Obama Stumps in Durham, Calls for 'Big Change' to U.S. Politics, Policies
Political analysts said Obama hoped to achieve two important goals with his campaign speech in Durham: raise money for his war chest and raise excitement about his policies.Posted — Updated
The senator from Illinois spoke at the "North Carolina Countdown to Change" event at North Carolina Central University’s O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium. He jogged down a path to a rousing ovation from about 4,000 supporters and Central's marching band at the crowded football stadium.
In a 45-minute speech, he attacked President George W. Bush and his chief rival for his party's nomination, front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton, on the issue of the Iraq War. He also touched on energy, education and health-care reform.
Obama made a plea for Durham voters to help him initiate “real and fundamental change” in the way “politics is done in Washington, D.C.” He blamed politicians’ dependence on lobbyists for much of the country’s political woes and touted ethics reform he supported in Congress as one means to effect that change.
Obama has been facing the challenge of exciting voters and getting traction for his campaign in the face of polls that show him down more than 20 points to Clinton, political analysts said.
“He’s got to show people watching debates and speeches that he’s got positions that are fundamentally different and to convince undecided voters he’s legitimate,” said David McLennan, a political science professor at Peace College in Raleigh.
Self-described undecided voters in the crowd at Central said they came to hear Obama before definitively deciding to vote for him.
"Right now, he's the leading candidate I have in mind for the 2008 election, and I want to see him in person," Jonathan Hires said.
“I’m still shopping, … but I think I’m now favorable towards Barack,” Terrell Nicholson said.
Others said Obama's positions and optimism made up their mind long ago.
"I think we need someone who can unite the nation and represent us effectively to the world," John Espenshade said. "That's not happening now. He can do that."
Obama said people are interested in the 2008 election because they want “an end to this long nightmare we’ve had over the past seven years.”
“Part of the reason you are here and you’re paying so much attention to the campaign is that you’re sick and tired of George W. Bush,” he continued.
Obama said that if elected, he would immediately begin bringing combat troops back from Iraq and "redouble diplomacy" in the region. Answering criticism of his offer to meet with the leaders of hostile nations, he said: "Strong leaders and countries talk to their adversaries and say where we stand."
He promised to expand health-care coverage and lower premiums by the end of his first term. He also proposed increasing fuel-efficiency standards to 40 mpg for all vehicles to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
To improve education, Obama said he would "invest" in early childhood education and recruit more teachers to replace retiring baby boomers. He said he would reform the student loan program for college students, and he encouraged young people to use volunteer programs – such as AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and the military – to pay for their educations.
Political analysts said Obama hoped to achieve two important goals with his third campaign stop in North Carolina: raise money for his war chest and raise excitement about his policies.
With its primaries in May, North Carolina does not play a significant part in nominating presidential candidates, but supporters in the state can provide important donations to candidates' coffers.
The campaign charged admission to hear Obama speak. General admission was $25, while tickets for students cost $15.
Obama has raised almost $505,000 from donors in North Carolina, according to the Federal Elections Commission. Supporters in northeastern counties gave $303,186 to Obama, while another $201,418 came from contributors in the south.
Obama has raised $80.3 million nationwide, keeping him even with Clinton.
The latest CBS News poll, though, gave Clinton her largest lead ever. In a hypothetical three-way contest, 51 percent of respondents chose Clinton, 23 percent picked Obama, and 13 percent opted for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
Pollsters interviewed a random sample of 1,282 adults nationwide between Oct. 12 and Oct. 16. The results have an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Among the subgroup of Democratic voters, the margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Durham Mayor Bill Bell, who is running for re-election, introduced Obama as “the best candidate for president.” He praised Obama for his opposition to the war in Iraq and support for expanding health care.
"Obama brings a different dimension to the campaign and the country in terms of his vision, the energy he has and his ideas," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
For his part, Obama encouraged the crowd to vote in the Durham mayoral election next Tuesday and said he "didn't know there was anyone foolish enough to run against" Bell.
However, he stopped short of giving his endorsement to Bell, an incumbent who is seeking to keep his seat for a fourth term and faces challenger Thomas Stith III, a City Council member and a Republican.
"Barack Obama believes Mayor Bell has served Durham well, and he's encouraging Durham residents to turn out to the polls for him next week," Ben LaBolt, an Obama spokesman, said.
Bell's decision might be viewed as a hometown letdown for Edwards. In 2004, Bell supported Edwards as a candidate for vice president, hosting an event at his home for Edwards and running mate John Kerry.
"I have a lot for respect for John. I think he'd make a fine president also," Bell said. "But, at this point in time, my support is with Barack."