PERRY, Iowa, 12:10 p.m. — Perry, Iowa is a small town of 7,000 at the intersection of Iowa highways 141 and 144. The main drag – 2nd avenue – runs four blocks through the heart of town, lined with maybe a couple dozen storefronts. It is a sleepy little place 20 miles north of the interstate, northwest of the capital, Des Moines.
But inside the McCreary Community Center on Pattee Street this morning, you would think you were standing on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange — or in the White House Press Room. Of the gymnasium that local organizers had converted into a stage, fully half the floor space was devoted to camera risers, media tables and TV boom microphones.
Who would have thought Dick Cheney’s cousin could turn such a crowd?
Yes, it was Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s turn to hold our attention. Obama – stopping in Perry along his “Stand for Change” tour – played strong to his usual themes of hope and reconciliation, of moving beyond partisan politics and the red state/blue state dichotomy. Obama turned on critics who charge his candidacy with inexperience by quoting – as he has begun to do in recent weeks – the words of Martin Luther King, Jr: “I believe in the fierce urgency of now.”
“We are at a defining moment in our history,” Obama said. “And at this defining moment, I believe, we could not wait. We could not wait to fix our healthcare system so that everyone can have the care they need. We could not wait to halt global warming. We could not wait to bring an end to this war in Iraq. We could not wait.”
Throughout, Obama entertained the crowd of 200 supporters and undecideds, joking about Mitt Romney’s illegal lawn-care debacle, members of the media and the fact that he is distantly related to Vice President Dick Cheney.
“That was really embarrassing, by the way, when we found that out. You know, when do you do the genealogical survey you hope that you’re related to Willie Mays or somebody cool – but Dick Cheney, that’s a real let-down.”
His oration left some audience members “in awe” – as one woman put it as she left the Community Center. Others, like Perry resident Wayne Larson, 23, gave the senator more moderated support.
“It’s nice to see someone telling the truth for a change,” Larson said.
Whether that support translates into a caucus victory for Obama will be unclear until Thursday night. The latest Zogby International daily tracking poll puts the senator in a tie for second place with former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, at 26 percent. New York Senator Hillary Clinton leads the tracking poll at 30 percent, narrowly maintaining a lead outside the poll’s 3.3 percent margin of error.