At Hartford eatery, Obama backers watch returns

HARTFORD — The signs — stuck to the wall between posters of Led Zeppelin and mounted electric guitars — read “Obama ’08: Vote Feb 5th.”

At 7 p.m., Sweet Jane’s, a Hartford “rock-and-roll eatery,” was barren. Diners at a table of eight slowly took their seats. The flat-screen televisions were all tuned to ESPN.

But an hour later, by the time the polls had closed in the state capital here, dozens of supporters of Sen. Barack Obama and members of his staff had converged on the restaurant, conveniently located across the street from the campaign’s state headquarters. As they waited for returns to come in, they talked about the man who inspires them — the man for whom they had spent hours canvassing and phone-banking.

The flat-screens displayed MSNBC and CNN. Eyes were glued to the scrolling numbers as results from exit polls slowly trickled in. The Democratic primary in Connecticut was “too close to call.”

Dorothy Shirley and Elaine Hatcher, both Hartford residents and volunteers for the Obama campaign, snagged a table right in front of one of the televisions.

“I really believe he can deliver the change,” Shirley said as she looked over the menu.

Shirley is worried for her daughter, who she fears may be worrying too much about paying off student loans instead of focusing on getting an education. Obama understands the problems of the average American, Shirley said, and can be effective at solving them.

Hatcher recounted a phone conversation she had the day before with an 85-year-old New Haven woman.

“I asked her if she was going to vote,” Hatcher said, as cheers erupted when commentators on the TV called Alabama for Obama. “She said, ‘Honey, I’m handicapped, but I sent in my absentee ballot for Obama.’”

Both women said they were astonished by the number of people — some of whom were in their forties and fifties — who were voting for the first time in their lives, and voting for Obama.

Tuesday was Javier Baez’s first day as a volunteer with the campaign. It was also his first day as an Obama supporter. After seeing Obama speak at a rally at the XL Center here on Monday, Baez said he felt as if he could get involved in politics for the first time in his life.

“I’ve always wanted to get involved, but I never knew how to,” he said as MSNBC showed a 3-percent lead for Obama in Connecticut.

It was Obama’s ability to inspire the people he spoke to, as well as the smart policies he outlined on Monday, that pushed Baez to hop on the city bus to Pratt Street in Hartford and phone bank for Obama, Baez explained.

Added Robert Cotto Jr., who was sitting with Baez, “He makes people feel good to be American again.”

Congressmen John Larson and Chris Murphy, who both endorsed Obama, demonstrated their support at Sweet Jane’s, too. Murphy said he admired Obama’s ability to bring the America’s youth — whom he termed politics’ “lost generation” — back into the fold.

“I don’t run away from the fact that I’m one of the youngest people in Congress,” said Murphy, who is 34. “In that respect, my support for Barack is very personal.”

Although the volunteers and staffers inside were glued to the television screens, those roaming the streets here on Tuesday night were far less concerned with the outcome of the Super Tuesday primaries.

Of the seven people interviewed on the relatively empty streets surrounding Sweet Jane’s, none had voted.

Larry, a homeless man who would only disclose his first name, said he did not think his vote would matter.

“I like Obama, man. He’s got charisma,” Larry said. “But I didn’t vote. People like me don’t vote.”

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