“As a cattle rancher, I recognize a stampede when I see one. I haven’t seen this kind of excitement since I worked on Robert Kennedy’s campaign in 1968.”
~Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald of Melville, as quoted by the Missoulian
Barack Obama swept Montana's Democratic yesterday. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who watching the next state over, Idaho, since New Year's. If you weren't, however, you should be reaching for the smelling salts.
Here's how I learned about Obama's deep hold on the Big West: I took my family up to Idaho to ski with friends in February. As we drove from Boise to Tamarack, my friends told me about the standing-room-only crowd that had waited to hear Sen. Obama when he visited Boise in January. The looooong lines in which people waited outside the Taco Bell Arena at Boise State (in serious cold mind you) to hear Obama. Who kept waiting outside even after the arena was filled to capacity.
They talked, I gaped. Who'd have thought it possible? People talk all kinds of stereotypical trash about Montana (thank you, Ted Kaczynski), but I always thought my home state's crazy paled in comparison to actual facts about Idaho. I grew up hearing, knowing about Idaho's little Aryan Nation problem. Before cable television, before the Internet, before you could buy cowboy boots without zippers in California malls, Idaho was a closed culture. How closed? Closed enough that you could depend upon Californians getting run off if they were stupid enough to fish on private land and keep their license plates on the van. Two friends of mine got married and moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Boise, one of them a sixth-generation Idahoan, a descendent of Basque sheepherders, a prodigal son of the Spud State returning home with degrees and better earning potential. The reception he and his new wife got? A businesscard anonymously tucked into their mailbox: "Welcome to Idaho. Now go home! Brought to you by the Idaho Natives Association." And this is the reception the white people got.
So, a black presidential candidate creating an overflow crowd at Taco Bell Arena? No --- really?
So I watched the video. This I gotta hear, I thought. Especially given how Idaho has changed -- yeah, there's an influx of new jobs, from Costco to HP to Starbucks, and you can even fly from Oakland to Boise non-stop these days. New blood, I thought, new ideas, just like at home in Missoula.
I was so wrong.
Idaho is populated by exactly the same people it always was: Plenty of hard-working folks, whiter than the average state (but don't overlook the growing Latino population), all with a little dash of the crazies who make headlines. And Idahoans, like so many others just happen to respond to Obama's message -- and its delivery. The senator opened that night in the Taco Bell Arena with a list of local thank-yous capped by a sincere note of memorial to an LDS church leader. Then he openly acknowledged that he doesn't always know what party means any more, but it may matter less than being utterly ashamed of Guantanamo and believing that the government must take an active role in creating health care options at least as good as those enjoyed by members of Congress. Then he went on to talk about race, individual responsibility and his personal investment.
"Change in American does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up. I was certain that we are not as divided as our politics would suggest." ~ Barack Obama
Bottomline: Obama blew the minds of even his detractors -- take this blogger, who calls himself "Bubblehead" in Meridien, Idaho, says it better than I:
"Senator Obama came to Boise early this morning, and drew over 14,000 people to hear his stump speech. Let me repeat -- he drew over 14,000 in Boise, Idaho. I'm still standing pat on my prediction that Sen. McCain will beat Sen. Clinton in the general election, but if the Democrats are smart enough to nominate Sen. Obama, I think he'd win in November.
"Don't get me wrong -- there's no way any Democrat wins Idaho's electoral votes in the fall. But if he can draw that many people here in Boise, it means he's tapped into something the country hasn't seen in a while; something to which I, as a realist, am apparently immune. I watched his speech on TV, and wasn't really that impressed. People who were there, however, reported that they were completely overwhelmed by his sincerity. Sincerity doesn't win wars, but it can win votes. If Sen. Obama can get the nomination, I think it'll be time for Republicans to focus on keeping at least 41 votes in the Senate."
Still wondering how Sen. Barack Obama delivered (fill in name of big West state here)? Watch and learn -- this speech is a stunner. I think if I typed it up people would say "NO, you can't say THAT!?" And yet he does here, in an amazing moment in electoral history...do you agree with me?
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/boisestatearbiter">Boise State Arbiter</a>