Barack Obama At Pentecostal Church In Las Vegas
by Todd Beeton, Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 02:36:36 PM EST
Barack Obama was back in Las Vegas this morning to speak at the 11:30am Sunday services at the Pentecostal Temple Church of God In Christ. CNN described it as a "mostly African-American" church, but the congregation present today, a full house of over 300 strong, looked nothing short of 100% African-American. The service was led by Pastor Leon Smith who started off by saying that he had decided in the last 72 hours to support Barack Obama in the upcoming caucus on Saturday. "The more I hear him speak, the more confidence I have in him," he said. "I hope he can sweep change all across this nation!" The crowd was with him, cheering and applauding as he spoke. Interestingly, he also addressed the controversy surrounding the lawsuit to close down the at-large caucus precincts, the only mention I've heard of it all weekend. Not surprisingly, Smith framed it as an attempt to dis-enfranchise workers. He stopped short of laying blame for the effort to close the precincts, however.
Senator Obama spoke at the very end of the service. He was welcomed as though he were a returning hero, with a standing ovation and affectionate cheering from the audience. After introductions, Obama stood before the podium and proceeded to give what was essentially his standard stump speech, differing little in content and style from what I heard on Friday. There were a couple notable distinctions.
First of all, gone was the 'Yes We Can' rhetoric that Obama debuted at his New Hampshire concession speech, designed to invoke Cesar Chavez in an appeal to both Nevada's labor and hispanic communities. Instead, this afternoon Obama used rhetoric that echoed another cultural leader. In the closing stanzas of his speech, he repeated "If you believe..." several times, ending with "...we can make this dream a reality." Obama references Martin Luther King, Jr. in every speech he gives ("the fierce urgency of now..."); today he did so just a little more than usual and with a bit more subtlety.
Another difference between Obama's usual speech and the one he gave at the church today was a distinct Biblical reference he used toward the end to describe his generation of black leaders; he called them the "Joshua generation." In the Bible, Joshua was Moses's apprentice, appointed by Moses to succeed him upon his death. Obama said that this new generation of black leaders could not be doing what they are without the "Moses generation" that came before them; he said the Joshua generation stands on the shoulders of the Moses generation. It was a moving analogy and one that was not lost on the crowd.
From beginning to end, the service today was tinged with the unmistakable excitement about what Barack Obama represents, namely the opportunity to make history by sending an African-American on to the Democratic nomination and ultimately to the presidency. The question remains, however, to what extent this excitement will ultimately translate to support at the caucuses next Saturday. As I was leaving I overheard a middle aged African-American woman answering a reporter's question about her impression of the event. "It was interesting," she said. "Just interesting?""I'm still undecided," she replied. The Clinton events I attended this weekend, none of which featured the candidate by the way, were disproportionately white and female, but I can't help but think Obama is going to have a harder time eating into Clinton's African-American female support than it might seem on the surface, especially with Bill Clinton on the ground here on Hillary's behalf starting tomorrow.