If you've never been to an Obama rally before, a word of advice: go early. Think Springsteen concert … but the tickets are free, first come, first served.
In Boise, Idaho, a few weeks ago, it couldn't have been more than 15 degrees out. But, outside the Taco Bell Arena early on a Saturday morning, everyone waited patiently for hours.
Because inside they felt the warm glow of hope.
Sen. Barack Obama's "true believers" respond as though they've spent their whole lives out in the cold, at rally after rally, a few people literally faint at the sight of him.
"I've never seen anything like it," said Los Angeles Times reporter Joel Stein. "People are crying, rending their garments. It's a cult. But it's a fun cult."
Politics or Pilgrimage?
Politics doesn't even begin to describe the Illinois senator's campaign events. A visit to an Obama rally is a pilgrimage. One supporter flew from Washington to Boise in one night to see Obama speak.
"I'm dead tired. I've had four hours' sleep in the past two days," he said. "I came to see the man!"
From Boise to Baltimore, Obama is winning them over, one rally at a time. Maryland voter Rose McNeal said that choosing between Obama and Clinton was easy.
"She is the past, he is the future and the present," McNeal said, referring to Sen. Hillary Clinton and Obama. "You have to move forward. If you go choosing someone you already had then you are going to keep getting the same future you already had."
From the looks on their faces, it seems some voters have been waiting, even yearning for a charismatic candidate like Obama.
Outside the Obama Bubble
But those outside the Obama bubble are left scratching their heads. They just don't get it.
To them, the crowds around Obama are as baffling as the "bobby-soxers" once were, screaming for Frank Sinatra while their parents worried, as Beatle-mania must have seemed to TV host Ed Sullivan and as teenage actress and singer Hannah Montana seems to countless parents today.
"I'm in the demographic where all of my friends are in love with Obama," Stein said. "It's like being a teenage girl in love with David Cassidy or Scott Baio. When we get together, we talk about how much we love him. "
Stein, a columnist for the Times, has written about what he calls the "Cult of Obama." His mom, a Clinton supporter, has been trying to de-program him.
As "cult" leaders go, Obama has been known to play it up. In New Hampshire, where supporters brought their goats and dogs for a blessing of hope, his stump speech always contained a messiah joke.
"You will experience an epiphany," Obama told supporters at Dartmouth College. "And you will suddenly realize you must go to the polls and vote for Barack."
In Macon, Ga., he was preaching to the choir.
"I'm asking you all to walk with me and march with me and pray with me," Obama told the crowd. "Because I believe if we can love one another just a little bit the way God loves each of us, we can reach for a more united America."
On Super Tuesday, he just stopped pretending there was no such thing as destiny.
"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time," Obama told a crowd in Chicago "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change we seek."
And that's just the candidate; the converts are even more fervent. Many of them are stars in their own right. And not the sort you'd ever expect to meet at a Scientology celebrity center.
Obama endorser Maria Shriver said that "if Barack Obama were a state, he'd be California." Sen. Ted Kennedy often likens Obama's capacity to inspire people to his late brother JFK.
"I love this country. I believe in the bright light of hope and possibility," Kennedy said. "I always have, even in the darkest hours. I know what America can achieve. I've seen it. I've lived it and with Barack Obama, we can do it again."
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey's speeches made Obama sound like the most important first step of a 12-step program.
"I realize disappointment is normal. Disappointment doesn't have to be normal anymore," Winfrey said, stumping for Obama. "I'm stepping out because I've been inspired to believe a new vision is possible."
Young people are hoping he can redeem politics from partisanship. Black people are hoping he'll finally achieve the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. White people are hoping he'll finally wash away the sins of segregation and slavery.
At this point the bar is so high, even the believers are starting to doubt he can pull it off.
"We know we're being fooled, but we kind of like it," Stein said. "I was listening to Obama's speech in my car and started to tear up. I can't get off of this ride. It's too good."