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Then he got down to business. For a thin man, he has a deep, rich voice. Most of the time, he speaks in a resonant but relaxed tone, and then he shifts, pacing the stage and booming out his message in preacher-like cadences.
"The reason you are here," he said, his voice rising, "is that Americans are starving for change. They want something new." The crowd exploded, and he urged it along, building the roar in waves. He cited a laundry list of disappointments, things, he said, that people are "sick and tired of." There were no surprises here: unaffordable health care, lost jobs, tax breaks for the rich, broken schools, and, finally, the current administration and its war in Iraq. "Lord knows, people are tired of this war," he said, "a war that has made us less safe, that has cost too many American lives, that diminishes our standing in the world. It is time to bring the troops home. It's not working."
Then he shifted again, telling the crowd something that he knew people wanted to think about themselves: "You want not just to be against something; you want to be for something," he shouted. "You want politics that can work in a way that is ennoblingnot petty, not dishonest. The American people, all around the country, want to see a politics that says we are all connected."
This is the heart of the stump speech he has been giving all year. He has tested it on audiences around the country, to 20,000 people in Atlanta, 10,000 in Houston. "You want to feel some hope," he told the crowd. "Now the reporters are saying, 'Oh, there he goes again. He's so naïve. He's talking about hope.' I've been accused of being a hope-monger. And I plead guilty as charged. I am an optimist."
He is right about the press. In the back of the room, there were two dozen TV cameras and a throng of reporters listening closely to see if he took a tough shot at Hillary Clinton, here on her own home turf. This is how the political scorecard is being tabulated right now. Shot by shot, tit for tat, and poll by poll. But there is no measurement of what he does to rooms like the one in Brooklyn, how one candidate comes to a city and electrifies those who hear him.
Outside the ballroom, sitting on a stuffed chair, wearing a rumpled suit with a worn satchel beside him sat an old Brooklyn political hand, a health-care consultant named Bob Healy. He is Irish Catholic from the days when his people made all the decisions about candidates in New York, and he has seen them come and go, Clarence Norman included. "Forget the others," Healy said of the presidential field. "This one, he is excitement. Sure he can win. This is his time."