February 4th, 2008
09:10 AM ET
10 years ago

Obama arena-hops across the country

A new feel to Obama rallies.

A new feel to Obama rallies.

ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) - Gone are the town hall-style meetings filled with 200 people.
Gone are the days where simply showing up to an event meant there was a good chance that if you wanted to meet the candidate, you could.

That may have been the way it was in Iowa, but this - pardon the slang - ain't Iowa. It's now the lead-up to February 5, the 22-state mega contest known as Super Tuesday.

For Obama, it means criss-crossing the country, dropping in on cities he's never campaigned in-some of them in states he's never even been to-for what is sometimes one event per state.

But these aren't your average gatherings. Unless you consider an indoor football arena filled with what can be tens of thousands of people your "average gathering."

Today's Obama "rallies" - the term used in lieu of "town hall meetings," which, most of the time, means Obama won't take audience questions - now look more like rock concerts than anything else.

His staff has made it a goal to pack arenas that seat thousands as tight as they possibly can. People in overflow crowds have been overheard saying the campaign warned them that tickets would be granted to more people than there will be room for.

But after the event ends, it's not uncommon to hear staffers mention how "surprised" they were that so many people showed up. And they may, in fact, be legitimately surprised. Still, when the press arrived at the event at the Taco Bell Arena on the campus of Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, Saturday morning, a giant black curtain was hanging and dividing the seating area, keeping about a quarter of the seats out of view. It's a tactic sometimes used by campaigns - including rival Hillary Clinton's - that shrinks the amount of seating space in a room and gives an illusion there are more people than there actually are.

To his credit, Obama rarely partitions a room like that. A campaign spokeswoman said they had done it on at least one other occasion - a canvass kickoff rally back in the day in Des Moines - in order to, as she said, better "frame the shot" for cameras.

Soon, though, the curtain at the Boise event slowly came down, revealing vacant chairs and a number of large hand-painted campaign banners. A crowd that had still been waiting outside was beginning to fill these seats.

Arena officials estimated 15,000 showed up, setting a new record for number of people ever inside the building.

But the curtain illusion is a rarity in this campaign. There's no denying his crowds have been simply monstrous.

According to the campaign, Obama's Wednesday stop in Denver, Colorado, saw 9,500 fill an indoor arena and an additional 9,000 couldn't get in filled an overflow room and an outdoor lacrosse field. (It's worth noting, however, that this number could not be verified since members of the traveling media were not allowed outside to witness this.)

An event in an arena in St. Louis, Missouri, on Saturday, saw, according to the campaign, 20,000 people.

These kinds of numbers are, to say the least, difficult to confirm, but in general they appear believable, and this type of arena-style venue seems to have become the norm, at least in the days before Super Tuesday.

Obama communications director Robert Gibbs said a large venue benefits them particularly in states holding caucus-style nominating contests as opposed to primaries, i.e. New Mexico, Idaho, and Minnesota-three states the Illinois senator made stops in on Friday and Saturday.

"Theres a big organizing function to doing a large event in a caucus state because it gives you access to names," Gibbs said. "It helps you direct people to the polling places, it gives you the ability to recruit election day volunteers, it helps you honestly just get the vote out for Tuesday."

–CNN Political Producer Chris Welch

Filed under: Candidate Barack Obama
soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. Ari

    Sorry, there is not one person on the planet, including Hillary, that can convince me that anyone without "35 years experience" ends up like George Bush once in office.

    That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

    Hillary has held rallies too – why is it that when she (or her Lesser Half Bill) does it, it's politicking, but when Obama does it, he's "acting like a rockstar".

    Unfortunately for Hillary, I've heard how she demeans her colleagues, I've heard what she plans to do for her health care plan, I've already seen what happened with Iraq..... perhaps she would have been better off holding rallies instead.

    February 4, 2008 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  2. sandra longley

    look, he does'nt take questions, because he does'nt have answers, thats why this man of ideas, and vision of a new world voted "present" so many times when he got to the senate,he probably knew he did'nt have enough knowledge on the subject to say yes or no, if you can't figure it out there what are you going to do in the white house?

    February 5, 2008 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  3. puleeeeze

    Charlotte, you are absolutely right. Jon Favreau, 20 something Caucasian speech writer, writes nice words and Obama says them. then people get "inspired" by "his" message! puleeze!!! he's a packaged product, like a music video. and, those who sell the product own the product. the product doesn't own itself. naivete about how the real world works is just fine for a lot of activities, but can result in the absolute worst election decision. bush was packaged as a good ole boy "uniter" and now obama is packaged as an upscale "uniter." either way, same thing – good packaging, not much inside. (i know obamaites will say yes he does have substance, read his books, his website, etc. – once again, just words, mostly written by others. or they will say he did such and such – because he said so, again just words). i did enjoy youthful innocence, but the presidency is a job for a grownup.

    February 5, 2008 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  4. debbie

    The Obama cult is definitely a direct result of HYPE by the media. When they always say that Hillary supporters are mostly uneducated and poor and Obama's, the educated, more affluent voters, they are intentionally influencing support for the candidates. Who would openly support Hillary after the media labeled her supporters uneducated? Yet i am a pharmacist and i come from a family of doctors and we are supporting Hillary. The media is playing DIRTY and people are easily brain-washed...especially the feeble-minded ones who do not want to be labeled uneducated!!!

    February 5, 2008 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  5. Hugh Pepper

    I only wish I had a chance to vote for the man who reminds me of JFK. He has inspired both my children and me, but as Canadians we can only cheer for him from a distance. Go Obama go!

    February 5, 2008 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  6. Ann Aloha Independent Thinking, PA

    Unfortunately new reports show, of the arenas crowds, only 60% will probably vote for Senator Obama..the rest want to see the SIDESHOW Medicine Man along with Oprah and Mrs. Terminator.

    February 5, 2008 02:39 am at 2:39 am |
  7. observer#1

    Obama backers have surely not done any of their homework on him. Go to newsmax..com and type in Obamas church. You owe it to yourself before you vote!

    February 5, 2008 02:53 am at 2:53 am |
  8. max

    VOTE for him, vote for change, vote the 21st life style, vote for peace, vote for better economy, vote against war, lead US to where it belong, bring respect back to US!

    Roadham Clinton? George Bush!
    Both endorsed the war in Iraq!
    and hence over usd 4 trillion debt.
    no peace, fear, 20th century life style.
    USA now a laughing stock world wide.
    little or no respect for US.
    still stuck in Bush admn, then Clinton admn?
    change will never ever come shall Roadhum Clinton be a president of USA

    February 5, 2008 03:41 am at 3:41 am |
  9. Claudia, Tucson, AZ

    "Experience" has gotten us nowhere. "Experience" is the establishment. Hillary will only continue the divisiveness in our country. Unless we get a majority in the Congress & Senate, and if Hillary should get the nomination, this gridlock will continue. I appreciate the cause for women but we need to think outside the box and do what is right for our country. Barack has an excellent chance to start a change movement in Washington. The media has been fair in this election. As a Barack supporter I didn't like it when they reported Hillary as "inevitable." So think outside the box.

    February 5, 2008 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
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