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Anatomy of an Obama Stump Speech

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

As for Barack Obama, delivering a rousing stump speech is one of his strongest abilities. Since the earliest primaries, Obama has filled giant arenas with screaming crowds. As with Hillary Clinton's stump speech, Obama's speech has also evolved.

As NPR's Don Gonyea reports, some of those changes reflect a recognition of Clinton's resurgence.

DON GONYEA: There is one big theme that has remained a constant in the Barack Obama stump speech over the course of this long campaign. It's that Washington needs to change. Here's how the senator started his remarks on Saturday in Indianapolis.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): When I began this campaign for the presidency, I said I was running because I believe that the size of our challenges had outgrown the smallness of our politics in Washington. The pettiness, the game-playing, the influence-peddling that always prevents us from solving the problems we face year after year after year.

GONYEA: And to Obama, Hillary Clinton represents that old way of doing things. But Obama, mindful that he has been losing the white working class vote to Clinton this year, has lately been infusing his speeches with some populist seasoning. He talks about how the economy isn't working for people, and he tells of the hard times people he meets every day are facing.

SEN. OBAMA: I think of the young man I met in Pennsylvania who lost his job but can afford the gas to drive around and look for a new one, or the woman from Anderson who just lost her job and her pension and her insurance when the Delphi plant closed, even while the top executives walked away with multi-million dollar bonuses.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: The prescription he offers includes tougher trade laws, a new commitment to alternative fuels and energy research, and he says, ending the Iraq war to free up billions of dollars every week. There is something else Obama has been doing lately though. Sure, he's a household name after the year he's had, but do people in Indiana and North Carolina really know him? In case they don't, his own personal story has moved front and center.

SEN. OBAMA: This is the country that gave my grandfather a chance to go to college on the GI bill when he came home from World War II; a country that gave him and my grandmother, the small-town couple from Kansas, the chance to buy their first home with a loan from the government. This is the country that made it possible for my mother, a single parent who had to go on food stamps at one point, to send my sister and me to the best schools in the country with the help of scholarships.

GONYEA: This renewed focus on the personal is also a response to the rough and tumble of the past month's campaign. There was his remark about working class voters being bitter, which prompted Senator Clinton to label him elitist, and there's the controversy surrounding the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Obama says such things distract from real issues. He even cites Hillary Clinton's now-discredited claim of facing sniper fire on a visit to Bosnia as something that's not worth dwelling on.

SEN. OBAMA: If you decide that this election is bigger than flag pins or sniper fire or the comments of former pastor, bigger than the differences between what we look like or where we come from or what party we belong to.

GONYEA: Then get out the vote, he says, and get others to do the same. It's the call to action that closes every single Obama rally, and it's something he defines as patriotism.

Sen. SEN. OBAMA: In the face of all cynicism, all doubt, all fear, I ask you to remember what makes a nation and to believe that we can once again make this nation the land of limitless possibilities and unyielding hope, the place where you can still make it if you try. Thank you everybody. God bless you. God bless America.

GONYEA: Senator Barack Obama on the stump in Indiana over the weekend.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Indianapolis.

NORRIS: And you can listen in full to the stump speeches of all three presidential candidates at npr.org/elections. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.