It's 8 a.m. It's cold. I want to be in bed. But then I'd miss the opportunity to see Barack Obama give his first speech in New Hampshire ... and that's not going to happen.
By the time I arrived at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, there was already a line of about 200 people, with more arriving by the minute. As I walked down the line to see who had turned up, one thing was clear: Obama has major support here in New Hampshire and a lot of it is young first-time voters. Even though we're still early in the race, it's become pretty obvious that Obama has a formula that young people in particular can relate to. Whether it's his energy, his policies or even his young-ish age, it seems to be capturing the youth vote so far.
The turnout was a mix of undecided first-time voters and people who were full-fledged Obama supporters and proud of it. Parents had brought their kids, and some kids had even brought their parents. Students had traveled with their schools from Massachusetts, Indiana, New York and Florida as part of their courses, and some people just turned up alone, making new friends along the way. All of them were here to see the man that, at the moment, appears to be leading the presidential race. Barack Obama arrived, sharply dressed, about 20 minutes late, but the crowd didn't seem to mind.
This, however, wasn't exactly the case when it came to his second and almost identical speech of the day in Salem. The line was the longest I had seen for any candidate so far, wrapping right around the building. Using the power of the MTV News mic and our press passes, we pushed right through to the front. Initially, the organizers allowed about 50 people into the auditorium to get the best seats, but just as everyone was getting comfortable, an organizer made an announcement asking everyone to leave so that the police dogs could come in and do a sweep. After another 30 minutes, the audience was allowed back in, and the auditorium filled up quickly. Unfortunately, at least half of the assembled crowd was left disappointed because there just weren't enough seats inside the school hall (something we had seen happen at the first speech). After an hour of waiting for Obama's arrival, the 350-strong crowd started to grow restless; and after two hours had passed, the inevitable heckling began. Finally, a gang of Secret Service agents walked in through the side doors, a sign that the presidential candidate was in the building a full two hours later than expected.
After a brief introduction from a New Hampshire resident and former Republican who had seen the light after reading one of Obama's books, the big man bounded onstage to a standing ovation. He offered a brief apology for his lateness, saying only that he was "partially" to blame, and then it was down to business.
In a slightly hoarse voice, which he attributed to "talking a lot recently," he outlined the fundamental reason why he was here today. "My job is to be so convincing that a light goes off above your head and you vote for me on Tuesday," he said simply.
"Hands up, all the undecided people in the audience," he continued. About 30 or so people put their hands in the air, to which Obama joked to his two young campaign volunteers, "We've got some live ones here. You see them"; then, to the people in the audience, "You are in our sights. We are going for you!" The crowd laughed. He was back on track and off to a good start.
To win the crowd over even more, Obama expressed the importance of the New Hampshire vote by saying, "You all have more to do with electing the next president of the United States of America than anyone else," before referring to his recent Iowa victory for the first time. In the candidate's words, the reason for his victory was that "the American people have realized that the time has come to bring about fundamental change in America. New Hampshire has a responsibility to make a change. It is a chance to do something the cynics said you couldn't do!"
He was on a roll. "Let's bring together the Democrats and the Republicans. We are one nation. We have the same problems. It's not about breaking each other down but lifting the country up!"
Then he turned his attention to Washington, getting him the resounding positive response that he was hoping for. "Tell the lobbyists in Washington their days are over. Stop talking about the outrage of 47 million without health care and do something about it!"
He used the subject of health care to do what he does best: He personalized the topic, bringing him closer to his audience. He told the sad story of how his own mother died of cancer, and how one of his last memories of her is the image of her sitting in her sickbed, surrounded by a mass of health-insurance paperwork.
He vowed that if he becomes president "every single American will have the health care that I have and the health care that any member of congress has. Not in five years. Not in 10 years. We will do it within the first year if you stand with me in two days' time!"
In regards to the economy, he repeated a catchy line from his earlier speech: "With me, the White House won't represent Wall Street, it will represent Main Street!"
Clearly enjoying and feeding off the energy of the crowd, he raised his voice above the cheers. He had found his rhythm, and, at times, his voice and flow almost resembled that of Dr. Martin Luther King.
"In two days' time it will be your chance to elect a president that will be straight and honest. A president that will look you in the eye and tell you truth. A president that will make those decisions that will be good for you and not those who funded their campaign. That's what you'll get in two days' time!" he said.
The crowd stood up in applause, the perfect time to bring up the situation in Iraq. "In two days' time we will end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home, if you vote for me. ... As president and commander in chief, it is my job to keep you safe. I will not hesitate to strike against those who will do us harm, but our might must be matched by our diplomacy!
"We need to finish the fight with al Qaeda and Afghanistan," he added.
With the crowd at a fever pitch, it was time to take it home. "When people ask me, 'Why are you running?' it's not because of any long-lived ambitions. I'm not running because I feel it is owed to me. I'm running because of what Dr. King called the 'fierce urgency of now.' "
"The American dream feels like it's slipping away. There is a timetable for change that has to take place. A politics that's not based on spin and PR but on straight talk."
"People are angry at Bush, but change doesn't come from anger. There is no shortage of anger in Washington. We don't need more heat, we need more light!"
"I beat Fred. I beat Rudy. I beat John. I beat Mitt. I beat all of them. They are about the past, we are about the future."
He went on to address what had happened the day before at the debate. "Let me make one last point about the word 'hope.' I've been teased for the use of the word 'hope.' They call me a 'hope-monger,' " he joked. "One opponent said last night, 'Stop feeding the American people false hope about what can be done.' Segregation: Could we have overcome that if it wasn't for hope? Did JFK say, 'That moon thing, it looks too far?' No he didn't."
Whether he's a hope-monger or not, one thing is for sure: He is a wordsmith. Here are some of his speech's other memorable statements:
"We don't need leaders to tell us what we can't do, we need them to inspire us on what we can do when we work together."
"In two days it is your chance to fight for change! America is back, we are ready to lead again!"
"Vote for me and you will have a president who has taught the Constitution, believes in the Constitution and, above all, obeys the Constitution!"
"Don't let them tell you we cannot do this. Set aside fear, doubt, cynicism and pessimism. Set aside the politics that says, 'Don't bet on yourselves.' "
"You and I will remake this nation and remake this world and create the kind of America that we all believe in, if you vote for me. Let's go change the world!"
With that, the crowd surged forward as Obama shook hands with the front rows as he had done before. And with that ... Obama had left the building!