Palm Beach Post: Obama dazzles lawmakers, regular folks
Illinois Sen. and Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama brought his campaign to the state capital Friday, eliciting star-struck responses from lawmakers and ordinary residents alike.
"On behalf of the Capitol and behalf of the Democratic Caucus from both the House and the Senate, I want to welcome Sen. Obama and 'Starship Obama.' There's a lot of excitement here," said House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber, who along with other Democratic legislators met with Obama behind closed doors where he signed a table full of copies of his book.
Obama, who served in the Illinois state Senate before his election to the U.S. Senate, told them that state legislatures let them solve real problems affecting their constituents, and that he hoped to learn from them.
"I'm looking forward to ... learning about the challenges Florida is facing, and, hopefully, being able to serve Florida not only as a visitor but also as a president," he said.
Obama's visit is the latest in a string of presidential campaign appearances Florida has seen since House Speaker Marco Rubio began pushing for the state to advance its primary date to as early as mid-January.
"It's going to be a 50-state campaign. Oftentimes, over the last several years, there's been a tendency to just focus on one or two states," Obama said. "We also want to make sure that we're coming to states like Florida, not just to fund-raise, which has been the tradition, but also to provide community forums, access to ordinary folks, so that they get a chance to lift the hood and kick the tires."
He provided some brief access to those folks a short time later with a three-minute, impromptu speech to a crowd of 200 or so gathered outside the Challenger Learning Center, where several hundred supporters - including some Republican lobbyists - paid as much as $500 to listen to a speech in private.
"This is an example of the energy that young people are bringing to this campaign. It's unbelievable," he said, standing atop a park bench and speaking without a sound system. He told his listeners he wanted to improve the country's health-care system, deal with climate change and end the war in Iraq. "This is one of those rare moments where we can change history. Those moments don't come that often."
Obama's campaign, which has enjoyed much publicity because of the large crowds he draws, has tried to dampen expectations about how much money he will raise in the first quarter of this year, a period that ends today, compared with the more established campaigns of fellow Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Edward.