THE PLANK MARCH 4, 2008
TOLEDO, Ohio -- Northwest Ohio may turn out to be Clinton Country, as I wrote earlier today. But that hasn't stopped Obama from creating pockets of intense support here. And it's something to behold.
Around mid-afternoon, I stopped by one of Obama's local canvassing operations -- one of the four operating today within the city limits of Toledo. (Four may not sound like a lot, but Toledo is a pretty small city.) It was a terminus of busy activity, as volunteers streamed in, claimed their lists of voter rolls, then headed back out to knock on doors, identify supporters, and get them to the polls.
A local supporter named Mark Austin was in charge. He told me he was one of five or six people who started their own Obama campaign organization "organically" about a year ago, using the famously user-friendly campaign website. Membership in Austin's group -- one of several that have sprung up here -- is now up to 200 people, he told me. And for the primary orgnaizing efforts, he says, they've been drawing people from all over, including a lot of Democrats from neighboring Michigan who never got the chance to organize for Obama in their own state.
While Austin acknowledged this part of town -- and, more generally, this part of Ohio -- is an area of strength for Clinton, he argued that Obama still pulls well here from a broad cross-section of people. And I have no problem believing that. As he reminded me, when Obama came here just over a week ago, 10,000 people filled the gym at the University of Toledo -- with another 5,000 people reportedly being turned away. By comparison, Clinton's two recent visits here drew crowds that numbered in the hundreds.
Intensity alone can't make up for sheer numbers, of course. And Clinton has been able to rely on several unions -- most important among them, the American Federal of State County and Municipal Employees -- to provide the same sort of assistance. (Of course, Obama can now do the same, thanks to his newfound support from the Service Employees International Union, among others.)
Still, my impression of Obama supporters here -- which, I gather, gibes with what every other reporter has seen -- is that Obama's support is both more enthusiastic than Clinton's and more driven by true grassroots activism. And that speaks directly to the question -- raised by Clinton, among others -- of whether Obama's promises of change are just empty rhetoric. After all, a following of committed reformers can make a huge difference in politics -- not just in helping to get yourself elected, but also in getting legislation passed once you do.