2,000 greet Democratic presidential candidate
Sen. Barack Obama brought his presidential campaign to Ohio for the first time on Monday to shouts of "Cleveland BA-RACKS."
Obama, D-Ill., came to downtown Cleveland for a big-ticket fundraiser at Key Tower before heading to a packed gymnasium at the Cuyahoga Community College Eastern Campus on Richmond Road. Signs of "Obama Rocks" and "NASCAR fans for Obama" greeted him.
The audience of about 2,000 was dominated by students -- like the early days of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, which drew significant youth support. But the crowd was more racially diverse for this African-American candidate.
"I'm so grateful to all of you for coming out tonight. This is the end of the first leg of a long journey. And it's a good place to end, right here in Cleveland, Ohio, because in November 2008, we expect to win Ohio," Obama said. "So we want to make sure we spend some time in Ohio right now."
"This country is ready for a change," he told the crowd. "We are here because this country is at a crossroads. We are here because, for too many years, we have known the challenges and problems we face, but we haven't faced them squarely and we haven't faced them honestly."
He said it doesn't make sense when a country spends $1.9 trillion a year on health care, but 46 million are not insured. Obama pledged to create a health-care system for the country's uninsured by the end of his first term in office.
He said too many young people were being left behind, unprepared to compete in a world economy, and that Congress' response was to raise interest rates on student loans.
The nation's prosperity is not being shared, he said.
"Some at the top are doing better than ever before," Obama said.
He called for an end to tax breaks for companies that export jobs overseas and for an energy policy that would use solar and wind power not only to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, but to create jobs as well.
Current energy policies, he said, were being written by big oil companies.
But none of his initiatives brought the kind of applause that came when he called for an end to the war in Iraq. The $3 trillion spent on the war could have rebuilt the city of Cleveland and other American cities, he said.
He proposed to phase out troops from Iraq beginning May 1 so that by March 31, 2008, all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq.
Obama asked the crowd for its support with votes and money.
"I don't care how poor you are, you've got $5," he said, adding, "I'd rather have $5 from 100,000 people than $100,000 from five people."
He said the country is not absent solutions, but absent the leadership to pull the country together to work toward those solutions.
"We can do what previous generations have done and create a more unified, more prosperous, more equal and more just America," Obama said.
Campaign officials said another 5,000 to 6,000 were watching the rally on large televisions at overflow sites throughout the campus.
After his 30-minute speech, Obama slowly worked his way out of the gym, shaking hands and signing autographs.
Obama was introduced by LaDonna Norris, who runs the Barbara Byrd-Bennett Scholars Program through Baldwin Wallace College, which aims to keep African-American male youths in high school through graduation.
She appeared on stage with more than a dozen male students -- all high school seniors who participate in the program.
Madeleine Fierstein, a 19-year-old college freshman, attended with a group of 50 Oberlin College students.
Fierstein said she was still making up her mind about presidential candidates for 2008.
"I want to be better informed about him," she said. "He's not necessarily my candidate."
Dodi Fulajatar, 47, of Mentor, said with four children to put through college, she is looking for a candidate who can offer some hope to young people, and Obama's message resonates for her.
"I think he has some fresh ideas that are going to help the whole country," she said.
Cleveland resident Dorothy Chapman, 49, an African-American, said she believes the country is ready for a black president.
"Absolutely, with a capital AB," she said, and continued, "I think we need a change and he's the one to do it."