Romney and Obama, going opposite ways, cross paths

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2008 - 12:23 PM

Two presidential candidates on very different trajectories rolled into the Twin Cities on Saturday.

Democrat Barack Obama brought his surging campaign to Minneapolis, where 20,000 supporters jammed Target Center.

A few hours later, Republican Mitt Romney brought his struggling campaign to Edina, where he made his pitch to a crowd of several hundred people.

"This is our moment, this is our time," Obama said, his words nearly drowned out by the roaring crowd. "If you will stand with me, if you will caucus with me ... you and I together, we will change this country and we will change the world."

After nearly a year on the campaign trail, Obama said, "My faith has been vindicated. People want to turn the page. They want to write a new chapter in American history."

About three hours later to an overflow crowd at a property management office, Romney said: "This race is about our kids, what kind of world we're going to leave to them."

The former Massachusetts governor, who scored a small victory in Maine's nonbinding caucuses on Saturday, continued: "I want it to be one where America's always the strongest nation on Earth."

During his 15-minute speech, Romney harkened to the "strength" motif that he has used as the theme of his campaign for months: "We believe the source of Americans' strength is the American people. ... Strengthen our families, strengthen our military and strengthen our economy."

Call to action

Obama gave a loose 54-minute version of his standard stump speech.

"I'm not running because of some long-held ambition,'' he said. "I'm running because of what Dr. [Martin Luther] King called the fierce urgency of now. There's such a thing as being too late, and that moment is upon us."

He mocked opponents who, he said, accuse him of being a naive "hopemonger."

"They call this a roll of the dice," he said. "They said I needed seasoning and needed to stew a little bit more, boil all the hope out of him. But the real gamble is the same old folks doing the same old stuff over and over again."

Obama ran through his positions, telling his listeners they should work for him "if you are ready for change. ..."

It became a call-and-response: "We're ready for change!" they bellowed back.

He reminded them that his campaign has been supported by young people, independents and even Republicans.

"Barack, I'm a Republican!" one guy bellowed from the stands, cracking up the candidate.

Obama was coming off a rally that turned out 15,000 supporters Saturday morning in Boise, Idaho. When he hit the stage at the Target Center crowd, he marveled, "What an unbelievable crowd. What a sight all of you are."

Many had been waiting hours in lines that stretched around city blocks and through skyways.

"My mother-in-law got to see JFK when she was in college," said Amy Axelson of Maplewood, who had her two children in tow. "This is our moment in our life that we'll talk to our kids about in the same way."

She said she'd never felt the need to get involved in politics before, but recently volunteered to call potential voters on behalf of the Illinois senator.

Contrasting strategies

Romney's Minnesota visit was part of a truncated swing on the most important weekend of the campaign, so far.

Minnesotans in Romney's camp include some of the GOP's heavy hitters and fiscal conservatives, such as Republican National Committee member Brian Sullivan and longtime Washington insider Vin Weber.

The differences between the Obama and Romney events Saturday underscored the candidates' prospects and strategies three days before voters in 24 states, including Minnesota, conduct a de facto national primary.

Both men are furiously criss-crossing the country in the final days, as are their main rivals, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain. Clinton is scheduled to speak at Augsburg College at 4 p.m. today. Underdog Republican Ron Paul will campaign here Monday.

Romney has stuck closer to the more intimate, retail campaigning he has long favored, while Obama has continued staging the massive events that have been his trademark.

"With an appearance like this, if we get 20,000 people, you're talking a good percentage of the people who will be caucusing," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said. "It tests our organization, and if we get them to turn out Saturday, we think we can get them Tuesday."

Obama has been steadily rising in the polls. He also has been reeling in a series of high-profile endorsements, most notably from Sen. Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy.

Obama's campaign leaned on the Kennedy legacy again Saturday, when he was introduced by Jane Freeman. She is the widow of Orville Freeman, the Minnesota governor who nominated John F. Kennedy at the 1960 Democratic Convention and became Kennedy's secretary of agriculture.

Conservative credentials

Romney also worked on bolstering his conservative credentials, something that has long been something of an Achilles' heel for his candidacy.

"I want to keep our party in the house that Ronald Reagan built," he said, calling for a renewal of unity among social, economic and foreign policy conservatives.

He took two other tacks that have only recently become central to his campaign: bashing Washington D.C. and McCain.

In front of a banner declaring, "Washington is broken," Romney told his supporters it's "time for us to get rid of the politicians and for the citizens to take over. ... It's time to fix Washington the Republican and the conservative way. And that's what I'm gonna do."

As for McCain: "As you look at his issues, he would pull our party sharply to the left," Romney said, mentioning McCain's views on immigration, campaign finance reform and energy policy. His audience answered back with lusty boos. Romney has belatedly geared up his campaign in Minnesota, dispatching staff members and opening a state campaign staff office in Oakdale, which his wife, Ann, plans to visit today.

Staff writers Patrice Relerford and Mark Brunswick contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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