The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Obama Delivers Goosebumps
by Saheed Ahmed
The rain stayed away, the weather was a cool 62, and a crowd of about 20,000 -- war veterans, college students and parents pushing strollers -- listened in rapt attention Saturday to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, at Atlanta's first public rally of the 2008 presidential campaign.
The crowd at least rivaled the largest so far for the campaign of the junior senator from Illinois. He spoke for 36 minutes and was interrupted by applause 116 times.
Obama took to the stage at the Yellow Jacket Park on the campus of Georgia Tech to the strains of Aretha Franklin's 'Think' and began by talking about his early interest in politics.
He recounted how early in his career, people had difficulty pronouncing his name.
"They'd call me Alabama or Yo' Mama," he joked.
Weaving in the theme of turning a page, Obama talked about the lack of universal healthcare, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal and the petty politics in Washington that thwarts meaningful change.
The crowd cheered loudest when he condemned the war in Iraq.
"This is the first time I have gotten goose bumps from any politician in a long, long time," said Jay Frasier, a 31-year-old attorney.
On crutches after breaking his leg during a soccer game, Frasier said Obama's message and his delivery makes his snatching the Democratic nomination "almost a foregone conclusion."
Some at the rally were some drawn by the charisma or the novelty of an African-American candidate.
But there were many who either had done their homework and were backing Obama for more than just his oratory skills or were still candidate-shopping.
Organizers expected about 15,000. About 20,000 people turned out, said Georgia Tech Fire Marshal Michael Hodgson.
So far this year, the largest crowd at an Obama campaign rally was 15,000 to 20,000 in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 23.
Sheila Sumpter completed her overnight shift at Grady Memorial Hospital at 7 a.m., slept for two hours and drove to the rally, clutching a copy of Obama's second book "The Audacity of Hope."
"I've never felt this connection with a candidate before," said Sumpter, 46, of Austell. "When he talks about what he wants to achieve, I don't think he's just talking. I feel he's speaking from his heart, and I believe him."
Matt Johnson, 22, too, is in awe of Obama's ability to connect with his audience.
But the public policy undergrad from Canton said he has also studied the senator's stance on the environment and domestic issues. He is sold.
Not quite the case with Patrick White, a 31-year-old exterminating company employee from Lawrenceville.
He has signed up both at Obama's presidential campaign website and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton's. It's too early to make a choice, he said.
"We don't need a president to come in and continue the polarization of the current administration; we all feel that," he said. "What I am looking for are the specifics â" what do they plan to do, not just what they say needs to be done."
Sitting on the curb with White was his aunt, Rosemarie Brooks.
"This war is draining us financially," Brooks, 46, of Stone Mountain, said. "You get the economy right and you can fix a lot of the social problems in the country. But to get the economy right, you have to end this war."
The rally had all the trappings of a rock concert.
A volunteer took to the stage and pitted the crowd against one other in a good-natured contest to see which group could out-cheer the other.
The Clark Atlanta University marching band pumped up the attendees.
Among the songs that blared over the loudspeakers before Obama took the stage: Sting's "Brand New Day," John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change," Ben Harper's "(I Believe in a) Better Way."
The crowd was a mix of races and generations. The volunteers, however, were overwhelmingly young â" an indication of Obama's appeal to the 18-to-35 set.
Next year's presidential election will be the first time 18-year-old Steve Golden will be able to vote.
Dressed in an Obama '08 shirt and holding a blue placard that said the same thing, Golden tripped over his words as he tried to pour out all the reasons he is backing his candidate.
On Friday night, the Emory University freshman started a Facebook group for Obama supporters at his college. By this morning, about 500 had joined, he said.
It's more than just charisma, Golden said. He said Obama represents an undefinable 'something' that has people excited.