Anticipation is building among voters in Wisconsin as national political attention focuses on the state in advance of its presidential primary in just over a week. Campaigns are gearing up for appearances, and both the state and Madison will get its first candidate visit of 2008 when Barack Obama holds a rally at the Kohl Center on Tuesday, February 12. Needless to say, supporters of the Illinois senator and political observers are energized.
"We're very excited to have Senator Obama coming to Madison," says campaign spokesperson Dan Leistikow, a former press secretary for Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle and communications director for the John Edwards campaign in Iowa. "This will be Obama's first campaign event of the year in Wisconsin, and a great way to kick off the final march towards victory in this state's primary."
A similar message is delivered by Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle in the official campaign press release announcing the event on Tuesday. "Barack Obama is going to make his case to the people of Wisconsin that it's time we had a president who will stand up for hardworking families and build a strong, thriving middle class," says the governor and highest profile Obama supporter from this state. "He has tremendous momentum coming into the Wisconsin primary, and Tuesday's rally will be a great opportunity to showcase his strong, grassroots support from throughout the state. This will not only be a chance to hear Barack Obama's vision for our country -- but to get actively involved in this movement for change."
Ok, these official messages from the campaign and its surrogates are expected, but what about interest from supporters around Wisconsin? Word of the rally spread quickly when it was announced yesterday. Invitations stormed through Facebook communities on Saturday evening, while a subsequent announcement from the Students for Barack Obama chapter at UW-Madison encouraged supporters to get "fired up" in anticipation of the approaching primary.
The rally is drawing interest throughout the state, with one supporter from Green Bay declaring his intention to attend on a community blog for the candidate, a sign that there's going to be quite the crowd at the Kohl Center come Tuesday. There are people even asking questions online about how early one should arrive for the event. A similar question about crowds has also been posed on the Madison LiveJournal group.
The Obama rally on Tuesday will be the candidate's first visit to Madison since he delivered a speech to an overflowing crowd at Monona Terrace on October 15, 2007. It is also a sign of Wisconsin's growing importance to the Democratic presidential nomination, with Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama running neck and neck in delegate counts.
Obama, who won Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota, is also looking to do well in this Upper Midwestern state. His campaign has opened a second office in Madison, with administrative and media work now being conducted from a new space just of the Capitol Square, while phone bank and other outreach activities continue to be conducted from Laundry 101 just off State Street. Meanwhile, campaign ads for Obama (and other candidates) can now be seen with increasing regularity in media markets around Wisconsin.
The rally also comes one night after a Boogie for Barack Obama event at the Majestic Theatre downtown, where progressive supporters are organizing a party to show their support for the candidate. "I think it will help build excitement for Tuesday," says co-organizer Lindsey Lee. He notes that Milwaukee-area U.S. Representative Gwen Moore will also be in attendance at the party, as will Dane County Dems chair Wayne Bigelow, with unity among "Democrats who want change" being the theme of the party. Lee also expresses his hope a couple of local elected officials still sitting on the fence will use both events to share their presidential preferences. "It would be great if Mayor Dave endorsed Obama, and more than great if Russ Feingold endorsed," he says.
"We are really focused on getting progressives excited about the possibility of electing a president who can bring in a progressive majority and can actually accomplish something over the next four to eight years, because we've never had that in my lifetime," continues Lee. "I'm also excited to go to the Kohl Center and enjoy what feels like will be a historic event."
Doors open at the Kohl Center at 6:15 p.m., with Obama expected to speak sometime around or after 8 p.m. on Tuesday evening. Tickets are not required, but persons interested in attending the free rally are encouraged to RSVP to the campaign. Bags are prohibited for security reasons, and as all politicians look to achieve absolute message control, event organizers declare "no signs or banners permitted." It's likely that there are at least one or two free speech advocates in town who would beg to differ, though.
This rally is on the night of the so-called 'Potomac primaries,' a trio of contests for the Democratic nomination that will be held on Feb. 12 in the states of Maryland and Virginia along with Washington, D.C. Obama is expected by observers to do well in, if not win, all three elections, so it's possible that the candidate's address at the Kohl Center will also serve as another victory speech following his Saturday wins in Louisiana, Nebraska, Washington, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. "He'll be talking about the election returns and what they mean, and taking on the next phase of the campaign," says Leistikow of Obama's plans for the speech.
With a full week to go between next Tuesday's rally and the Wisconsin primary, voters in the state can expect more visits by presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton is confirmed to speak at the state Democratic Party's Founders Day Gala in Milwaukee on Sunday, Feb. 16, an event to which Obama is also invited to attend. Clinton has also accepted an invitation for an as-yet unscheduled debate at Marquette University in advance of the primary, though her competitor has yet to announce whether or not he'll participate.
"Obama will be campaigning very aggressively in Wisconsin," says Leistikow. "We're still putting together the rest of his schedule, and he'll be campaigning hard here."