Tracing Obama Through the Pages of a Rural Iowa Newspaper

In this presidential election, the best seat in the house could be found in a small newspaper in a small town in far western Iowa. That's where I was.

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CARROLL, Iowa — History, this time around, started in Iowa.

Before President Barack Obama could address a Washington, D.C., swelled with revelers and in-the-moment seekers, the pandemonium of the day, he faced much smaller crowds in Iowa, places with more ponderous settings. As a correspondent for my family’s newspaper, The Daily Times Herald, I saw a lot of this campaign close-up.

Twice during his successful Iowa caucuses run President Barack Obama appeared in my hometown of Carroll, once at the Carroll Recreation Center just after Labor Day 2007, and a second time the day after Christmas that year at Carroll High School as the early January caucuses loomed.

His campaign went to smaller towns. Obama hit Denison early in the Iowa effort and Audubon on the Saturday after Thanksgiving – the latter a late-night appearance capping off a marathon day of campaigning. Michelle Obama spoke at Crossroads Bistro the Sunday before the Iowa caucuses.

Obama was in this part of Iowa so often that, shortly before the Iowa caucuses, The Washington Post noted that our newspaper, The Daily Times Herald, “has a level of access to Sen. Barack Obama that any major media reporter would covet.” We interviewed the would-be president six times.

Carroll County voted for Obama in the Iowa caucuses and then again in November, making the town one of the more western pockets of support in Iowa for the Illinois Democrat. After supporting President George W. Bush in the last two elections, Carroll County went to Obama in November 51% to 47% — or 5,284 to 4,905. That was only slightly under the 54% Obama won in all of Iowa.

The fact is, following the campaign through the pages of The Daily Times Herald is not a bad way to understand how and why Barack Obama became the nation’s 44th President this week.

July 27, 2004

Before Obama gave his now famous 2004 Democratic National Convention Speech speech, the Daily Times Herald published the following editorial:

A prediction …

If you tune in to the Democratic Convention tonight you may see America’s first black president speak.

Barack Obama, a U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois, will give the keynote speech.

At so many national political conventions we see the birth of political stars. Ronald Reagan is one of the best examples.

Barack Obama, 42, the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review in 1990 and now a state senator from Chicago, has a dignity about him, a regal bearing, reminiscent of some early civil rights leaders like A. Philip Randolph who transcended race.

He will be one of the biggest stories at this convention — and a significant player in American politics for decades to come.

Doug Burns
Michelle Obama was in Carroll just days before the Iowa Caucuses.

Sept. 17, 2006

Obama gave a speech at U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin’s steak fry in Indianola. This was our report:

INDIANOLA – With soaring rhetoric and a rare magnetism, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama Sunday burnished his growing reputation as a political descendent to the barrier-breaking, nation-inspiring John F. Kennedy.

Trailed by a horde of media and circled like a popular evangelist or rock star by well-wishers, many of them seeking autographs for copies of his best-selling memoir, “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race And Inheritance,” Obama spoke individually with hundreds of Iowans before giving a 45-minute keynote speech at U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry at the Warren County Fairgrounds in Indianola.

The major Democratic event attracted some 3,000 people. Several members of the national media were there to see Obama, who rocketed from relative obscurity to the political stratosphere with a stirring speech to the Democratic National Convention 2004.

Dec. 26. 2006

The Daily Times Herald published a commentary headlined “Why Barack Obama can win the Iowa Caucuses.”

It goes without saying that when Barack Obama is on the television screen or behind the political podium we see a black man.

That is, after all, what he is.

But when you listen to Obama, the substance of thinking, the cadence of his reasoning, his unassuming acceptance of people, you hear a Midwesterner.

It is for this reason, as much as his Kennedyesque charisma, that Obama, 45, a Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois, a political mercury rising, could capture the Iowa Caucuses should he launch a presidential bid.

In the next weeks, Obama is expected announce if he will try to take the lightning in a bottle that is his now-stratospheric public profile and turn it into something of an enduring flame with real policy achievements.

Does he have what the title of best-selling book terms “The Audacity of Hope”?

Doug Burns
Obama visits Denison in March 2007.

March 31, 2007

Obama campaigns in Denison

DENISON – Rural America is shouldering a disproportionate share of the burden, the blood and loss and grief, in Iraq.

This is not lost on U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., a leading Democratic contender in the 2008 presidential race.

“One of the things I’ve been distressed about is the way folks in southern Illinois and rural western Iowa, that those are the folks that are disproportionately affected,” Obama said in an interview with the Daily Times Herald in Denison Saturday night following a campaign event.

Sept. 4, 2007

Headline: “Chasing history, Obama packs Carroll Rec Center”

With Labor Day on the spent part of the calendar the chase for the 2008 Iowa caucuses is now in the deal-closing stage, with candidates making appeals here that history shows can launch an American presidency.

In that context, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, a presidential aspirant who is positioning himself as a descendant of past Democratic Party icons with tomorrow’s voice, jammed the Carroll Recreation Center auditorium Tuesday with an overflow crowd peopled by many who clearly came to see if history is indeed on the side of the 46-year-old Illinoisan.

“I may not have the experience Washington likes, but I am absolutely convinced I have the experience America needs right now,” Obama said. “I say that because hope and change aren’t just campaign rhetoric for me.”

The Carroll Police Department estimated the crowd at more than 600 people, and longtime local political observers say Obama electrified the audience in a manner they thought had been lost – to the memories of the Kennedys or Roosevelts.

Sept. 12, 2007

We interview Obama about Iraq:

Just hours before a scheduled major foreign policy address in eastern Iowa Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told the Daily Times Herald the United States needs to begin an immediate phased redeployment of combat troops out of Iraq.

Obama’s plan calls for troops to be removed from Iraq – one or two brigades a month – starting now from secure areas followed by more volatile ones with the intent of having all U.S. combat troops out by the end of 2008.

“What I’m focused on is how do we not only bring that war to a close but also put our foreign policy on a firm footing for the future,” Obama said in a phone interview with this newspaper as he traveled to Clinton, Iowa, for the speech this afternoon.

With the plan Obama is attempting to position himself as the Democratic presidential aspirant with the most aggressive strategy for disengaging militarily from the beleaguered nation and a war the Illinois senator believes has been a costly and tragic distraction from the broader battle against terrorism.

Nov. 24, 2007

Obama visited Audubon

AUDUBON – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is seeking to turn one of the more famous political excuses in American history to his advantage by suggesting that his own frankness about youthful marijuana use reflects an honest-broker personality and a departure from Clinton equivocating.

Referencing President Clinton’s legendary argument that he tried marijuana but didn’t inhale, an audience member in Audubon Saturday night asked Obama if, “Unlike other presidents, did you inhale?”

“I did,” Obama said. “It’s not something that I’m proud of. It was a mistake … But you know, I’m not going to … I never understood that line. The point was to inhale. That was the point.”

The comment drew applause and some of the most sustained laughter of the night – perhaps only rivaled in audience response to the question from a youngster who wanted to know if the presidential contender had any idea of “what money will you be on.”

Later, in an interview with the Daily Times Herald, Obama said people aren’t voting against him based on “whether I inhaled 30 years ago.”

“They just want some straight answers,” Obama, a Democratic U.S. senator from Illinois, told the Daily Times Herald.

Dec. 26, 2007

Obama makes his second visit to Carroll:

Speaking to a crowd of 700 mostly area residents in Carroll Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said he shares many Americans’ impatience with politics and disgust of lobbyist-engineered inertia on life-and-death matters like health care.

Obama said his campaign is about what the Rev. Martin Luther King called a “fierce urgency of now” as the old politics of Washington is creating new dangers for America.

“I believe there is such a thing as being too late,” Obama said at the Carroll Middle School. “That moment is almost upon us. That hour is almost upon us.”

He urged the crowd, full of many undecideds based on a show of hands, to buck the establishment and vote their gut feelings on character and judgment.

“If we are serious about winning this election we can’t live in fear of losing it,” Obama said.

Jan. 3, 2008

Obama wins Carroll County — and the Iowa Caucuses

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who pulled crowds of more than 600 people in each of two visits here, turned that enthusiasm into living and breathing Iowa caucus support Thursday night in capturing Carroll County with 35 percent of the delegates.

In the county the Illinois senator earned 54 delegates to former North Carolina U.S. Sen. John Edwards’ 48 (31 percent) and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s 43 (28 percent), according to numbers released by the Iowa Democratic Party. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson pulled in 6 percent of the county delegates here – better than his 2 percent statewide.

Obama also finished in first place statewide with a commanding 38 percent of the vote as Edwards edged out Clinton for second place – 29.75 percent to 29.47 percent.

Nov. 4, 2008

Election Day:

In the presidential general election Carroll County went to Obama 51 percent to 47 percent, or 5,284 to 4,905.

Obama won Crawford and Audubon and Greene counties but lost in Sac and Calhoun counties.

With the exception of Monona County, which went for McCain, Obama won a stretch of counties along the U.S. Highway 30 Corridor running across the state from Crawford County to the Mississippi River.

 

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