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Obama Previews Convention Themes On The Road


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. And, of course, the Democratic National Convention gets under way later today in Denver. It's Barack Obama's show. The presidential hopeful won't actually make an appearance until Wednesday night, but for the next couple of days, he'll be touring several battleground states expected to be crucial in the November election.

Today, Senator Obama will be in Iowa and Missouri. NPR's Don Gonyea was with him yesterday in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where Obama talked about some of the things he hopes Americans will learn from the convention.

DON GONYEA: As Barack Obama prepares for the biggest moment of his political life, he seemed, over the weekend, mindful that a more low-key approach was called for as he campaigned in western Wisconsin yesterday. After all, it was Sunday, one of the last of the summer, and a lovely one at that - a good day not to ask people to wait in long lines to pass through security checkpoints.

He started things out at Eau Claire's First Lutheran Church, the 10:00 a.m. service. The congregation was surprised to see the soon-to-be Democratic nominee.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: That was the sound outside the church as Obama said goodbye to the pastor and headed to his car. From there, it was a short ride to a lakeside setting, where a relatively small group of 300 gathered on picnic tables for a barbecue with the candidate. Obama warmed up the crowd slowly.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democratic, Illinois; Presidential candidate): So I'm looking for a brat or a burger or something. Although there was a debate about whether technically this could be called a barbecue, because my theory is that if there's no barbecue, it's not a barbecue.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. OBAMA: It's a cookout. You might be grilling. Is there barbecue here?

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

Sen. OBAMA: All right. All right. Okay.

GONYEA: But even that light banter had a purpose. One thing the Obama campaign will be working hard to demonstrate this week at the convention and beyond is that Barack Obama has a lot in common with middle-class Americans. To that end, he looked ahead to his wife Michelle's speech in primetime tonight.

Sen. OBAMA: You'll have a sense of who she is and what our values are and how we're raising our kids. And I think what you'll conclude is, gee, he's sort of like us. He comes from a middle-class background. He went to school on scholarships. He had to pay off student loans. He and his wife had to worry about childcare.

GONYEA: Now, that theme was also covered indirectly in the location for this small gathering. It took place at Rod and Gun Park - again, Obama making a pitch to working class Americans, people in Wisconsin who own guns and who like to hunt.

As his motorcade arrived at the park, there were a couple dozen protestors waving signs warning that Obama will try to take away people's guns. Those demonstrators also waved John McCain signs. Obama had this to say to the friendly audience that had secured tickets to actually get a seat on a picnic bench inside the park. He said the Republican goal this year is to scare people about him.

Sen. OBAMA: I saw some signs coming in: He's going to take away your guns.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. OBAMA: Even though I have repeatedly said I support strongly the Second Amendment and the legal right to bear arms.

GONYEA: Senator Obama did take on a harder edge when he went after his opponent John McCain. As he always does, he said he respects McCain, citing his, quote, "Brave and distinguished service." That includes time served as a prisoner of war. But Obama said he does not respect McCain's policies, which he portrays as a continuation of what the country has gotten from President Bush.

Senator McCain, meanwhile, took yesterday off from the campaign trail. But he did do something that might be seen as him burnishing his regular guy credentials. He took in an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game.

Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Don Gonyea
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.