If it's Sunday, this must be Delaware

Times Staff Writers

When you're reaching out to voters in 22 states in just over a week, it's not surprising that the speech gets streamlined to its very essence: policy highlights, a bit of biography and a jab or two at your remaining rival.

"The field has narrowed. It's myself and Sen. Clinton, and we're hearing some arguments . . . about how she's ready for Day One," Sen. Barack Obama declared here Sunday. "It's not just saying you're ready for Day One. The question is: Are you right on Day One?"

The crowds have grown, the poll figures have tightened and the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has changed dramatically as Super Tuesday nears, playing more to Hillary Rodham Clinton's strengths than to Obama's.

The Illinois senator's forte was the stately pace of the early campaign states, when he had time to fill in the details of his celebrity silhouette. He spent more than 80 days in Iowa in just under a year, five consecutive days in New Hampshire and nearly a week each in Nevada and South Carolina.

But since leaving South Carolina victorious nine days ago, he has traveled to a dozen states with contests Tuesday; today he will cross three more off the list with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) by his side.

"When folks know me and my record, we do well," Obama said this weekend on his campaign plane, jetting between Boise, Idaho, and Minneapolis. "If they don't, [Clinton's] got the advantages. . . . The question is: Do we have enough time to be able to penetrate people's minds?"

America may know as early as Tuesday whose message resonated better in the recent frenzy. But over the weekend, the candidates were spending more time getting to events than actually campaigning.

Saturday for Obama saw him in three states, at three rallies, with a schedule that showed some seven hours en route for just over two hours on a podium with a microphone in hand asking voters and caucusgoers "if you're ready for change." Sunday, it was four hours in the air for some 40 minutes on the stump.

"This is the first sort of quasi-national primary, and so you have to campaign as if it's a national election," said chief Obama strategist David Axelrod. "You have to do this hopscotching. One quality event and move on."

It's a far cry from South Carolina, for example, where Obama talked about veterans' issues in Beaufort, with its thousands of military families; spent a full day on women's issues and the weakening economy in Charleston and Columbia; and took a veritable college tour of rallies reaching out to younger voters.

While Obama can fire up a crowd, Axelrod said, Super Tuesday "doesn't play to his wheelhouse in the sense that he enjoys the interaction with people . . . Q&A;, a quality interchange, are very hard to have in a room of 13,000."

So this weekend, the hope was that the highlights, at least, got through.

Boise: "I have no intention of taking away folks' guns." Minneapolis: "Change in America does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up." St. Louis: "We talked about change when we were up; we talked about change when we were down." Wilmington: "I opposed this war from the start . . . because it was an unwise war."

At the same time Obama campaigned in Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri and Delaware, he had more than a dozen stand-ins stumping on his behalf.

He taped interviews, appeared on the Sunday TV news shows and aired a Super Bowl ad aimed at 23 states and the District of Columbia, all places with early February contests.

Clinton has been drawing some of the biggest crowds of her campaign in the days leading up to Super Tuesday and reaching voters in ways she never did in her unsuccessful slog through Iowa.

Last week alone, the New York senator led rallies attended by 10,000 people in San Diego; 10,000 more in San Jose, and thousands in East Los Angeles. An 80-year-old man in Tucson said he had waited four hours to see her at a rally Saturday night.

Aides concede she never quite understood sparsely populated Iowa, a place ill-suited to her outsize persona. Clinton seems far more comfortable with half a country to woo, talking to voters on a mass scale, popping quickly in and out of venues.

Many are seeing her in person for the first time -- and seem delighted to be in the presence of a political superstar speaking about issues that resonate with middle-class voters.

At a Sunday rally in Bridgeton, Mo., more than 1,000 people crowded into a union hall to hear her. One man craned his neck for a glimpse: "I see her bangs. She's pretty."

If Clinton is succeeding on the broader map, it is not because she is giving audiences more than she gave Iowans. Indeed, she may be offering less.

In Iowa, she tried going on the attack against Obama. She sought to humanize herself by enlisting friends to attest to her warmth and humor. She took questions from voters; then she didn't. She came in third.

These days, she is delivering a conventional stump speech with little variation. The rallies are so large, she seldom takes questions. With the exception of her misty-eyed event before the New Hampshire primary, Clinton has been a famously private person who rarely reveals much of herself.

She does not attempt to explain what happened during her tumultuous tenure as first lady. There are no insights as to how she felt. She seems merely to want voters to come away with the impression that she is a better politician for all she endured.

In Bridgeton on Sunday, for example, a woman asked Clinton if she was "electable." It was a perfect opening for some personal chat, but she didn't bite:

"I've already been through tough campaigns. This is going to be open season once again, and we need to nominate someone with the experience and fortitude and know-how to take whatever they throw our way."

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maria.laganga@latimes.com

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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