Almost 2,000 flock to hear Obama
The converted and curious join a boisterous rally for the Democratic presidential contender.
By ADAM C. SMITH
Published April 16, 2007
Democrat Barack Obama waves after speaking at a fundraiser that attracted nearly 2,000 people.
[Times photo: Keri Wiginton]
TAMPA - Nearly 2,000 people packed into Ybor City's Cuban Club on Sunday to see the freshest face on the national Democratic political scene.
"Sen. Obama, Tampa has been waiting for you. Sen. Obama, America has been waiting for you," businessman Frank Sanchez shouted.
As horns from the Florida A&M marching band blared, Barack Obama of Illinois bounded down an outside stairwell to roars from a diverse and boisterous crowd. For 30 minutes, the man who has rocketed from obscurity into a political phenomenon, called on the crowd to unite to change the direction of America and its politics.
"I hope that this campaign becomes a vehicle for your hopes, for your dreams, for the aspirations you have for your children and grandchildren," Obama said at the $25-per-person rally and fundraiser.
"Because if everybody here gathers together and says we are going to turn the page ... then I guarantee you that we will write a new chapter."
Obama's first campaign stop in the Tampa Bay area also included a private $2,300-per-person reception that drew more than 100 people to the South Tampa home of Norma Gene Lykes.
The cheaper Ybor City event included Democrats curious about the candidate giving Hillary Clinton serious competition for the Democratic nomination and those already sold on the man they see as a different kind of politician.
"Obama's my man, because we need someone new. A person who hasn't been a part of that system in Washington for years can change it," said Homer Villups, a retired electrician from Orlando.
Former state Rep. Bob Henriquez of Tampa said he was too young to have been involved in the excitement and hope surrounding Robert F. Kennedy. But Obama reminds him of Kennedy - "being part of something bigger than ourselves, and giving hope to our country."
Obama's broad platform differs little from most of the other Democrats: Iraq is a mess, and the troops should come home soon; health care for all; better schools; energy independence.
Much like Hillary Clinton's "It Takes a Village" philosophy and John Edwards' calls for a united fight against poverty, Obama spoke of all Americans being connected as people.
"If there is a child somewhere here in Tampa that cannot read, that makes a difference in my life if that's not my child. It diminishes my life," said Obama, 45.
"If there's a veteran in Chicago huddling under a bridge, going through Dumpsters because he's homeless after serving his country, you don't have to know that veteran to feel diminished in your patriotism that something like that is allowed to happen."
However, unlike his main rivals for the Democratic nomination, Obama opposed Congress authorizing force in Iraq in the first place, and he said the most difficult part of campaigning is meeting parents who have lost children in Iraq and troops disabled in the war.
"We've got to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in, but we do have to bring our troops out of Iraq," said Obama, who was accompanied to the stage by Tampa City Council members Mary Mulhern and Gwen Miller, and former state Sen. Les Miller.
Norris Smith, a manager at an engineering firm, left the event declaring himself leaning strongly to Obama but not yet sold. He wants to hear more from New York Sen. Clinton.
"He has a good platform he's building, but I want to hear him flesh it out with some details," Smith said.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or email@example.com.
[Last modified April 15, 2007, 23:47:13]
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