Obama's Oratory Grabbing Spotlight

Barack Obama is often treated like a rock star on the campaign trail. People wait hours to hear him speak. He draws huge crowds.

And, pundits say, his powerful speechmaking style plays no small part in his appeal.

People "come in droves -- by the tens of thousands at times" to hear Obama speak, observes Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith.

His "soaring rhetoric," she says, "is moving his audiences not just politically, but emotionally," even moving audience members to tears on occasion.

Even some political commentators who've seen it all can't help but gush.

Chris Matthews, host of CNBC's "Hardball," recently remarked about "the feeling most people get when they hear a Barack Obama speech. I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean -- I don't have that too often!"

Longtime Republican strategist and pollster Frank Luntz, author of the book "Words That Work," told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith Thursday he's "more than impressed" with Obama's oratory. "I've been mesmerized."

Tracy Smith says Obama's "stoic eloquence, " with lines like, "WE are the ones we've been waiting for," conjures up images of President Kennedy.

"Ask not what your country can do for you," Kennedy said in his inaugural address. "Ask what you can do for your country."

Obama says something similar in his stump speeches: "We will invest in you; you invest in your country!"

JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen supports Obama and speaks regularly with the campaign's speechwriting team, Tracy Smith points out.

"Kennedy had this wonderful, wry, ironic sense, just as Obama does," says Time magazine columnist Joe Klein. " ... Both of them are cool customers, which works well on television."

Obama's mantra, "Yes we can!" has even gone hip-hop, in a Dipdive.com music video viewed more than three million times on YouTube.

But, Tracy Smith says, "inspirational rhetoric comes with political risks."

"The biggest political danger that Obama faces with this style of rhetoric is that he's just not going to connect with the working class voters of the Democratic party," Klein comments.

Likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain already has an answer for Obama's oratory, shoudl the two square off in November, telling supporters, "To encourage a country with only rhetoric, rather than sound and proven ideas that trust in the strength and courage of free people, is not a promise of hope. It's a platitude."

Luntz agreed with Harry Smith's assessment that McCain and Hillary Clinton are "very concerned" about Obama's words.

"They are," Luntz concurred, "but what they don't understand is that, for a whole lot of Americans, the candidates' attributes and character traits are even more important than where they stand. If they trust them, if they believe them. If this is someone who's a visionary.

"Here's the key attribute Americans want in 2008: Somebody who says what they mean and means what they say. If Obama were to ever be shown as a hypocrite, to say one thing and then say something completely different, then he's in trouble. But if he maintains that visionary, in essence, that hope and uplifting rhetoric, he survives and thrives."

Noting that the word "hope" was superimposed in large letters at the end of the Divedom.com music video, Luntz remarked that he's "never seen a candidate whose slogan and language is bigger than his own name in the buttons and the bumper stickers.

"It's interesting that people compare him to John Kennedy. It's Bobby Kennedy that he's channeling."

Luntz read from "Words That Work," saying, "It was the last thing I added to the book, because I thought this was the best language I'd ever heard: 'Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago, to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.' That was Bobby Kennedy the night Martin Luther King was killed.

"That's what Barack Obama is saying today. Hillary Clinton is very overt in her attacks against the Republicans: 'We're not going to let ourselves get "swift-boated." ' Obama says, 'Come on in. We will not divide by race, we will not divide by age, we will not divide by partisanship.' And he talks about Republicans supporting him."

Harry Smith noted that Obama has dubbed such Republicans "Obamacans."

"It's unprecedented," Luntz says.

And the impact of Obama's oratory on the youth vote is inescapable, Luntz stresses: "When you go to an event and you see so many thousands of 18, 19, 20-year-olds -- the only time they ever cared until this point was that they couldn't get their latte at Starbucks."

But will young voters -- vote?

"Young people make up 12, 14, in some states as much as 18 percent of the primary electorate. Not only will they drop their lattes, they'll take their iPods out and listen to him.

"How great is it that, for the first time in my lifetime, the youth of America are energized, emboldened and they can't wait to vote."

When Smith made an aside that such glowing words were coming from a Republican pollster, Luntz said, "I would argue that I've kind of left that time behind me."