- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 12, 2008

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is undeclared. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley backs New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Virginia Rep. James P. Moran threw his support behind Illinois Sen. Barack Obama over the weekend.

Despite their preferences, the trio of Democrats gathered yesterday to urge Washington-area residents to go to the polls today and exercise their unprecedented opportunity to vote in a presidential primaries that matter.

Indulge my confession: I won’t be able to cast a vote for my favored presidential candidate in today’s Potomac Primaries because former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards with his populist working-class platform dropped out of the race weeks ago.

Like Syed Nazmul Huda and his wife, Sajida, of the Alexandria section of Fairfax County — also former Edwards’ supporters looking for a new campaign home — I was compelled to check out the “Obama-rama” hype that threatened to overrun my Alexandria neighborhood Sunday for a campaign rally at T.C. Williams High School.

Curiosity getting the best of me, I had to eyeball for myself the makeup of the folks fueling the Obama “firestorm,” as former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly reportedly characterized the unlikely coalition driving his historic campaign. Besides, the Republican candidates were not in the area Sunday and I have heard Mrs. Clinton — as well as former President Bill Clinton — speak on numerous occasions.

Not usually surprised, I was taken aback as a snaking multitude of all ages, incomes, nationalities and genders lined the King Street sidewalks as far as the eye could see. In fact, motorcycle cops were summoned to direct the uncommon traffic.

As Mr. Moran told the “groundswell” of grass-roots supporters in the packed auditorium later, “There is no way to describe all of you that fits all of you.” Indeed, I was captivated by two attractive, extremely knowledgeable but politically divided Middle Eastern families standing amid the Sunday throng in the biting cold wind.

“He’s obsessed with Obama; everything is Obama,” said Atika Tabassum Mridha, 15, of her precocious younger brother, Jishan Shahriar, 13. An aspiring ambassador from Falls Church, Jishan convinced his father, Azizar (a historian and Realtor) to attend the rally without advanced tickets. They brought along his father’s friends, the Hudas of Fairfax, and their sons, Syed Omar, 10, and Syed Abrar, 12.

“I’m not a blind supporter like my children,” Mr. Huda said, but “I have a civic duty to vote,” so he was seeking information. Still, he is pleased the children are engaged in the upcoming election. And Jishan’s reward for persistence? He got to shake hands with the candidate who made a special trip to the overflow room where the families gained last-minute entry.

The Hudas and Mridhas were among hundreds of the so-called “unifier’s” supporters, like Manassas independents Steve and Cindy Fogleman, who arrived without the coveted red ticket — all distributed within an hour the previous day. Many more stood for hours in the cold wind, only to be turned away.

“The people in this line are the story of the campaign,” said Janice Hill-Dunbar of the anxious crowd hoping to hear the standard 45-minute Obama stump speech about “hope.”

“We had 3,000 in the gymnasium, 1,500 in the overflow room and another 1,000 in the overflow of the overflow room and we had to turn away a couple thousand outside,” an elated Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille said. Remembering how Bill broke his own barriers as student government president at T.C. in 1968, it was clear why he said “this is a dream come true.”

Yet another confession: I, like Joshua Dixon, 25, am among the black doubters who did not think an Obama candidacy would last long enough to reach our neck of the woods. “I am surprised to see so many people on board with [Mr. Obama] across the nation,” Mr. Dixon said. “You know where we’ve come from as a nation as far as racism, and I’m happy that people are looking past that.”

It’s no surprise that T.C. Williams graduate and Fort Washington resident Dorothy White, a 40ish black mother, said, “Obama’s got my heart.” But, if I am totally honest, I didn’t believe white voters would go behind a curtain and pull the lever for a biracial brother named Barack Hussein Obama.

“I don’t see him as a black candidate, I see him as a gifted, dynamic leader,” said Mrs. Fogleman, who noted she generally votes for “McCain-type Republicans.”

Lori Hershey, 37, a white mother from Falls Church happy to grab a good seat at the rally, said, “The Democratic Party has blown away all stereotypes of who can run for president.”

Maybe former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, 77, the first black man elected to the post in the U.S. who now serves as mayor of Richmond, is on to something about the Obama phenomena. “It is not a racial appeal. It is an appeal that reaches people of all kinds,” he told The Washington Times. Then again, this is Northern Virginia and Alexandria bears the reputation of being the most liberal district in the bluing state.

A final confession: I, like Mrs. Huda, am still undecided.

“It doesn’t matter who’s a man or who’s a woman, or who’s black or who’s white. I have to make a decision for myself…to support those people who are good for the country and the world.” Mrs. Huda said.

So should you when you go vote for your preferred candidate in this historic Potomac Primaries today.

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