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Obama takes his message to the South

(Credit: Politirazzi)

Kaine, Obama and Webb take the stage in Bristow, Va. (AP)

By Mike Thibert

On Tuesday, when Obama wrapped up the Democratic nomination, I received an e-mail from his listserv alerting me to the first rally of the general election being held about 30 miles west of D.C. in Vienna, Va. Never before had I been to a political rally, and never before had I been inspired enough to ever consider it. But here and now, it was something I was excited about, if I had the chance.

My work week was shaping up to be hectic. We were working on getting a big project out the door for Friday, and so the overtime kicked in. But Wednesday, a powerful thunderstorm blew through the area, spawning a few tornadoes, and with it, knocking out power to my place of employment.

And this paved the way, allowing me to go to my first political rally, and it was something.

A local southern rock band kicked off the festivities, covering the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Johnny Cash. Then came Gov. Tim Kaine, who proudly spoke of being the first politician outside of the state of Illinois to endorse Barack for president. The popular Sen. Jim Webb was next, who spoke to a raucous crowd chanting "V-P!", anxious to see his name appear on the ballot in November.

When Sen. Obama stepped up to the podium, he showered the two Virginian Democrats with praise. Barack mentioned the fact that not only did Sen. Webb serve in the armed forces, but his son did as well. It's not often that an American politician has sent their own children off to war, fighting in wars that they themselves have authorized.

As Gov. Kaine left the stage to attend his son's graduation ceremony, Barack took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, signaling that it was time to get down to business.

(continued) Barack came down hard on Sen. John McCain's new "change" campaign, an obvious attempt to cash in on the "flavor of the month," stating that McCain can boast about reaching across the aisles ten years ago, but not in this campaign, where he has largely been in step with the policies of President Bush.

Barack took a harder line than I had seen in the past on foreign policy, telling the crowd that he will ensure that the military has all of the necessary tools to fight the war on Al-Qaida and finally bring Osama bin Ladin to justice; before proceeding to condemn the war on Iraq, promising to bring our troops home.

Barack also made a promise to the American people for the duration of the general election campaign, vowing to have a substantive debate on the issues with Sen. McCain, and not resorting to "mud-slinging" and meaningless distractions. I hope ABC News gets the memo.

But not being a political pundit, what struck me the most about the rally was that nothing felt forced. Politicians have often had the problem of alienating their constituency, generally saying whatever is required to get elected.

Every position that Barack spoke on came across with a strong passion, not as forced rhetoric. And as Barack descended from the stage, taking the time to look everyone in the eye as he shook their hands, the man came off as authentic.

Sen. Webb earlier pointed out that the Democrats haven't won the state of Virginia in a presidential election since 1964. With an impressively diverse crowd of at least 10,000 strong, and with about half of them, like me, being engaged in the political process for the first time, it looks like Sen. Obama might just buck that trend this year.

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