Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, embraced by thousands of people as he wound his way down the Mississippi River on Saturday, said the country is in greater peril since the beginning of the Iraq War.
by Ed Tibbetts
Obama pitched his plan to get American troops out of that country in a year during stops in Dubuque, Clinton and, finally, Davenport, where he was greeted by a packed gymnasium at North High School. Aides said 3,700 people were there for the evening rally.
In Dubuque, aides said the crowd hit 2,300.
Obama's stop in the Quad-Cities was his first since announcing his presidential candidacy a month ago.
Throughout the day, he accentuated his plan to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, as well as noting his own early opposition to the war.
At each of Saturday's stops, volunteers passed out a brochure with the exit plan, as well as a copy of a 2002 speech that Obama, then a state senator, gave at a rally in Chicago. In it, he opposed what he called a "dumb war."
"We've got a war that should never have been fought, should never have been authorized," Obama told more than 400 people at Clinton Community College on Saturday afternoon.
"We are seeing as much instability as there's ever been in the Middle East. We are less safe than we were before the war started," he added. "It's time for us to bring our troops home.
Obama has proposed a plan to begin a troop pullout in May, with a goal of removing all troops by the end of next March.
The Illinois senator's emphasis on the 2002 authorization vote sets him apart from some of the other Democrats in the 2008 presidential race, particularly U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who voted to authorize the war but has since resisted pressure to apologize for the vote.
She has said, knowing what she does now, she wouldn't have voted for it.
Clinton leads Obama in early national polls.
A first term U.S. senator, Obama also drew loud applause when he deplored the pettiness of American politics and pledged to change it.
He said too often politics disintegrates into name calling and one upsmanship. "Washington needs to change, and I'm going to change it -- with you," he said.
Tiffany Biehl, of Maquoketa, who was in the Clinton crowd, said she plans to support Obama.
"He's honest. He gives people hope," she said.
"He seems determined to me, and confident," Kitty Trevor, of Davenport, said.
While Obama's appeal has a lot to do with the belief he represents a break with today's politics, the senator acknowledged in an interview with the Quad-City Times that he, too, isn't innocent of engaging in "red meat rhetoric."
In the 2002 anti-war speech, he called top White House aide Karl Rove a political hack who was trying to distract the country from domestic ills. But he suggested he had changed since then.
"I think that I have, the further I've gone into politics, lessened the use of that language more and more," he said. "Very rarely will you hear me spend a lot of time talking about Republicans or Bush."
Sandwiched in between the rallies were private meetings with activists.
On a bus trip from Clinton to Davenport with a group of educators, Obama quizzed them about the No Child Left Behind law, told them he'd like to see their salaries boosted by as much as 25 percent -- but said it must accompany greater accountability.
And he gently disagreed with one teacher who said Obama used the word "compete" too often when talking about the country's education system. The teacher suggested collaboration should be emphasized more.
"The truth is we're competing," Obama said, and added, "we really are falling behind when it comes to math and science."
Nonetheless, the teachers group appeared impressed. The teacher who suggested greater collaboration, Carol Kula of Coralville, said she still supports him.
"I appreciate his openness," she said, but added, "I'll keep working on him."
Obama was planning to spend the night in Davenport and then will wind up his two-day swing with stops in Muscatine and Burlington today. The stop in Muscatine will be at West Middle School, 600 Kindler Ave. Doors open at 10 a.m. with the program to begin at 11 a.m.
This was his third trip to the state since announcing his candidacy.