COLUMBUS (TDB) -- The Columbus neighborhood center chosen for Sen. Barack Obama's first session to organize March 4 Ohio primary volunteers could not handle the crush today, which overflowed onto the sidewalks outside. Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman seemed taken aback by the size of the crowd, and said he wished he had booked the city's larger convention center. A bit of hyperbole -- but the place was packed and spilling over. The headcount wasn't announced, but a break-out meeting for donors had to be held outdoors because there was no space available in the building.
Illinois' other senator, Dick Durbin, told the throng Ohio has become crucial in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Durbin, national co-chair of the Obama campaign, said volunteers will begin flooding into Ohio from across the U.S on Feb. 6, the morning after Super Tuesday. He said there was no likelihood a clear winner would emerge on Super Tuesday. During the two-hour organizing session -- which drew people from across the state -- Ohioans were being enlisted to give the volunteers rooms and beds for the coming showdown with Hillary Clinton. Said Durbin:
"Well Ohio, now it's your chance. Now it's your turn."
Gerald Austin, an Ohio political operative who managed Jesse Jackson's 1988 campaign, said Obama has wider appeal this year. Austin said Democrats appear far more comfortable with the idea of an African American seeking the presidency. He noted that the crowd in Columbus Saturday was racially diverse. Twenty years ago, Austin said he secretly hired whites to stand behind Jackson at political rallies so the crowds weren't entirely black. He said he never told Jackson about his deception, which was meant to show Jackson's appeal was wider than it really was. Austin said the Democratic establishment in Ohio, including Gov. Ted Strickland, is backing Clinton and the "machine is formidable." Still, he said Obama can win.
"My job is to talk about the political climate in Ohio. One word: Ripe."
Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan, who spoke briefly with The Daily Bellwether, said Clinton intially appears to hold the upper hand in Ohio: "It's going to be tough for us. The governor is lined up with Hillary. They are going to use his list (of supporters, donors, e-mail contacts and volunteers). The establishment is lined up with Hillary."
Hagan said Obama will be looking for endorsements after Super Tuesday, and that Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory -- neutral so far -- can expect a phone call from the candidate. "He's going to be making that call, he's going to talk to Mallory. Obama is going to call him."
[UPDATE: 6:10 PM -- Ohio Daily Blog has a report that also takes note of the massive attendance. There is a picture of Sen. Durbin, whose presence clearly signals the import of today's launch in Ohio.]