Bwog’s James Downie checks in again from Virginia
. Photo by Jason Reed of Reuters.

ON THE ROAD BETWEEN LEESBURG AND MANASSAS, VA. – Even after an hour waiting in the November cold, 80,000 people can make some noise. That was the first lesson of the Obama campaign rally the College Democrats attended late Monday night. The second lesson? Standing for two hours in the cold is no less tiring than knocking on doors, especially when you face the prospect of a 4:15 wakeup call. The third lesson? A candidate at the start of his campaign will be very different, in both substance and style, at the end.

The day began in the same way as the last two days: rise, wolf down breakfast, and receive the canvassing sheets. The schedule quickly swerved into the surreal, as Judy Feder (this time actually Dems Media Director Avi Edelman in a fantastic wig) made a second appearance to sing an inspirational song. After a group photo, complete with scenic highway background, the Dems piled into their vans and drove off.

On a third day of campaigning, one is struck by how diverse this county is. One sees all faces of suburbia, and all types of strip malls to match. Bwog saw houses with whitewashed stone and aluminum siding, new Porsches and old Chryslers, Whole Foods and Bottom Dollars, and everything in between. There were Hispanic streets, white streets, Indian-American streets, and Asian streets, and plenty of mixed streets. About all that these varied streets held in common were the vague category of “suburbia.” It was a impressive amount of diversity (also, this seems like a good time to point out that, contrary to what several commenters wrote yesterday, this is a conservative-majority district, by about 10 points or so).

In the early afternoon the Dems piled back into the vans, and almost immediately discovered the scourge of Washington D.C. rush hour, as most got stuck in a backup only exacerbated by the rally traffic. Ironically, they could’ve been a whole hour late, and still would not have missed the candidate (Obama’s plane from North Carolina ran into delays at nearby Dulles Airport). Instead, the campaign filled the time with the congressional candidates (including Gerry Connelly, whose blonde joke thinly disguised as a Sarah Palin joke did not meet with the approval of the blondes around me) and, oddly, a jazz group, who did keep things smooth, but did little to keep the crowd fired up. It was only the appearance of Obama himself that finally brought a tired crowd back in. And since security had turned three bright spotlights on the crowd, most people had to shade their eyes while watching (your reporter used sunglasses).

Since this is going up the morning after, there is no need to rehash every detail of what Obama said – you can find it all here or in various other news outlets. Permit your reporter one small observation: Obama is a very different candidate now. When your reporter visited him in his Senate office in 2005, and saw him speak at his first New York City fundraiser in December 2006, he was a fresh candidate, with specific and new policy goals. Now, he is, as he put it in his charming story last night about a small South Carolina rally, “a professional.” Now, as he told Virginia tonight, President Obama will lower taxes and balance the budget. He’ll push for free trade, and give tax breaks to companies that keep money in America. Now, he has a promise for every group – such is the way of the home stretch in presidential politics. Gone are the policies, replaced by litanies of impossible promises. Only the thunderous applause remains.

And yet, if the Columbia Democrats are anything to go by, he still holds remarkable sway over his partisans. Less than 5 hours after returning from the rally, half of them will conclude their time by heading to polling locations for a day, while the others will go out for yet one more day of canvassing. Then, everyone will cap their trip with an overnight drive back, having to listen to the returns on the radio. 130 Democrats gave up their first long weekend to test Obama’s own phrase that “if a voice can change a room, it can change the world.” They still fervently believe.