Watching the annual Hastings Summerfest parade was just a bit more interesting this year for watchers of politics and the pols who use such events to campaign. Considering that Barry County has so few contested races after the August primary election (this year it seems even less than usual), I often forget such events are normally a good place for a politician to reach large crowds of people prior to the November election. Most of the time the politicians who show up seem to do it more out of public relations than a need to truly campaign and pick up extra votes since they're unopposed or might as well be. This year's parade had the expected local politicians handing out candy and campaign literature, including our State Representative, the two major party candidates for county Drain Commissioner, the Democratic candidate running against Vern Ehlers for the U.S. House seat and a surprise...
As usual, the parade kicked off with the American Legion color guard. The crowd of families and on-lookers seated in lawn chairs and on the sidewalks and curbs rose to greet the flag and gave an enthusiastic ovation. Just as the clapping had started to die down another round of marchers in military gear received some applause. Then the parade began in earnest with the Hastings High School marching band, which also received some polite applause- I half wondered if it was partly due to rampant rumors that due to a band director's schedule conflict and budget cuts which eliminated a second director position, that the band would be unable to attend the parade. Many other floats and marchers drifted by, my mind wandering more to mundane things like why there always seem to be such long stretches in between parade entries and how hot the people marching must get, a worry mostly focused on some of the older participants and those like the Society for Creative Anachronism crowd that rode in full medieval dress, including one in a suit of armor. Not to mention the smell of food provided a distraction from the lunch-time event.
Mostly, I watched for a couple friends riding in the parade and a niece that would be part of the procession. Many people in the crowd sat quietly the rest of the time, usually only broken when they shouted at someone they knew on a float or to attract the attention of the people throwing candy and Mardi Gras beads to the crowd of on-lookers. Now, the parade had settled into a routine of local churches, civic groups, charities and businesses along with local politicians. The only bits of applause coming for those entrants which were somehow connected to military or patriotic themes.
I brightened up a little when I saw the brave and foolhardy souls campaigning for a Democratic Presidential candidate in Barry County- one doesn't usually see much campaigning for President in these parts outside an occasional bumper sticker, lawn sign or letter to the editor but there was something like 5-10 people marching in support of Barack Obama. I'd heard a contingent would be there to march for Obama so that wasn't a surprise. What surprised me was how the crowd reacted. Normally, when local politicians campaign at such events they are greeted with a sort of polite indifference, most of the litter left after the parade seems to be the cheap photocopied flyers handed by local politicians. Unless a politician is a well-liked, local good old boy, most people tend to see the stumping politicians the way one always sees flies hovering around the rear ends of animals in the summer.
At least half of the crowd, it seemed to me, began to applaud the Obama campaign folks walking by. I even looked around to make sure it wasn't some trick being played on my ears or to see if there was another parade entrant sparking the applause. The crowd's greeting for the local Obama campaign was warm and enthusiastic and was matched perhaps only by the greeting given the stars and stripes at the beginning of the parade.
Now, I know some will read this and pretend as if I'm arguing for an Obama win in Barry County or in the electoral college based on a smattering of applause, though I think it does mean he has a better shot than the chattering class punditry would have you believe (it is obvious to me that the corporate media types need a close election to keep ratings high as elections have become a huge money-maker for the media in an age where people are turning away from traditional media outlets and network TV ratings continue to slide- there's a reason why, despite battleground state polling indicating Obama ahead the media relies more on national polling to show a "tied" race despite Presidential elections being decided in the Electoral College).
The fact that half the people on the street applauded the appearance of the Obama supporters has to be considered a sign of optimism for those who grumble that Democrats seemingly can't win here. I wonder also if that applause wasn't just a "show of hands" from those planning to vote for the candidate being represented but also a sign of approval for the fact that they are bothering at all. Despite being Republican territory in a state very friendly to McCain's previous national campaign, no one bothered to represent the McCain campaign, which also means I couldn't gauge the audience reaction, to compare and contrast.
What I'm actually trying to say is how impressed I am overall in Obama's shoot-the-moon 50-state strategy which has abandoned the often failed Ohio-Pennsylvania-Florida strategy that gave the White House to the GOP from 2000 to the present. Obama has invested a considerable amount of money and effort in new voter registration and opening field offices in remote locations in state which Democrats have failed to contest for a generation. In other words, as someone who follows campaign strategy like some study historical battle tactics, I'm impressed by Obama's embrace and understanding of reaching out to people who have long been ignored by traditional campaigns. And no wonder the media is thoroughly unimpressed- while traditional Presidential campaigns have basically been an air war fought in the millions of dollars of prime time TV advertising, Obama has turned his campaign into a modern Special Ops style campaign which is choosing its targets wisely instead of just going for Shock and Awe and getting outspent by the better financed and more well organized Republican attack machine.
From text messaging to YouTube videos, the Obama campaign is embracing all the tools of the 21st century to reach voters directly instead of allowing the gate keepers with the big media conglomerates to continue to dominate our political discourse. Part of the Republican domination of the last 20 years was built on their strength in direct mail campaigning, one of Bush advisor Karl Rove's claims to fame. Now we see the next phase and it's fascinating to see it play out on a local level.
The fact the Obama campaign has a field organizer in Barry County, not to mention at least one splinter group taking off their local chunk of geography to concentrate on, and that Obama's campaign has increased enthusiasm among people to bother organizing what has been seen for too long as a hopeless effort in Barry County, means that this campaign has already scored a victory for anyone who is troubled by the one-party domination of the area. It helps too that in some ways, the domination of the GOP in Barry County has been over-hyped. A perfect example being in the 2006 Governor's race when Jennifer Granholm took 13 of 26 precincts in Barry County and lost the county by less than 800 votes to almost-local boy Dick DeVos. While it will still be a tough fight, especially if Senator McCain picks almost-local boy Mitt Romney to join the ticket in the VP slot, the fact that the Obama campaign is shaking up status quo politics and conventional wisdom, bringing the fight to Barry County makes me applaud. They may not win, but at least they're fighting....