When Governor Deval Patrick sent an email to supporters last week announcing his endorsement of Illinois Senator Barack Obama for president, he got 2,000 messages back offering help.
"That's what he needs," Patrick said in an interview earlier today. "That's what we want to help him bring to New Hampshire. That's what we want to try to inspire in Iowa and elsewhere by example."
That inspiration began tonight as Patrick hosted a massive rally for Obama in Boston Common. The event was the culmination of a long courtship of Patrick's endorsement by both Obama, a close friend and kindred political spirit, and New York Senator Hillary Clinton, whom Patrick knew even before he worked for her husband's administration.
At the rally, which Obama's campaign said drew 9,500 people, Patrick offered a forceful argument for Obama, casting the presidential election as one of historic proportions in which merely a change in party would be insufficient.
"We need a leader who is ready to call in our times for our service, and our sacrifice," Patrick said. "You see, this election is not just about who we want. It's about who we are. I want a president who understands that. I want Barack Obama."
The rally was the latest in a series of huge campaign events Obama has hosted around the country, and it was something of a role reversal for the two men: In the heat of last year's governor's race, Obama headlined several large events for Patrick in Boston.
"I am grateful to Deval, because not only has he stood by me through thick and through thin, but also because he is somebody who has consistently stood for the kinds of politics that I believe in and you believe in and America believes in -- the kind of politics that begins with the grass-roots," Obama said.
Tonight's event underscored the potential value of Patrick's support. Before Patrick and Obama spoke, field workers on Obama's campaign were recruiting people from the crowd to canvass in New Hampshire, even as early as this weekend. And in a measure of Obama's organizational strength, his Boston-area supporters have been receiving text messages, emails, and personal phone calls over the past several days urging them to come to the rally.
"I like his energy, I like his lack of being jaded," said Rebecca Devaney, a 28-year-old from Haverhill who works at a media company and says she is still deciding who to support.
In the interview, Patrick said he sees parallels between Obama's candidacy and his own run for governor. Both he and Obama, Patrick said, faced conventional wisdom that said they could not win.
Patrick said his specific role in Obama's campaign had not been defined, but that he would campaign as aggressively as he could. He said he recognized, however, that he could not help at the expense of his role as governor.
"I've got a job to do, and I and the rest of the Commonwealth, I think, are sensitive to my paying attention to that job first and foremost," he said.
Patrick insisted that backing Obama was not a choice against Clinton, whose husband tapped him in the 1990s to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
"I love her, I think she's great, I think she's run a terrific campaign," Patrick said. "If she's the nominee, I'll work my -- I'll work hard for her, and proudly."
He continued, "The decision is not without complexity. But the times are so unique. The challenges are so big."
Just as members of the so-called Greatest Generation responded to epic challenges, Patrick said, so, too, must the next president.
"They responded to a call for service and sacrifice, and I think the depth and complexity of our challenges demands that again," he said. "And I think Barack is uniquely capable of making that claim."
Patrick also said it made little sense for Obama to go after Clinton more aggressively, as some supporters and analysts have said he needs to do to catch her in the polls.
"There's no point bloodying each other up," he said. "Part of the appeal of his campaign and his candidacy is that he is a different kind of candidate and not making all the conventional moves and following all the conventional advice."