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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 January 2008, 09:48 GMT
Obama vision stirs student vote
By Katherine Smyth
Concord, New Hampshire

Last Thursday, as Iowans were getting ready to vote in the state's caucuses, a woman walked into the headquarters of the Barack Obama campaign in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Campaign sign for Senator Obama
Despite the cold, New Hampshire's race is heating up

"I'm a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts," she told a campaign volunteer, herself just off the plane from Texas.

"I have 12 undergraduates downstairs who want to help. Can I bring them up?"

The fresh delivery of bright young things to Senator Obama's campaign came as no surprise to the office staffers.

For months, thousands of young people across America - most of them students - have been listening to Obama's messages of change and hope and packing themselves into cars or boarding planes to spend one, or three, or six months working on his campaign.

'Followers'

More volunteers reportedly signed up to help on the Iowa leg than the team could manage.

Thousands had to be sent away - some to New Hampshire - because there was nowhere to house or seat them.

Senator Obama supporters in New Hampshire
Barack Obama's messages are pulling in young voters

While all campaigns in this nomination race are relying on the youth wings of their parties to get out the vote, none appears to have the same appeal to young activists as Mr Obama, especially his messages on tackling special interests and lobbyists.

Eighteen-year-old University of Delaware student Ariel Atlas is typical of the mood. "I came up from New York six months ago and have been coming back ever since," she beams.

"The turning point for me was a rally (Mr Obama) gave in Washington Square in New York in September. He blew me away with a speech about elevating our country to a new status among the rest of the world, about gaining allies," she said.

But while he may have cast a spell over millions of young Americans, criticism from the Clinton camp over his lack of experience in Washington has stuck.

One New Hampshire resident, Eric Tolbert, likes Mr Obama's message of hope but will not be voting for him on Tuesday.

"His vision is good but in terms of experience I don't think he is qualified to be president," the 31-year-old attorney from Manchester says.

Online 'connection'

Though many of the foot soldiers on Obama's campaign are little more than 20 years old, they have had unprecedented influence on campaign methodology.

Despite the clear win in Iowa there is no mood of victory. Campaigners are cold, exhausted and terrified of an upset.

They stumbled upon the idea of mobilising first-time 17- and 18-year-old voters, and making them a vote-seeking priority, a tactic which many believe helped win Iowa for Mr Obama.

Their superior knowledge of the internet also offers some answers to the question of how Obama is using young volunteers to reach voters.

For example, his campaign pioneered the use of online tickets for rallies and events.

So when 8,500 New Hampshirites got in to see talk show host Oprah and Mr Obama rally in the Verizon Arena in Manchester last month, the Obama New Hampshire team added another 8,500 email addresses - or more if you count the numbers who applied for tickets but didn't get them - to their contacts book.

This cache of information represented a windfall to campaigners back at the 16 offices Obama's campaign has scattered around this relatively small state.

In the weeks that followed, every person who attended the rally or applied for tickets will have been called, canvassed, e-messaged and quizzed by an ever-changing team of volunteers.

In campaign parlance it's known as "making a connection".

The aim is not just to get somebody out to vote, but to sign them up to working for the Obama campaign.

Yet despite the clear win in Iowa, there is no mood of victory. Campaigners are cold, exhausted and terrified of an upset.

When news of a new Rasmussen poll giving Mr Obama a 10-point lead over Hillary Clinton came through at the Concord, New Hampshire, office on Saturday morning, campaigners shook their fists in the air.

Then they immediately went back to work.

One campaigner said gravely: "We do feel the responsibility. All the folks up in Iowa have done their job really well. Now it's down to us to do ours."

And for the next 48 hours, that is what they will be doing.

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