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Obama gets groove back, firing up crowds in last phase

Fairfax, Virginia: So Barack Obama has got his groove back. It took a while and a disastrous first debate performance to wake and shake him up. A little more than two weeks before the vote and all guns blazing he is firing up the crowds.

To mangle the famous My Fair Lady song: “By god, he’s got it. He’s (finally) got it.” Verbal chops, rhetorical flourishes, sly jokes – his arsenal was full at a rally on Friday I attended to test the campaign temperature.

He was all there, punching and pounding his challenger Mitt Romney, a.k.a. “Myth Romney” – for Obama partisans for his constantly shifting positions and for throwing out big, wild numbers on his job creating abilities. Over the course of a few months, Romney has turned from a strong conservative to a moderate Republican, swinging wildly away from the embrace of the Tea Party to hug those in the middle.

Relief is the primary feeling among supporters who had given Obama up for lost three weeks ago. AP

In one of his better riffs, Obama named this “disease” of fluctuating positions “Romnesia” and quickly added that if you suffer from it, his health care plan would cover it and cure you. The crowd roared.

True, it was a gathering primarily of young people – the rally was held at George Mason University – but there were plenty of older folk too, shouting “four more years” and “Forward” after every zinger Obama delivered.

Relief is the primary feeling among supporters who had given him up for lost three weeks ago. They were out there in plenty – about 3,000 had gathered on a mild, cloudy day in the battleground state of Virginia to welcome back their temporarily missing candidate.

Kiosks selling Obama T-shirts, hats, bags and pins did brisk business after the rally. An older African American vendor told me in a conspiratorial tone: “Don’t worry. My man’s coming back. He is winning all the big states.” But Democratic Party volunteers weren’t as sanguine. One said, “Let’s see” when I asked her if Obama was going to make it.

Another talked of voter registration problems created largely in Republican-ruled states where voters are being asked to produce all kinds of ID cards to prove they are legitimate. Democrats say it is a trick to depress voter turnout, especially among African Americans and poor voters. Weigh them down with onerous demands for specific kinds of IDs, and they would rather stay home. It is America’s version of booth capturing and voter intimidation.

With polls showing Obama slightly ahead nationally, victory or defeat will depend on voter turnout. The young who had rallied hard four years ago behind Obama and lined up at voting booths need to do a repeat performance for him to win. But it is not clear the enthusiasm remains in equal measure.

Obama is trying to appeal to the young and even hitting the comedy circuit. He appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Thursday night, earnest and serious, reciting his list of achievements while painting Romney’s philosophy as scary.

At the university rally, when the crowd booed at every mention of Romney, Obama repeatedly shouted: “Don’t boo, vote.” Let’s see if they listen to Professor Obama.

Another group that could make a big difference is women. There is no question that the Democratic Party as a whole and Obama in particular advocate pro-women policies – be it the right over their own bodies or equal pay for equal work.

Yes, America still debates these issues, alarming as it might be to those of us who grew up in poorer but more progressive societies. At one level the whole thing seems a colossal waste of national time and effort but for some reason the Republican Party has mixed up religious and anti-abortion sentiments with real life on the abortion issue and come up with positions that can only be described as anti-women. And ridiculous.

And Romney won’t say he supports a woman’s right to get the same pay as a man for the same job. He hums and haws and diverts. On the issue of a woman’s right to choose, his running mate Paul Ryan’s position is extreme. In the past, he has said he would not support abortion even in cases of rape. Lately he has been saying he would follow his leader.

What’s important for American women is this: whoever is the next president would likely name two Supreme Court justices, a choice crucial for whether American women retain their right to choose or don’t. Republicans want to overturn Roe vs. Wade, a 1973 landmark decision that gave that ultimate decision to women but sparked a national debate that continues to this day.

Women and young voters could very well determine who sits in the Oval Office the next four years.

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