Sen. Barack Obama opens his speech to an an estimated 18,000 people at Seattle’s Key Arena yesterday as Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire looks on (WND photo)
SEATTLE – If the messiah were to schedule a mid-workday appearance on short notice at Seattle’s Key Arena, one could hardly expect much more than the 18,000 passionate souls who waited in line for hours before pressing the sports venue to its capacity yesterday, forcing several thousand more to be turned away.
Democratic Sen. Barack Obama eschews the savior language used to describe his campaign for the White House, but it seemed rather natural when he interrupted 50 minutes of occasional soaring rhetoric to toss a bottle of water to a fainting woman in the throng below, then calmly gave out orders to ensure she was well.
One day before Washington’s caucuses – which suddenly gained heft following the virtual dead heat with Sen. Hillary Clinton on Super Tuesday – the freshman Illinois lawmaker thrilled a boisterous crowd that encapsulated the uncommon enthusiasm for a campaign many view as a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon.
Jody Klein of Centralia, Wash., about two hours-drive south of Seattle, was near tears as she recounted her Obama experience. At age 20, she’ll vote in a presidential election for the first time.
“There’s just this amazing excitement that’s here,” she said. “When he was talking about hope, it actually almost made me cry. Like it really made sense, like, for the first, like, whoa … how important a time this is for us. It was really exciting.”
Obama went out to greet the estimated 3,000 left in the cold then ignited deafening cheers, punctuated by a rock music beat, as he entered the arena through a tunnel and began clasping outstretched hands. The din rose several measures as he took the stage with Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Rep. Adam Smith.
Evoking Martin Luther King Jr., Obama said he’s running at such a relatively young age because of “the fierce urgency of now.”
“We are at a defining moment in our history,” he said. “Our nation is at war, our planet is in peril, the dreams that so many generations fought for feels like it’s slowly slipping away.”
Sen. Barack Obama at Seattle’s Key Arena yesterday (WND photo)
Although the crowd was overwhelmingly young, the 20-year-old Klein’s sentiments in the wake of the event traversed generations.
Larry Malone, 69, of Tacoma said he was prepared to spend the day in his recliner watching TV before his fiancé, Tina Cooper, “dragged him” out to the rally.
Malone, a Vietnam veteran and an African-American, explained he had little interest in politics until Cooper became enthusiastic about Obama.
“I was in limbo, I mean, hey I could take it or leave it,” Malone said. “But now, after the rally today, oh my God, I’m ready to run now.”
An estimated 3,000 people were unable to get into Key Arena yesterday to hear Sen. Barack Obama (WND photo)
Malone said he didn’t even know what a caucus was until just recently, but he plans to participate today. Cooper also will caucus for the first time, because of Obama.
“We can make a change,” she said. “And he is not only saying he can do it, but wants us to help. And that makes me happy.”
Seattleite Wendy Malabuyo, a 31-year-old engineer, said she couldn’t name any specific accomplishments that qualified Obama to be president but pointed to his career of “serving the underserved” in Chicago after graduation from Harvard.
“He inspires me. I can’t even say. … He gives me so much hope,” Malabuyo said. “It makes me feel like something will actually change. So I’m speechless. I love him. I love everything he stands for. I love everything that he can bring to this country. And we just need to get him there.”
John Cruce, 64, who worked for 30 years at the State Department in Washington, D.C., managing records, said he hasn’t seen a political leader like Obama come along since President Kennedy.
The 46-year-old Obama concluded his speech on a note that evoked JFK’s appeal to a new generation.
“This is our moment, this is our time,” Obama said, “and if you stand with me, if you will caucus with me tomorrow, if you want to give the next generation the same chance you got, if you’re not willing to settle for what the cynics say you have to accept, but are willing to reach for what is possible, then I guarantee you, we will win here in Washington, we will win the nomination, we will win the election, and together, you and I, we will change this country and change the world.”
Some of the estimated 21,000 who came to hear Sen. Barack Obama yesterday (WND photo)
Asked what the senator has accomplished that makes him fit to become president, Cruce said: “Well, I think the biggest thing is he is like a key. He’s going to unlock a door that’s going to allow us now to pass and finally be able to do some things we would like to do. There are not going to be as many barriers as there have in the past.”
Cruce was urged to be more specific about Obama’s accomplishments.
“I think it’s just his youthfulness, his newness, his willingness in and of itself to go forward with new ideas and try things that haven’t been tried because they’ve been all carved in stone the past few years,” Cruce said.
What specific new ideas stand out?
“Well, everything, I mean he talks about health insurance,” Cruce said. “We’ve all seen our parents and other people suffer. We don’t need to suffer any more in this country. Other countries have had better systems than we do, in the sense that they take care of their own.”
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels listens to Sen. Barack Obama (WND photo)
Cruce said that in the U.S. the approach is, “Well, if there is no money to be made in it, there is not use pursuing that.”
“That’s a bad attitude,” he asserted. “Who takes care of mom and dad when they get sick? Who takes care of the babies when they’re sick? A baby can’t be responsible for his health.”
Serign Marong, 29, a medical student at the University of Washington, said he likes Obama’s emphasis on health care, but more than anything, he comes away with a new perspective on politics.
“Before it was just kind of like, ‘Oh, OK, I’m 18, I should just go and vote,'” he said. “It was just like, ‘No, I don’t really want a Republican.’ But here, I don’t even feel that way. I feel like we have a new direction to go in. This is kind of a historic moment in my mind.”
One of Obama’s main themes is his desire to unite the nation and transform the divisive, partisan politics in Washington. But in light of Obama’s rating by the National Journal last week as the Senate’s most liberal lawmaker, Marong was asked if it might be difficult for Obama to accomplish that aim.
“It might be in a sense,” Marong said, “but he’s liberal, so he’s open to more ideas, and he’s not just one-sided.”
Sen. Barack Obama at Seattle’s Key Arena yesterday with Rep. Adam Smith and Gov. Christine Gregoire (WND photo)
A disappointed but upbeat Jennifer Quinn Conkey, 35, was among the thousands not allowed inside after she traveled several hours from Ridgefield in southwest Washington to see Obama.
Asked to give her understanding of what Obama plans to accomplish as president, she pointed to changing America’s image.
“I think this country is going in an awful direction,” she said. “The economy is in shambles. The environment needs help. That’s going in the wrong direction. We are not respected on the world stage at all. I think he just wants to change the image overall of this country and really bring it to a better place. To bring jobs back to this country.”
With just eight years in the Illinois legislature and three years in the U.S. Senate, what gives you confidence he can take on those issues?
“I think he’s a smart person and he’s going to put smart people with him,” she replied. “He’s going to hire smart advisers and find the best people he can that are going to help him to lead this country in that direction.”
Quinn Conkey compared Obama to his rival, Sen. Clinton, who held a rally of about 5,000 in a warehouse on Seattle’s waterfront Thursday night.
“I think Hillary … she is very establishment,” Quinn Conkey said. “She’s a Washington insider; that’s how I feel. I feel that although she plays on my side, she’s more of the same. She’s an insider, which I believe leads to corruptness and inside dealings, which I don’t like.
“I want somebody new, I want somebody fresh. I want somebody who is going to do things differently.”
Washington Gov. Gregoire seemed a likely Clinton supporter, but she announced Thursday her support for Obama and gave him an enthusiastic introduction at the rally yesterday.
Gregoire told the Seattle Times that Obama is “leading us toward a positive feeling of hope in our country and I love seeing that happen.”
“I believe the nation faces significant challenges domestically and internationally, and Obama is the person who has the ability to reach across artificial divides and move our national forward,” she said. “Barack is that kind of leader.”
Clinton, at her rally Thursday night, poked at Obama’s unity theme, essentially dismissing it as mere rhetoric.
Sen. Barack Obama at Seattle’s Key Arena yesterday (WND photo)
“I am hoping to unify the country, but to unify it to do the work of the country, not just to unify for the sake of saying, ‘We’re unified,” she said. “We need to be unified with a common purpose. The purpose is progress.”
Clinton also boasted about winning the youth vote in California and Massachusetts this week.
“Young people turned out and they turned out because young people, like all of us, realize we have to have a president who is ready on day one to walk into the Oval Office and not only be our president with ideas and the know-how … but we also need a commander in chief,” she said. “We need a hands-on manager.”
Obama fired back at Clinton yesterday, taking a jab at opponents who call him a “hope monger.”
“They criticize me for being inspiring. The implication is that somehow I’m not a realist. The notion is that my head is in the clouds somewhere. That, in the words of Sen. Clinton, I’m giving false hope and I need a reality check,” Obama said. “… I know how hard it is going to be to bring about change in America.”