FARMINGTON HILLS — Just a week after his last visit to the state, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama returned to Michigan yesterday, holding town-hall discussions here and in Flint earlier in the day.
In a setting starkly different from the stadiums he consistently fills, Obama, speaking to an enthusiastic crowd packed into a high school gymnasium, fired back at John McCain, accusing the Republican presidential nominee of adopting a platform of “change” only because it has worked for Obama.
Obama’s campaign stops in Michigan came just days after John McCain denounced Obama’s platform in a visit to Sterling Heights while also promising to reform the political process — both statements that Obama scoffed at North Farmington High School on Monday.
“When you’ve been supporting this current president, and you’re not offering anything new, how is it that you’re serious about change?” Obama said. “You’re not — it’s empty words.”
The Illinois senator’s 30-minute speech was followed by a question-and-answer session with audience members—a campaign trail format typically employed by McCain.
Political Science Prof. Vincent Hutchings said Obama’s campaign holds larger rallies because they support his type of candidacy and unite his supporters. Town hall meetings, he said, would require Obama to get to specific in his policy and risk alienating some voters.
“Part of his appeal is that he tries to move beyond partisanship,” Hutchings said. “He is a candidate who avoids the very issues that divide people. Such a candidate, by definition, can’t get too specific.”
As a result, Obama has been criticized as a candidate who gives good speeches without a lot of substance.
That’s why Obama, Hutchings said, will need to hold more smaller, town-hall style meetings like those in Farmington Hills and Flint if the Democratic nominee wants to win in Michigan.
“Obama has to provide some specifics to respond to his critics who say he is lacking in that area,” Hutchings said.
The events on Monday were smaller and more intimate than the majority of his previous appearances in the state, which have drawn thousands of supporters to rally for their candidate.
LSA junior Andrea Littles was one of the thousands at Obama’s rally in Hart Plaza last week, but said it was the less scripted atmosphere of Monday night’s town-hall event that helped her get to know the candidate better.
“I definitely got a better understanding of what he was trying to do,” Littles said. She added that she was glad to hear Obama explain his plans for economic reform, education and energy in more detail, especially because his earlier Detroit visit “was more general and we didn’t have the opportunity to ask questions.”
Like Obama, John McCain’s last visit to Michigan also broke the mold, as the Arizona senator who thrives in town-hall discussions instead opted for a rally in Sterling Heights on Friday with more than 10,000 in the audience.
And although he says McCain’s message to voters doesn’t necessarily translate as well in a rally format, Hutchings believes that McCain would benefit from hosting more larger rallies between now and Election Day.
“McCain needs to generate some enthusiasm from his base,” Hutchings said. “At the end of the day, you need to get people out to vote, and these little town hall meetings aren’t necessarily going to get that done.”