Obama has new rallying cry: Yes, we can!

Sen. Barack Obama hugs his wife, Michelle, after conceding the New Hampshire primary to Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday night.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Sen. Barack Obama got a new campaign slogan Tuesday night when he lost the New Hampshire primary here in an upset that surprised his staunch supporters but left them no less ready for a fight.

“Yes, we can!”

He unveiled it after a long and painful night at Nashua High School South, where 1,500 supporters watched the election results roll slowly in, a night that sobered the men and women who believed that Iowa’s victory could take an easy sprint east.

“It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists, as they blazed the trail toward freedom,” Obama said. “Yes, we can! By immigrants who traveled to a new land, workers who organized, women who reached for the vote,” Obama continued, building to a rousing finish tinged with church cadences. “Yes, we can!”

And come this morning, when he takes his campaign south and west, Obama vowed, “we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea.

“Yes, we can!”

They took up the chant here at what was expected to be a celebration but ended up an edgy night.

“It was a Hillary state until three weeks ago,” said Con O’Donnell, a software engineer from Wyndham as he waited for Obama to appear.

Results on the big screen television showed Obama down from the start, although the gap between him and rival Hillary Rodham Clinton narrowed and stretched all evening like a slow-motion slinky.

With 43% of the vote counted, the booming television voice declared “the Democratic race is now 39% Clinton, 37% Obama.” The crowd cheered, because their guy had narrowed the gap, if only a little bit.

With 44% of the vote counted, “Hillary Clinton just went up a bit again,” the television anchor declared, and the crowd moaned: “Awwwwwwww!

Not everyone was worried. Said Dover attorney Dave Bamford: “I really believe this is the next president of the United States.”

Many still weren’t worried even when the long night ended, after their candidate had conceded defeat and they streamed out into the darkness.

“When they move to larger cities with a more diverse vote, sure he has a chance,” said Stephen Ryan, finance vice president for a railroad.