by John McCormick
NASHUA, N.H. – The traffic was much worse here than it ever was in Iowa.
It took 20 minutes to crawl along the final mile leading up to the Nashua High School, where a rally was held this morning for Sen. Barack Obama, attracting a crowd his campaign said totaled more than 2,500.
Once in the parking lot, a line stretched roughly a quarter mile, as supporters and curiosity seekers waited in the cold – many for up to an hour -- to get into a field house and then a gym that served as an overflow room.
"There must be a hockey game going on somewhere," Obama said, starting behind schedule because it took longer than expected to get everyone into the building. "What an incredible crowd."
The Illinois Democrat talked a great deal about Iowa, where he finished a commanding first in the Iowa caucuses. It is a delicate balance between trying to build on momentum and turning off New Hampshire voters, who don't like to be told what to think by voters in other states.
"New Hampshire, a few days ago, something special happened in the Midwest," Obama said. "A few days ago, the people of Iowa decided to set aside their fear and cynicism and reach for what was possible. And New Hampshire, in three days time, it is your turn to bring about change in America."
Obama tried to reassure voters that his Iowa win was not just a "fluke."
"You saw on the TV screen, you saw it on Iowa, you're seeing it here today," he said. "Look at this crowd. This has to do with you, saying to yourselves, we can do something different. We can do better."
He warned against skeptics.
"As we enter in the real fever pitch of the campaign, there are folks who are looking at what's happening and they're saying, you know what, this is a one-time thing," Obama said. "They will keep on saying, you know what, despite the evidence of your eyes and your ears, despite what you feel in your gut, don't trust it. Particularly because Obama, you know, he may be inspiring. He may have great ideas. He may have put together a great organization, but he hasn't been in Washington long enough…It would be a roll of the dice to cast that vote. We need to season and stew him a little bit more, make sure we boil all the hope out of him."
Seeking to capitalize on the historic nature of his campaign, Obama said a win in New Hampshire would be a chance to "say to America that we can do something that has not been done before."
Obama said his competitors were "terrific candidates who bring a lot a talent," but he made the case that only he offers a game-changing candidacy.
"It's easy to be against something, but what the American people want is to be for something," he said. "They want some affirmation that we can still do big things in this country."
Lisa Kulis, a real estate agent from Hudson, N.H., who considers herself an independent voter, said she left the Obama event convinced of her support for him.
"I think he's amazing," she said. "He's not the same-old, same-old. We can't do another Bush-Clinton, Bush-Clinton."
Steve Lear, a Nashua resident who does information technology work for an insurance company, said he remains undecided, but is leaning toward Obama.
Lear denied any suggestion that the results in Iowa might influence him, but said he was impressed that Obama could do so well in the Midwest and that false Internet rumors about his being a Muslim were not damaging.
"In the heart of the Midwest, it was good to see that did not have an effect," he said. "Nobody was able to spin him into a radical Islamist."
As Obama's campaign awaits a fresh New Hampshire poll this evening, Obama communications director Robert Gibbs said his candidate continues to draw people who have not typically participated in politics.
"That's what's important," Gibbs said, "to grow this electorate."
Gibbs said he is skeptical that any new polls out this weekend will have fully captured the momentum from Iowa.
"That won't fully capture the post-Iowa period," he said. "But if we were obsessed about polling, we wouldn't have gotten past April."
After the event, Obama lingered at the school longer than expected, even shooting a few baskets, as the campaign held its position to allow traffic outside to thin out.