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Watching Obama Close...

Salem, New Hampshire

I've probably attended over two dozen Obama events since November (Mike and I basically divided up Hillary and Obama, and I drew Obama.) Yesterday afternoon was the best I've seen him, with the possible exception of his victory speech Thursday night. He was concise, funny, uplifting, very energetic. He modulated his voice unusually well, even for someone with a naturally good delivery.

If I had to explain it, I'd say there were two things going on. One was that Obama can clearly smell victory. I've written before about his reputation as a closer. What I saw today completely affirmed that. (One corollary to this: Obama is often at his best when feeding off a large crowd--he has a real intuitive sense of how to do that. Obviously, the crowds get larger toward the end of a race, particularly if you're doing well.)

More importantly, it became clear today--in a way that wasn't entirely obvious to me beforehand--that Hillary is a near-perfect foil for him. For example, Hillary said in Saturday night's debate that: "I think it is clear that what we need is somebody who can deliver change. And we don't need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered. The best way to know what change I will produce is to look at the changes that I've already made."

This sounded perfectly reasonable to me at the time. But it gave rise to this soaring Obama riff yesterday:

You know, I've been teased in this campaign and derided for the use of the word "hope." We saw it last night at the debate. One of my opponents said, you know, "Stop feeding the American people false hopes about what can be done. We need a reality check." False hopes? About what we can do? What's that mean? What kind of message is that to send to the American people? We're going to focus on the constraints of what's possible instead of open it up, bust through them? Is that how we got through segregation and ended it? By saying, "Well, you know what? We can't change that."? Did JFK say, "You know what, that moon thing, it looks too far. Let's have a reality check. We can't do it."? ... We don't need a leader telling us what we can't do. We need our leaders to inspire us to believe in what we can accomplish.

Now, you can argue that this is a little airy. (Though Obama tries to make the importance of hope more concrete elsewhere in his speech.) But, for sheer emotional resonance, it's hard to beat this stuff.

In the end, it's hard to blame Hillary--or, as Jonathan Cohn argues, her advisers--for what's going on here. Hillary's greatest assets are her experience and her pragmatic problem-solving abilities. (No small assets those, I should add.) Given how difficult it is to run as someone you're not (just ask Mitt Romney), the Clinton campaign, as Cohn says, was probably right to put them at the center of her campaign. But, for whatever reason, voters just aren't looking for those assets this year. And every time she opens her mouth, she gives Obama a chance to remind them of that.

P.S. Time's Jay Carney attended the same event and had a similar thought

--Noam Scheiber