse lineup of celebrities, which included the actresses Scarlett Johansson and Amber Valletta, the rapper Common, the singer John Legend, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, recited and sang along with a film of a speech that Senator Obama gave on the night that he lost the New Hampshire primary.
The crowd was screaming with delight when it saw Caroline Kennedy, who brought her uncle Senator Edward Kennedy and now, remarkably, her cousin Maria Shriver, California’s First Lady, to the Obama campaign. Caroline Kennedy previewed Maria Shriver’s surprising appearance by urging Democrats to “step out of your lives and into this moment in history.”
Ms. Winfrey spoke to the most emotionally fraught aspect of this contest. “Now look at this campaign. The two front-runners are a black man and a woman,” she said. “What that says to me is we have won the struggle and we have the right to compete.”
Obama: A Fierce Campaigner
Senator Obama has been a fierce campaigner during the last 10 days. After winning in South Carolina, Obama has dashed through 16 states, but he hasn’t stayed very long. He’s held more than one stop in only two states (California and Missouri). Eight of the states that he’s visited, Hillary Clinton never touched. Favoring huge, 20,000-person rallies over intimate affairs, Obama’s strategy has been simple: get his face in front of as many people as possible. Huge crowds turned out in New Jersey, Delaware, Idaho, Minnesota and Colorado. Since that strategy means he can’t linger very long in any one state, he has supplemented his rallies with a massive advertising budget. Obama’s Super Bowl ad buy was more impressive for its audacity than its content. All of this seems to be helping; his poll numbers have been jumping nationwide, even though he hasn’t held a press conference day since his big win in South Carolina.
The Super Bowl Ad: “Join”
Snapshots: Getting to Know Him
A Video Photo Album
The UCLA Obama Rally: Maria Shriver Endorses Barack Obama
In a very dramatic moment at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, California First Lady Maria Shriver stepped out onto a stage that had already seen its share of celebrities, Oprah Winfrey and Stevie Wonder among them, and announced that she was backing Barack Obama. It has been reported that Shriver was waiting backstage wavering over whether she should make her support public, and then she finally walked out onto the stage.
Shriver told the crowded gymnasium that she had not intended to be at the rally, and had come straight over after going horse riding with her daughter. She joked about her appearance, wearing riding clothes, without makeup and without having her hair done, as she added her support for Obama. “If Barack Obama was a state he’d be California,” Shriver said, drawing roars from the crowd. “I mean think about it: diverse, open, smart, independent, oppose tradition, innovative, inspiring, dreamer, leader.”
And she spoke about the themes of optimism and collective action that Obama has sought to build his campaign around. “He’s not about himself. He’s about the power of us and what we can do if we come together,” Shriver said. “He is about empowering women, African Americans, Latinos, old people, young people. He’s about empowering all of us.“
Shriver, a former network television journalist, also acknowledged some uncertainty over taking such a public stand. “Sometimes, when you follow your own truth and your own voice, it’s scary,” she said. “But that’s all you can do.”
Shriver was on the stage with Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Caroline Kennedy and Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Shriver said that she had made the decision in the morning. “I wasn’t on the schedule,” she said, “and I thought to myself when I woke up this morning, I thought, there’s no other place I should be than right here.”
California First Lady Maria Shriver Endorses Barack Obama
The Oprah Winfrey who aroused the crowd at UCLA on Sunday was far different from the Oprah who made her political debut endorsing Obama in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in December. In her first steps on the campaign trail, Oprah was unexpectedly tentative, almost shy. But on Sunday, Oprah had clearly found her voice. She was much more like the woman that we watch on television every day: sharp, funny, opinionated, but fed up with women who tell her she’s a “traitor” for endorsing Obama over Clinton.
“After Iowa, there were some women who had the nerve to say to me, ‘How could you, Oprah, how could you?‘” The talk show star mimicked her critics, affecting a pinched nasal accent. “‘You’re a traitor to your gender.’ I was both surprised by that comment and insulted. The truth is, I’m a free woman,” Winfrey told an enthralled crowd. She repeated “I’m a free woman” three more times.
“Being free means you get to think for yourself and you get to decide for yourself what to do. So I say I am not a traitor, I am just following my own truth, and that truth has led me to Barack Obama.” She came back to the theme later, talking, again in a mock accent, about women who say, “‘I’m a woman, I have to vote for a woman.'” She disagreed, strongly asserting that, “As free women, you have the right to change your mind. You’re not a traitor because you believe and see a better way.”
Oprah Winfrey: Now We Are Free
Stevie Wonder at the UCLA Obama Rally
The Celebrity Music Video: “Yes We Can“
Josh Groban: You Raise Me Up
Barack Obama: Change We Can Believe In
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