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Barack the vote

"Barack the vote" Continued...

Issue: "The Road to Cana," Feb. 23, 2008

"I know the church he's a part of, Trinity United Church in Chicago, and it is a terrific congregation," Laurie said. "I have a lot of respect for them and what they do in the community. If he's a representative member of that congregation, then I'm really excited about that kind of social ministry. I see him as bringing good values."

Obama's packaging of liberal politics in general platitudes and faith-based rhetoric endears him to independents and even some evangelicals weary of broken GOP promises. That broad appeal feeds perceptions of Obama as a unifier and his campaign as a national movement. It also helps explain how he has found such traction in Western states not known for the African-American vote. Obama's message of hope and change transcends race.

Dave Cullen, a precinct captain in Denver, pleaded with voters during his caucus not to miss the chance at supporting the kind of high caliber candidate that comes along "once or twice in a generation." Tonia Crosby, who entered the evening undecided, listened to Cullen's plea and eventually chose to join the Obama team due to Clinton's former position on the board of Wal-Mart. "I'm afraid that she's big business," Crosby said.

By contrast, Obama maintains an image as the anti-establishment outsider able to relate to the common man. That kind of populism has fueled the leftward shift in some Western states, a trend Democrats hope will help take back the presidency this fall.

In the wake of Obama's impressive Colorado victory, Gov. Bill Ritter suggested it may signal a broader trend: "If you look, we've got Democratic governors in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona. And we all were preceded by Republicans. There is something happening here in the West that is very exciting and very significant." Ritter told WORLD that Democrats in those states are hungry for a president who will advance as progressive an agenda as the governors they've elected. "Democrats in the West care about people who will tackle big problems and try to solve their problems."

For Democrats in Arizona, California, Nevada, and New Mexico, that person is Clinton. Her victories in those Southwestern states have prevented a complete Obama sweep out West. Looming large on the horizon is the Texas primary March 4 in which more than 200 delegates are up for grabs. Polls continue to show Clinton with a commanding lead there, but Obama's momentum has narrowed the gap.

Though less important in the delegate count, Wyoming, Oregon, Montana, and South Dakota could play unusually significant roles in helping either Obama or Clinton build momentum should the race continue through the spring into early summer. Whichever candidate emerges victorious, Western states figure to remain relevant right up to the Democratic convention in August-an event for which Denver will play an appropriate host.

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