Monday, February 12, 2007

Candidate Obama Packs ISU's Hilton Coliseum

By Abby Simons for the Des Moines Register:

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama painted a new picture of himself to a packed Hilton Coliseum crowd Sunday—as that of a non-political politician, a diplomat who claims he could salvage the country’s broken foreign relations.

But it would take more than just a new breed of presidential candidate to revive voters, he said. It would take a change in American attitudes to make a difference in politics .

“Most of us are cynical about the political process, even those of us who are involved in it,” he said.

“It seems as if politics has become a business instead of a mission, that power in Washington is always trumping principle, we’ve got a lot of so-called leaders who don’t do much leading.

“Yes, there is that brand of politics, but there has always been another tradition of politics that says ‘I am connected to you.’ That we are acceptable to each other, that we have a stake in each other.”

Wearing a sport jacket with an open shirt collar, Obama was greeted with intermittent whoops and constant applause from the crowd of about 5,000 inside the coliseum.

Supporters waved hundreds of campaign signs, while others held up cardboard placards that read “We Need a Hero--Thank you.” and “Obama-Rama.”

He touched on a range of issues but was scathingly critical of the Iraq war, one he continued to emphasize that he was against from the beginning of his political career as an Illinois state senator.

“We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized, and should have never been waged, and to which we’ve now spent $400 billion, and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted; 25,000 amputees.”

In an interview following the rally, Obama, who said he has visited with the families of military personnel who have been killed in the war, regretted saying the lives were “wasted”.

“I was actually upset with myself when I said that because I never use that term,” he said. “Their sacrifices are never wasted, that was sort of a slip of the tongue as I was speaking.

"The sacrifices they have made are unbelievable. What I meant to say was those sacrifices have not been honored by the same attention to strategy, diplomacy and honesty on the part of civilian leadership that would give them a clear mission.”

During the rally, Obama was flanked by two prominent Iowa Democrats — Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald —who endorsed him over the weekend.

Obama took the stage with his wife Michelle. Both Miller and Fitzgerald focused on Obama’s potential for global diplomacy. Miller, who like Obama attended Harvard Law School, called Obama the smartest person to attend the institution in the past 25 years.

“Imagine president Barack Obama in the world, as a world leader,” Miller said. “One of the great tragedies of this administration is how George Bush relates to the world. This man would be 180 degrees. Diplomacy would work, the world would be more peaceful, and more safe, and a better place to live.”

Obama appeared relaxed during the post-rally interview, leaning back in a folding chair while propping his feet on another.

He smiled and shook his head when reminded again of the infamous photo of him in a bathing suit that emerged last month while he was vacationing in Hawaii. The microscope on his life—and his popularity—should take a backseat to his message, he said.

“The way I keep the momentum is reminding people that this isn’t about me, it’s about them,” he said. “I think I am a vehicle, or this campaign is a vehicle to talk about how we want to reduce the influence of money in politics, how we want to put an end to the nasty slash-and-burn trivialized politics of the last couple of decades, that we want to come up with common sense and practical solutions instead of being driven by ideology.

"People may get tired of me, but they’ll still be driven by their own interest in leading the county forward,'' he said.

Obama’s emphasis on foreign relations was particularly impressive to Etse Sikanku, 25, a graduate student at Iowa State who arrived to the United States from Ghana last fall.

“The speech was very broad-based, broad to the point where he didn’t say exactly what he would do if he were in office, but it was broad enough that he could introduce himself,” Sikanku said.

“I think it was helpful to know a presidential candidate is willing to work with the international community, or at least willing to reach out. Many Africans already think America stands on its own and will not do that.”

The Sunday stop in Ames marked a flurry of weekend campaign stops, that included Saturday’s announcement in Chicago, followed by visits to Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and breakfast at the Iowa Falls home of Tom and Patty Friend.

A flight was headed for Chicago for another rally Sunday evening. In the meantime, Obama may or may not try to relax by listening to anything from rappers Outkast to crooner Frank Sinatra or Bach’s cello suites on his iPod. That, or relaxing with his children, who with wife Michelle are also along for the ride.

“They’re better than TV,” he said. “They’ve always got something to say.”
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