Oprah was on the stump for a few days for Barack Obama drawing large crowds where ever she went. Interestingly, following up the grand Oprah tour, Oprah talked to ABC News’ Diane Sawyer about the “power behind her seal of approval” for Obama and she noted that her “vote for is not a vote against anybody. It’s just a vote for.”
Katharine Seelye wrote in the N.Y. Times blog, The Caucus on Sunday that “The Double O Express— Oprah for Obama — drew what is easily the biggest crowd at a campaign event, for any candidate, so far this season.” She then challenged reads to “tell us if you know of a bigger campaign rally without an incumbent president.”
Madison, Wisconsin’s The Capital Times met that challenge:
I can tell Seelye that in Madison alone in the past 15 years, we have had two political rallies featuring non-incumbent candidates that outdrew the Double O Express. One of them easily drew more than double the Carolina crowd for Oprah-Obama. It featured Bruce Springsteen and John Kerry, and for anyone who was there, as I was, it remains unforgettable.
I was at the earlier Madison rally, too. That one was Oct. 1, 1992, and it included the Democratic presidential ticket of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. The late, great John Patrick Hunter covered it for The Capital Times and his story appeared under the headline, “Wow, what a crowd!”
Hunter’s piece began: “A gem-lit October afternoon and a Democratic presidential team that promises victory — Bill Clinton and Al Gore — drew 30,000 enthusiastic fans to the Capitol grounds Thursday — certainly one of the largest political gatherings in Madison’s memory.”
I remember taking my 11-month-old son to the rally and holding him up over the crowd so I might be able to one day tell him he had seen a president of the United States.
Still, that one pales in comparison to Springsteen’s appearance for Kerry. A Madison alderman, Mark Clear, actually took up the New York Times on its invitation to recall a larger campaign crowd.
On Sunday, Clear posted the following comment on the Times’ blog: “John Kerry (and Bruce Springsteen) drew an estimated 80,000 on October 28, 2004. Oprah’s good, but she’s no Bruce.”
Clear’s post didn’t mention that the rally was here, but it was, with a stage set up at the bottom of West Washington Avenue, facing up toward the Capitol. West Washington was packed and the crowd spilled out into the side streets. For once, the students had the luxury boxes — their second story front porches — and when Springsteen showed up and sang “No Surrender,” the Kerry campaign’s theme song, it was magical. You could have made a lot of money betting on George W. Bush that day, because 80,000 people would have bet against you.
I did a little checking on Tuesday to see if the Kerry-Springsteen appearance in Madison four years ago might have drawn the largest crowd to a political rally, ever.
It’s right up there, certainly. I could find only one other political rally that comes close, and it was just a few days before the Madison event.
On Oct. 25, 2004, in Philadelphia’s Love Park, Kerry and former President Bill Clinton drew — by one fire marshal’s estimate — a crowd of 80,000, the same as the estimates in Madison. Clinton was coming off recent heart surgery and received, according to the New York Times report on the rally, “a rock star’s welcome.”
Madisonians were happy to see the real rock star, and Springsteen, too, knew something special happened that day. The following spring, after Kerry had narrowly lost the election, Springsteen told a Minneapolis reporter that the experience had stayed with him.
“I sat in front of 80,000 people in Madison, Wis.,” Springsteen said, “and it was probably one of the most amazing days of my musical life. There was a lot of hope.”
And Springsteen still has not lost the memories of that experience, in my opinion. He took that experience and translated it into his latest work: Magic and featured a song inspired by John Kerry, Last To Die.
I know a lot of people feel that Obama inspires hope, but personally I don’t get that feeling. Not in the way, John Kerry inspired hope in me in ’04. I look back on that time in my life and I feel that being involved in Kerry’s campaign was life altering. John Kerry, in my opinion brought something to the table, that the candidates in ’08 don’t hold a candle to: He was The Real Deal.
The crowd in Madison was there that day because they believed that the ’04 election was the most important election of their lifetime. They were there for John Kerry, and they were there because The Boss had done something unprecedented in his musical career, he had endorsed a candidate for president. So for now, Oprah may be drawing the biggest crowds of this election season, but John Kerry and The Boss still hold the record…
Bruce Springsteen speaks on John Kerry’s behalf and performs before “about 80,000 people who were there to see John Kerry in Madison, WI on October 28, 2004” (h/t to hnmnf on DU):
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