An emotional President Obama finished his campaign in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday night, the state that launched his unlikely road to the presidency in 2008.
“I’ve come back to Iowa one more time to ask for your vote,” Obama told the crowd, his voice hoarse from relentless campaigning. “I came back to ask you to help us finish what we’ve started.”
Obama’s speech was infused with nostalgia at every turn, eschewing his usual attacks on his opponent, Mitt Romney (whose name never came up), in favor of a wistful look back on his 2008 campaign and the spirit that he said connected it to his current run. At one point he appeared to wipe away tears.
“We’ve made real progress these last four years,” he said. “But, Iowa we’re here tonight because we got more work to do. We’re not done yet on this journey, we’ve got more road to travel. As long as there’s a single American who wants a job but can’t find one, as long as there are families working harder but still falling behind, as long as there’s a child still in Des Moines, anywhere in Iowa, anywhere in this country languishing in poverty, barred from opportunity, our work isn’t done.”
He cast himself as a populist counter to “the folks at the top of this country” who he said “will always have a seat at the table” no matter who is president. He said that message had only become clear in his long and bitter fights with Congress to pass universal health care and Wall Street reform.
“Children don’t have lobbyists the way oil companies or banks do, but it’s the dreams of those children that will be our saving grace,” he said. “That’s what we fight for. That’s why I need you, Iowa, to make sure their voices are heard.”
He added: “I got a lot more fight left in me. But to wage that fight on behalf of American families, I need you to still have some fight in you, too.”
And here was the nub of the speech: The persuasion period is over. It’s time to turn out the base. The candidate who began his career as a community organizer now had to hope that the grassroots machine he’d built for his re-election was enough to withstand a robust challenge from Romney.
“It’s out of my hands now,” he said. “It’s up to you.”
Looking out at the crowd, Obama recalled his old campaign headquarters nearby in the Democratic primary and its lousy heating. He spoke of the volunteers then who took time off after long working days to work the phones. He retold in detail a now familiar story from his first run about Edith Child, a volunteer in South Carolina who he met after a brutal day in the primaries and inspired him with a chant of “Fired up, ready to go!” that he soon incorporated into his rallies. The president said that he personally called Child up the other day and asked her to come to the rally in Des Moines to lead the crowd, but was rebuffed.
“She said, ‘I’d love to see you, but I think we can still win North Carolina so I’m taking a crew into North Carolina to knock on doors on Election Day,’” he recounted. “‘I dont have time just to be talking about it. I’ve got to knock on some doors. I’ve got to run out the vote! I’m still fired up and I got work to do!”’
Obama’s voice cracked as he repeated, almost word for word, the same exact lines he used in numerous 2008 speeches about Ms. Child’s effect on him that day.
“That shows you what one voice can do,” he said. “One voice can change a room. And if it can change a room, it can change a city. And if it can change a city, it can change a state. And if it can change a state, it can change a nation. And if it can change a nation it can change the world!”
The crowd roared.
“Edith Child asked me to ask you that if you’re willing to still stand with me tomorrow, and if you’re willing to get your friends and your neighbors and your cowokers to the polls tomorrow, if you’re willing to make sure we finish what we started, she’s pretty sure we’ll win Iowa,” he said. “She’s pretty sure we’ll win this election. And she just had one question for you and that is are you fired up? Are you fired up?”
As the shouts of “ready to go!” washed over him, he concluded: “Iowa, tomorrow let’s remind the world just why it is the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth. I love you, let’s keep moving forward, and let’s get ready to vote!”
Watch the full campaign event below:
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.