‘Super’ Start for Obama in Boston

Unnamed photo
Alwa A. Cooper

Senator Barack Obama speaks at a rally at the Boston World Trade Center late last night. Massachusetts Senators Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56 and John F. Kerry also addressed the audience at the event.

BOSTON—Friends, foes, and undecided voters waited for hours in a line that wrapped around the World Trade Center yesterday to hear Democratic presidential hopeful and Harvard Law School alumnus Barack Obama speak on the eve of Super Tuesday.

Taking the stage after speeches by big-name political supporters—including Governor Deval Patrick ’78, Senator John F. Kerry, and Senator Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56—Obama told the crowd of thousands that “ordinary citizens have the capacity to do extraordinary things.”

“I’m here to tell you that if you believe we can have change in America, vote here, and right now,” he said.

Obama’s victory in the South Carolina primary on Jan. 28, along with an endorsement from Caroline B. Kennedy ’80—who made a surprise appearance at last night’s event—has narrowed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s once-dominant lead in the national polls.

According to aggregate figures, the gap between Obama and Clinton in Massachusetts has narrowed from roughly 25 points on Jan. 1 to approximately 10 points.

In his hour-long speech, Obama emphasized his main campaign themes of change and hope, but also pointed an accusatory finger at some fellow Democrats.

“There’s a part of the Democratic Party that is steeped in the status quo,” he said.

“You mean Hillary?” shouted one person from the crowd.

“No, because it’s more extensive than that,” he responded.

Obama did reject what he called one of the prevailing arguments against him, asserting that he is capable of taking on the Republican nominee in the general election.

“Their ideas are bankrupt right now,” he said of the Republican primary field. “Scooter Libby justice and Karl Rove politics will be over next year.”

In his introductory speech, Kerry compared Obama as a young leader to Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“He doesn’t seek to perfect the politics of swift-boating,” Kerry said, referring to attacks on his own failed 2004 presidential bid. “He seeks to end it.”

Patrick asked voters assembled to push their friends and relatives to go to the polls today.

“Make it personal,” he said. “Now is not the time to let up.”

Kennedy, who asked Massachusetts voters to anoint Obama heir to the Kennedy legacy, twice began to refer to Obama as “Deval” before correcting himself.

Harvard College and Law School students were present at the rally, and some had been volunteering throughout the afternoon. One Harvard freshman said she arrived at 11:30 a.m. to wait in line.

Young people and students made up a significant portion of the crowd. MBTA worker and former Everett City Councillor Michael J. Mangan, who watched attendees stream out of the World Trade Center T stop, estimated that “more than 50 percent [were] probably in that 18 to 25 age range.”

Massachusetts has unexpectedly become a battleground state, and with that status have come several high-profile candidate visits. Clinton visited Clark University in Worcester for a “Solutions for America” rally yesterday morning, and then held a town hall event yesterday evening.

Republican hopeful John McCain held a campaign event and attended a Super Bowl party in Boston on Sunday, and then held a 9 a.m. rally at Faneuil Hall yesterday.

Former Governor Mitt Romney, who is facing off against McCain, will vote in Belmont this afternoon, and then hold an election event at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in Boston tonight.

Northeastern student Esther Chou, a Clinton supporter, accompanied her friends to the event.

“I originally liked Edwards’ message,” she said. “Now I’m leaning Hillary, but I’m here to experience.”

Outside the event, a lone Ron Paul supporter could be seen holding his sign as crowds approached Commonwealth Hall.

—Staff writer Vidya B. Viswanathan can be reached at viswanat@fas.harvard.edu.