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Rallying the crowd

  • Gavin Hewitt
  • 13 Oct 08, 08:53 AM GMT

PHILADELPHIA AND SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA: A weekend in Pennsylvania. You can sense the optmism of the Democrats. Much as they try, they can't disguise it. Some are even questioning whether Pennsylvania is still a battleground state.

Barack Obama's team relish highlighting the in-fighting in the McCain camp over strategy.

In his speeches, Barack Obama never presumes victory but at his rallies the warm-up speeches are all focused on turnout. Registration has been a success. In recent weeks, the Democrats claim to have registered 200,000 voters.

Bill Clinton addresses the rally, image by Ian Sherwood

On Saturday at Locust street in Philadelphia, the large crowd was given tuition on election day: if you're in line, don't leave until you've voted. If you're in line, don't let them close the polling station. You can wear an Obama shirt. Don't let them disqualify you.

They were also told which ID would be accepted.

There remains a residual fear that once again people will stay at home on election day, particularly if the weather is bad.

The other fear concerns race, that some working class Democrats won't vote for a black candidate. The issue is openly discussed and no-one knows what part it will play in the silence of the voting booth.

This afternoon we were in Scranton, where Bill and Hillary Clinton appeared with Joe Biden and his wife Jill. There are still people who voted for Hillary in the primaries but are resisting voting for Barack Obama. We met a biker called Joe who was precisely in that position. He said he'd supported Hillary but was worried about Obama's background.

Bill Clinton wanted the audience to know first that it was his and Hillary's 33rd wedding anniversary. He also seemed keen to answer critics that Hillary was not somehow pulling her weight for Obama. She has done 50 events for Obama, he told the crowd. No former candidate, in his view, had done more.

Hillary still has strong support in places like Scranton. She was met with long chants of "Hillary, Hillary, Hillary". So, even though the polls are encouraging, the Democrats are deploying the Clintons to try to target white, working class voters.

The signs are, however, that the economic crisis is driving doubters into the Obama camp. The pollsters are noting a sharp increase in support for Obama and most of that is due to a feeling "that the country is on the wrong track".

As regards the wider strategy: the Obama team plans to count down the clock over the final 22 days. Barack Obama will appear presidential and calm. The aim is to reassure. No magic is needed. The pressure is all on McCain. That's how the Obama camp sees it.

So how to deal with optimism? Take no risks, avoid personal attacks, stay on message with the economy and ensure the grassroots organisation is working.

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