The Cleansing

  • Gavin Hewitt
  • 3 Nov 08, 04:45 AM GMT

Columbus, Ohio: At Barack Obama's rally in Columbus on Sunday he asked how many people had voted early. Hands shot up. In my estimation 70% of the crowd had already been to the polling stations. They were there not to be persuaded or convinced. They were there to celebrate their man.

This was party time. There were Obama hats, T-shirts, buttons and badges. I noticed some holding up small green-edged photos of Obama. When the music played they swayed. When the pastor finished his invocation they belted out "Amen". I detected no tension, no anxiety about the result.

In the speeches before Barack Obama arrived I realised that this was not just a celebration about the future but an exorcising of the past. The Mayor of the city said: "By defeating John McCain we are defeating George W Bush. We are ridding our country of the policies of George W Bush." It felt like a casting out. Then the Ohio Governor, Ted Strickland, took the microphone. "In a few hours," he said, "we will bring to an end the economic nightmare known as the Bush-Cheney regime."

At the mere mention of the president's name the crowd booed. I cannot remember a time when a president was so openly despised. But it was the word "regime" that caught my attention. It was as if the Bush presidency was somehow illegitimate.

For some people the election is a cleansing.

Another snapshot from today was Michelle Obama. She introduced her husband as she had done in Miami 10 days ago. She dresses down. She does not wear the suits of a political wife. She dresses casually and wears little make-up. She is her husband's greatest fan.

In Miami she said: "I'd like to give all the credit to my husband for all that is going on because I love him so much and I think he's phenomenal." She said these words with such intensity that the crowd immediately cheered. Later on she told a story about what she said to him when he first announced: "I said babe - you can get us 75% of the way there, maybe 80%..." It was the first time I had heard a politician's wife use the "babe" word. It came across as easy and natural. In Columbus she enthused: "Barack is ready, so ready to be President of the United States." If Barack Obama wins the First Family will be part of the change that the candidate has promised.

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