Polls show Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama by 20 points in Ohio and Pennsylvania, states she desperately needs to win. Pay no attention to the numbers behind the curtain.

Hillary’s campaign lost two key people this week, rats jumping off a listing ship.
Sunday, though, Hillary rallied her supporters in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

I applied for a press pass, but never heard from her media liaisons. To be fair, they had one less day than Obama’s to process the application. And there was the little distraction of an allegedly unsinkable campaign hitting the Obama iceberg.

So I lined up at 7:30 p.m. with the public outside the Leonidas S. James Physical Education Center at Bowie State University. That site, an historically black school, was oh, so carefully chosen to cultivate the affluent African American majority in PG County.
But the audience was diverse and ranged from gray hairs to wispy toddler hairs.

As we stood in a virtual wind tunnel between two buildings inching toward the warm gym, one group of 20-somethings huddled like penguins. In front of me, Hillary enthusiast Anita didn’t need convincing; her vote was pledged to Clinton. But she did “want to know what she’s going to do for the middle class.”
Husband Bo was along for the ride, rating the odds that he would vote for Hill, whom he called “chameleon-like,” as “pretty much no chance.”
The 40-ish couple from Anne Arundel County typifies many split Democratic households these days. It’s not always the woman who roots for Hillary.

Behind me, 66-year-old Mr. Modali stuffed his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders against the 30 mph wind gusts. Will he vote for Hillary?
“Yes, I will; we need a lady president,” the Bowie resident said. “Women manage houses very well.”
He should know; his country has had a female leader, Indira Gandhi. Now a naturalized citizen, Modali emigrated from southern India 42 years ago.

Inside the gym, BSU colleagues Michael and Frank, both in their 50s, were on the fence.
“I’m just listening,” Michael said.
“I haven’t totally made up my mind yet,” said Frank, adding that his wife’s name made the choice tougher.
“Her name is Hillary and my first name is Bill,” he confessed.

Michael said he was “at the point where it wouldn’t cause heartburn if either one was president.”
Frank nodded. “It can’t be McCain.”

A Bowie U VP introduced Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who served several tours in Iraq while he was a state delegate. Next was PG County Executive Jack Johnson, followed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, followed by Hillary at 8:55.

All four wore black suits! It looked like Maryland’s newest law firm: Clinton, Brown, Johnson and O’Malley.
By the stage’s edge, a woman signed the speech for the hearing impaired.

“We’ve been on a detour from the American destiny,” Hillary said. Then something about fear and fatalism.
She waxed nostalgic about her former home: “It’s not only about changing who lives in the White House – you know the White House is a wonderful place.”

You could have heard a pin drop while she talked about her vision.
“We will get there together.”
While the 1,500 or so folks cheered, it struck me that I had heard nothing new or different.

“We will end Bush’s war on science.”

That brought the house to its feet. Among the signs waved was at least one in Spanish that I couldn’t read (I took Latin and French, sorry) and another handwritten one that said “Bankrupt America/ $48 Trillion Deficit/ Vote Hill or/ Choose Collapse.”
Oh, goody! As an undecided voter, I love threats. According to Clinton’s web site, her supporters are “Hillraisers.”

Un hunh.

She talked about funding affordable college and national service credits, doing away with No Child Left Behind (even Frank applauded that ) and reforming government.

Then she spoke about American responsibility around the world.
“You cannot be a leader if no one is following.”
Michael guffawed at that.

The biggest crowd response came when she said, “January 20, 2009, I know the world will breathe a sigh of relief that day.”
She ended with a litany of the crises facing the next president. And, as always, she was ready to lead from “Day One.”

She drew applause, laughter and cheers. There were no tears. There was no palpable energy, though some folks certainly seemed happy with what she said.
It was billed as a town hall meeting and there were no questions taken. I never did get an answer about that from an aide named Jamie.

I went home with a cold nose, a notebook full of scribbles and two campaign buttons snagged from an aide who tried to cut ahead in the metal detector line. (For the record, that’s not a show of support; I collect campaign tchotchkes.)

She had said nothing that persuaded me to cast my ballot her way. Yes, I agreed with most of what she said, but there was no chemistry, no spark. I’d seen all this before. Maybe, if the opponent were different, I’d have been wooed by Hillary.

The next day, I went to Baltimore to hear Barack Obama. The story will continue Monday…

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