04/18/08 — Barack Obama draws crowd at ECU

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Barack Obama draws crowd at ECU

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 18, 2008 2:04 PM

GREENVILLE -- Some came to see history. Others came out of simple curiosity. But as the doors to the gym floor opened and the crowd's roar began to overpower the two speaker stacks flanking the stage, there was no denying that the majority of the 8,000 people filling East Carolina University's Minges Coliseum Thursday afternoon came because they believed that Barack Obama should be the next president of the United States.

"It's just ... he brings hope to everyone," said Linda Hart, a Cape Cod, Mass., native living in a winter condo in Greenville. "He brings hope to me. I think he's actually going to make things happen, whereas everyone else just talks about it. He's going to make big changes to this country."

But, the freshman Democratic senator from Illinois emphasized, in order for him to have that opportunity, he has to first win the primary, in which he is facing New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

That's why everyone in attendance was continually reminded that early voting had just begun, and that people can register at those one-stop sites.

Then, he launched into his message about change and hope -- one he has been trying to spread for more than a year.

"I've been running for president for about 15 months now," Obama said. "That means there are babies who have been born and are now walking and talking since I've been running. It's been a long race.

"But I'm not running because of some long-held ambition or because I think it's my turn and that it's owed me. I'm running because of what Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) called the 'urgency of now.'"

That means improving the economy, bringing troops home for Iraq and finding solutions for affordable health care and college education, he said.

"People are working harder and harder just to get by. In such circumstances, we can't afford to wait," Obama said. "We cannot wait, and that's why I'm running for president of the United States. Everywhere I go people are ready for change."

And for Obama, that change begins in Iraq where he promises to end the current war by 2009, while still protecting the American people.

"That means maintaining the finest military in the world," he said, and providing them the proper training, equipment and deployment rotations.

His brand of change also means offering a $4,000 college tuition credit to students who perform some type of volunteer community service -- one of the most cheered proposals of the night.

"We'll invest in you. You invest in America. Together we'll move this country forward," Obama said.

Additionally, he added, change also means finally addressing health care reform -- a debate, he noted, that has been going on since former President Bill Clinton took office -- by lowering premiums for families with insurance by as much as $2,500 per year, allowing people with no insurance to buy government plans on par with those offered to members of Congress, subsidizing those who cannot afford to pay and by emphasizing preventive medicine.

Other areas demanding change and improvement are education and the No Child Left Behind program, infrastructure programs for roads, bridges, water and sewer, renewable energy programs and the economy, he said.

"We want the economy to work from the bottom up," he added, explaining the need for tax breaks for the middle class, not the wealthy, and for businesses investing in the U.S., not overseas.

He also touched on his plans to expand government funding for research and development and worker training, especially in the "green" industries, as well as in Internet access for rural areas.

But as much as people cheered his policies, especially the college tuition credit and his pledge to leave Iraq, for most -- even those who disagreed with him -- it was his force of personality and promise of something different that drew them to ECU's basketball arena Thursday.

"I'm a conservative Republican. I don't agree with any of his policies -- mainly Iraq -- but he's an incredibly appealing personality," said John Rouse of Kinston.

"I like his policies, but most of all, I like his swagger. I like how he seems honest ... how he seems to have dignity," added ECU undergraduate student Tiera Bristow.

And that's why -- not just because they agree with his ideas -- three of North Carolina's superdelegates -- U.S. Reps. G.K. Butterfield, D-District 1, David Price, D-District 4, and Mel Watt, D-District 12 -- were there in support Thursday.

"Barack Obama can win," Price said. "And we're going to turn North Carolina blue. He is the leader who can bring about the change we need."

And, Obama said, he doesn't think the long Democratic nomination process will hurt those chances.

"We are going to be able to bring this party together," he said. "The differences that exist between me and Sen. Clinton, pale next to the differences between me and (presumptive Republican nominee, Arizona Sen.) John McCain.

"I respect John McCain ... but John McCain is basically running for George Bush's third term."

And that's what Obama wants to prevent -- a continuation of politics as usual.

"The status quo resists change," he said. "Your voices aren't being heard, and that's what this election is all about -- changing who Washington is accountable to. We can't just have someone who can play the game in Washington. We need somebody who can put an end to the game playing in Washington."