Momentum can be a dangerous force. Just ask former Senator George Allen, whose political career as a darling of the Republican Party was brought down by the momentum of the Macaca incident in 2006. Were it not for such a slip (and the hoopla that followed), Barack Obama could well be riding his current wave of momentum to a race in November against Allen, who was a very early GOP front-runner for the nomination. While Virginia won’t be selecting a nominee from its native sons or daughters this time around, it will certainly play a more crucial role in the nomination process than in the past.
Obama swept Democratic primaries and caucuses held across the country Saturday and Sunday, and poles have suggested that he will continue to fair well on Tuesday’s primaries in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. That Obama momentum was felt by thousands of people inside and outside of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center on Saturday night in Richmond, where the Democratic Party of Virginia hosted its annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Below, a police officer works to keep Hillary and Obama fans from spilling into the street.
The raucous crowd inside, overwhelmingly in support of Obama, often became vocally impatient for their candidate to take the stage. Addressing the crowd early in the evening, Clinton had a bit of a disconnect with her audience when compared to Obama, who would speak over two hours later. Her supporters were out-shown and out-shouted by those of her rival.
In a broad attempt to combat perceptions of un-humanness, Hillary Clinton continued a recent trend of laughing and smiling incessantly on the campaign trail and at the podium. Noting primary and caucus victories on days subsequent to performing the stunt, political strategist and pundit Ross Catrow predicts that Hillary will have a tearful moment before the cameras on Monday, ahead of key primaries in the Mid-Atlantic.
The event was also a rock-star rally of sorts for local Virginia Democratic politics, which up until a few years ago, would usually have hosted its annual dinner at the back room of a Ruby Tuesday’s. A man named Mark Warner changed the Party’s prospects, however. Taking the governorship after Republican Jim Gilmore’s reckless term came to an end in 2001, Warner showed Virginia how to run a fiscally sound government while maintaining important social and education programs. Warner’s policies helped Virginia steer around many of the economic problems facing other states in post-911 America. Below, the Virginia Governors from left to right: current Governor Tim Kaine, Mayor of Richmond and former Governor L. Douglas Wilder, former governor Mark Warner.
“Remember when I was governor that year?” the Democratic heavyweights schmoozy it up backstage.
While Wilder and Kaine have both endorsed Obama, Mark Warner does not plan to endorse a candidate until the nomination is sealed up. Anticipating a seat in the Senate next January, Warner wants to ensure a smooth working relationship with whoever occupies the Oval Office. As the Democratic candidate for Senator, the popular Warner should win handily against the current GOP front-runner, the aforementioned Gilmore. With Jim Webb already in office, Virginia will have two Democratic Senators and a Democratic governor for the first time since the Norman conquest of 1066. Okay, so if it’s happened before, it was probably back in the 30’s.
The big question is… can Virginia bare to vote Democrat in the general election? Could it be turning into a blue state? If Clinton were the nominee in November, I dare say Virginia would tip McCain. However, Obama is a much easier shoe for Virginians to slip on. Obama’s record (or at least rhetoric) of reaching across the isle to get things done is a strategy that has proven effective for Virginia Democrats like Kaine and Warner. Below, Obama and Kaine wave to a sold-out crowd on Saturday evening.
Obama has proven he can gain support among independents and moderates. He is a once-in-a-lifetime candidate able to attract young and old with his compassion, wit and charisma. The Superdelegates who may decide this race for the nomination would be wise to keep that in mind. Meanwhile, as McCain tries to beef up his conservative credentials, he will likely alienate independents who supported him. That makes for an easier race in the general election for Obama. But with the delegate race in a dead heat, let us not look solely at Obama’s current momentum to sum up the outcome; look at the numbers. Hillary has long-sought the nomination, and to think she would give up before it got into overtime would be what Bill Clinton would describe as a “fairy tale.”
Words and Photos – Copyright 2008 Jake Lyell