Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Obama urges Iowans to join him against cynicism"

Des Moines Register (IA):
On a day that Iowans said felt historic, Barack Obama asked them to join him on his “improbable quest” for the presidency, stressing that when ordinary citizens join together, they can accomplish extraordinary things.

“I want to win,” Obama, 45, told the crowd of about 2,500 people at John F. Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, the second stop on his announcement tour. “But I don’t just want to win. I want to transform this country, and the only way I’m going to do it is if you make this a vehicle for your hopes and dreams.”
If elected, Obama, a Democrat, would become the United States’ first black president.

“This is so historic,” said Harriette Cooper, a full-time volunteer who lives Cedar Rapids. “It’s not just because he’s black. The things he says are so believable.”

With his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia, 8, and Sasha, 5, and a substantial pack of reporters, Obama arrived in a chartered airplane from Illinois, a state he represents in the U.S. Senate. Earlier Saturday, he made his presidential bid official in a speech outside the Old Capitol in Springfield, evoking images of Abraham Lincoln, the president who abolished slavery and united “a house divided.”

Most national polls show that among Democrats, Obama’s popularity is second only to Hillary Clinton, the senator from New York.

Those at the rally in Cedar Rapids said they’ve heard that Obama is being called a fresh face, a rock star, a political rocket who has that mysterious political “X-factor” that makes him a charismatic candidate.

They acknowledged Obama is new and wildly popular, but said Iowans have sensitive antenna, and many aren’t making up their minds yet. After all, they flirted with Howard Dean during the last caucus season but dumped him for battle-tested John Kerry.

Iowans want Obama's plan for Iraq

“I don’t want the screaming,” said Rosemarie Conner, a factory worker from Oxford who said it wasn’t Obama’s star power that drew her to the rally, but his thoughtfulness. “He seems so soft-spoken.”

Conner said she wanted to hear Obama’s thoughts on basic issues such as health care and Iraq.

After shedding his suit jacket, Obama sat on a stool for a relaxed question-and-answer session, that touched on improving education, enlarging federal grants for college students, raising teacher pay, insuring those who have no health care, lowering health care costs for all Americans, ending poverty, dealing with global warming, and ending the country’s dependence on foreign oil through the development of alternative fuels.

But, he said, those goals can’t be achieved without an end to the “ill-conceived war in Iraq.”

Obama has been unapologetically critical of the war from the start, a sharp contrast with Clinton, the Democratic forerunner, who voted in favor of the war resolution in 2002. Although Obama wasn’t in U.S. Congress at that time, he spoke out about it while in the Illinois state legislature.

His plan is to bring combat troops home by March 2008, he said.

That impressed Adam Hoffman, 18, of Cedar Rapids, who said he trusts Obama to make good on that plan.

Obama urges voters to combat cynicism

Several Iowans at the event pointed out Obama is light on national political experience, with only two slim years in Washington. He spent seven years as a state senator in Illinois, representing a predominantly black community in southern Chicago. He led a failed bid for Congress in 2002, then won his U.S. Senate seat essentially unopposed.

None of the other top tier candidates, including New Mexico’s governor Bill Richardson, who wants to become the first Hispanic president, Clinton, who is vying to become the first female president, and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, have lost a race, and most have beaten long odds.

Yet Obama said if someone asked who his most important rival is in this campaign, “I would say it’s cynicism.”

That was greeted with loud applause from the overflow crowd, some of whom clutched copies of Obama’s “Dreams of My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope,” both best-selling autobiographies.

“Making change in this country,” Obama said, “is going to depend on your decision that the issues that we face now are so important, that the prospect of climate change is so urgent, that the need to free ourselves from foreign oil is so critical, that improving our school systems has to happen now and not later, that there’s no reason we can’t have health insurance for all Americans by the end of the next presidency. If you feel that same sense of urgency, then don’t just wait for me to get it all done. I’m not going to be able to do this on my own.”

He promises to meet Iowans in small groups

Some Iowans at the rally, including Jim McNeill, 46, owner of a Cedar Rapids floral supply company, said they’d never heard of Obama until the Illinois man’s widely-heralded speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Figuring that was the case for other Iowans, Obama took time Saturday to tell some of his personal story. The product of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, he grew up in Hawaii, where there’s a strong Asian influence, he said. He is a Harvard Law School graduate, and is currently the sole African-American now holding office in the U.S. Senate.

When the crowd groaned when it was announced Obama’s time was up, he promised many future visits — this was his fourth trip to Iowa as a senator — including some small group get-togethers.

“Let’s face it, the novelty’s going to wear off and you’re going to be, ‘Oh, it’s Obama again. He’s coming through town. Ballgame’s on, I’ve got other things to do'.”

Obama is scheduled to head to Iowa Falls this morning, then Ames, then Chicago.
The 2008 presidential election will be held on Nov. 4, 2008. The Iowa caucuses are tentatively scheduled for Monday, Jan. 14. has "A Ridiculously Long Obama Roundup."

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