The Hawk Eye - Obama Rides Wave to Mount Pleasant
By Kiley Miller
A "hope peddler" came to town Tuesday hawking his wares, and he found a crowd of eager customers.
Sen. Barack Obama's first visit to Henry County hit as the Democratic presidential candidate is riding a money-fanned tailwind from a record fundraising performance in the second quarter.
The buzz Obama has enjoyed over the past three years, beginning with his breakout speech at his party's 2004 convention, was apparent by the large turnout in what is traditionally a Republican-leaning county.
"People are hungry for a change," he proclaimed in a brief speech on the lawn of Lois and Frederick Crane's stately home near Iowa Wesleyan College. "They are desperate for something new."
Earlier in the day Obama visited Lee County for the first time, speaking outside a Keokuk elementary school.
Both there and here in Mount Pleasant he elected not to field questions, choosing instead "to mingle and kiss babies."
Barb Lynchard was one of those who got in line for a handshake and a few words.
A Head Start teacher here, she liked the emphasis Obama placed on early childhood education.
She also appreciates the stance he took against the war in Iraq before being elected to the Senate.
"I support my troops," Lynchard said, "but I want them home safe."
While Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina both voted to authorize the Iraq War, Obama is the lone Democratic top gun without that blemish on his record.
Lynchard wasn't the only audience member impressed by that fact Tuesday.
"He was against it from the beginning, (so) I have more respect for him," said Michael Blackmon, an 18-year-old from Mount Pleasant.
The Rev. John Zimmerman, who pastors a Mennonite church here, handled Obama's introduction. In his remarks, he said the candidate "won't only get us out of this mess, he'll keep us out of future messes."
Obama has turned ending the war into a key issue for his campaign, as have other Democrats. In his speech, he claimed the conflict in Iraq has diminished "(our) standing in the world" and made the nation less safe. "I don't know if you've noticed we still haven't caught bin Laden," he said.
Obama also hit on universal health care, global warming, the need to improve an education system that "continues to leave millions of children behind" and his plan for an overhaul of the nation's energy policy.
By increasing the average fuel efficiency of automobiles sold to 45 miles per gallon, he said the country could stop importing oil from the Middle East. Along with that, he reemphasized his support for a renewable fuels industry that has already been a boon to Iowa.
"You name any kind of problem there is, we can solve it," he said.
Optimistic statements like that are why, in Obama's own words, others in Congress sometimes call him a "hope-monger" and "hope peddler."
His message seems to be resonating with the public though. Obama's campaign on Sunday reported raising at least $31 million between April and June from 154,000 individual donors. The dollar figure was a record for a Democratic candidate.
One of the loudest cheers here did not come for a specific policy proposal or even a jab at President George Bush, but when Obama said "every generation has an obligation to work on behalf of the next generation."
In fact, the senator from neighboring Illinois spent much of his time with the microphone in his hand proclaiming the need for a "new kind of politics" in the country. Among other things, he said that means making sure oil companies aren't involved in drafting energy policy and drug companies don't write health care policy.
"We're going to have to have the kind of politics that doesn't pardon a person who threatens the national security of the United States of America," Obama said.
The reference was to President Bush's decision Monday to commute the prison sentence of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for lying and perjury. The president did not actually grant Libby a full pardon, however.
Obama came casual to Tuesday's outdoor gathering, wearing a short-sleeve shirt and dark slacks, and he stayed easygoing throughout, even when he was interrupted by a pair of passing trains and a bug that flew down his throat, bringing on a coughing fit.
"I hadn't had lunch yet," he joked between gulps of water.
Such down-to-earth pleasantries appealed to Bernice Jennings.
A Mount Pleasant senior citizen, Jennings called Obama's ideas "wonderful." But she seemed to be more struck by the current of hopefulness coursing through his speech.
Asked what issue was most important to her in the election, she said only that she hoped "we all pull together and get this country on the right path again."
Jennings has already decided which candidate is most likely to make that happen. Pinned over her heart was an Obama '08 button.