- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Down-ticket Democratic candidates usually limited to stumping for votes along parade routes and shaking hands with 40 people at pancake breakfasts will get a nice boost this year, thanks to the man at the top of the ticket.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama can easily draw 3,000 people for a midday town hall rally - and upwards of 20,000 for evening rallies - and that means city council, congressional and Senate candidates from across the country will have the good fortune over the next four months to be his warm-up acts.

Democrats argue the sheer crowd size will help hopefuls in November, and some are excited they will be treated to captive audiences in the thousands.

“When he comes to Tennessee, we’ll have every significant Democrat running at the event, unless they don’t want to be there, and they are crazy if they don’t want to be there,” said Bob Tuke, a candidate for U.S. Senate and former Tennessee Democratic Party chairman.

Mr. Tuke, running against Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, said his typical campaign events can draw a few hundred people. “And there’s no question if Barack Obama comes, you move an expectation of a crowd from several hundred to in the thousands,” he said.

He said when Mr. Obama campaigned for then-Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. in 2006 in the latter’s Senate bid, he drew 3,000 to the Nashville Courthouse.

“He brings an aura and an excitement to any event that we haven’t seen in a long time,” Mr. Tuke said.

Michigan state Rep. Brenda Clack appeared on stage with the Democratic hopeful at his town hall Monday in Flint, Mich., and believes she will get an Obama bump at the polls in November when she runs for the county commissioner seat.

“He has that lightning-rod effect,” she said. “I’m sure it’s going to draw the numbers out because people are going to vote for him [and] I do expect my numbers to go up. He’s an automatic draw, and there’s no telling how many new people will vote this year.”

Ms. Clack said people had to be turned away from his forum, which attracted “way over 2,000,” and she’s sure he’ll need to appear in a larger venue during his next Michigan trip.

Early Obama supporters often cited his potential effect on the fall ticket when explaining their endorsement of the Illinois senator over one-time front-runner Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Even Democratic members of Congress who remained neutral in the Democratic fight said they saw internal polls that proved Mr. Obama would help the party retain and strengthen its congressional majority.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, earlier this month opined on the “Obama effect” on congressional races, saying Democrats will be happy to “exploit the opportunities he has opened up for us.”

“We’re in the attraction business,” she said. “Sometimes you might never know it, but that is what we are in. And he has proven to be an attraction in politics, and we see it as very positive.”

But Virginia’s Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, supporting his party’s presumptive presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, is doubtful big crowds will translate to an Obama win in the fall.

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