Obama: For Now, Perspiration Over Inspiration

On the trail, though, the work of winning over real, live voters before Super Tuesday is a little less miraculous. In advance of tonight's final pre-Feb. 5 debate in Hollywood, Obama scheduled exactly one stop in Southern California: at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College in downtown L.A.. In case you're curious, LATTC is a) filled entirely with young people and b) 53 percent Hispanic. "I can't do this without you," said Obama from a stage in the center of the school's Spanish Colonial Revival courtyard. He meant it.

A surge in youth voter turnout propelled Obama to victory in Iowa and South Carolina, where the kids picked him over Hillary three-to-one. But the campaign can't possibly devote as much time and energy to mobilizing young voters in 22 states that vote on Super Tuesday as he did in the handful of early contests--meaning that the next five days will be spent targeting the 'utes where they can really make a difference. California is one of those places. Obama trails Clinton statewide, but turning out a ton of core supporters in key spots (like Los Angeles) could help keep him close in the proportional delegate tally.

The Latino/Hispanic vote will also be crucial. In Nevada, Obama lostLatinos to Clinton by the same margin he typically wins young voters. He wants to do better on Super Tuesday, and it's easy to see why: Latinos make up 22.8 percent of the eligible voters in California, 17 percent of eligible voters in Arizona, 12.3 percent in Colorado, 11.4 percent in New York and 9.9 percent in New Jersey. Those states alone award more than half of the day's delegates, and unless Obama is content to cede them to Clinton, he'll need to convince at least a few more Latinos to break his way.

He gave it his all at today's appearance, starting his remarks by addressing the historical tensions between blacks and Latinos. "It's so important to come together," he said. "We've heard the cynical talk about how black folks, white folks, Latinos will not come together; we've heard talk about the so-called black-brown divide; and whenever I hear this, I take it seriously, because I'm reminded of the Latino brothers and sisters I worked alongside on the streets of Chicago two decades ago."

The rest of the speech was similarly targeted. Monday's Ted Kennedy endorsement was portrayed in the press largely as a symbolic gesture--a passing of the JFK baton--but this morning Obama put the support of the liberal lion, who's hugely popular with Latinos for championing immigration reform, to practical use on the stump. "I fought with Ted Kennedy to work on comprehensive immigration reform," he said to thunderous applause, later adding that "as my friend and supporter Ted Kennedy says, in this country, as in all countries, health care should be a fundamental right." Decrying the state of public education, Obama mentioned how he recently read an article in the Los Angeles Times about a mother frustrated with her son's failing school who came to conclusion that "maybe the system is not designed for people like us." Her name: Martha Sanchez. On immigration, the senator said he was "really upset with the tone of debate... in this country"--mainly because "folks are focusing on south of the border, but they don't talk about immigrants from Ireland or Poland." And when the crowd started chanting "Yes, We Can," Obama responded, unprompted, in Spanish: "Sí, se puede."

The starshine, of course, hasn't vanished. "I believe a new kind of politics is possible," Obama said near the end of his speech. "This election is a choice not between regions or religions or genders; not black versus white or Latino versus Asian. It's not young versus old. This is a choice about the past versus future." Point taken. But the future is still a ways away. Right now, with the down-and-dirty decisions of Super Tuesday looming, inspiration only counts for so much. The rest is sweat.

And even a hope-monger knows that.