Sun News- Obama impresses crowd at CCU
Conway -- Presidential hopeful Barack Obama rallied a crowd of about 1,800 people Thursday night at Coastal Carolina University, telling them why the nation needs a change and why he's the person to bring it about.
The Illinois senator is the second Democratic presidential candidate to politick on the Grand Strand this year. His visit also makes him the first candidate to stump at the university this year, giving him the chance to connect with young potential voters.
CCU student Megan Hayes, 18, said she got to shake the senator's hand after he spoke, and even got a hug.
"I was really impressed. I'm definitely going to vote for him next year," she said. "I was ecstatic." After an introduction by CCU basketball player Jack Leasure, the senator gave a roughly 45-minute speech about issues that he said frustrate Americans, such as education, health care, the economy and the war in Iraq.
The nation's education system, "despite the slogans, is leaving millions of children behind," he said. He said early childhood education, higher teacher salaries and new schools would help.
He cited a Dillon school he visited earlier Thursday. The school was built in 1896 and was featured on a documentary called the "Corridor of Shame" about poor, rural schools along the state's I-95 corridor.
He also responded to recent criticism he's received for saying he would talk to controversial foreign leaders without precondition.
"Let me tell you something, a strong nation and a strong president is never afraid to talk to their adversaries," he said. Obama said if he were president, he would also give fewer tax breaks to the rich and would speedily pull troops out of Iraq.
The university is open to any presidential candidate, said university President David DeCenzo, but Thursday's rally was the first time since 2000 that one came to the college.
George W. Bush spoke that year in the same gymnasium to a crowd of 2,000 students, according to a university magazine article.
"It's wonderful exposure for the university," said the university's executive vice president, Edgar Dyer. "It's a great service for our students to have the opportunity to see a real live presidential candidate."
It's also probably a smart move for a candidate, said CCU assistant politics professor Holley Tankersley.
People ages 18 to 24 have the lowest voting and registration rates of any age group at 46.7 percent in the 2004 election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"That's where you have untapped voters," Tankersley said. "You want to energize the people who you know haven't voted for you yet."
Jessica Causer, 18, said she hasn't been interested in politics very long, but Obama made a good impression on her and her friends with his stance on education and pulling out of Iraq.
"We just started getting into politics so we thought it would be neat to come out," she said.
His charisma and energy were another plus among people who attended, such as Janyce Rollins, 63, of Myrtle Beach.
"He's not pretentious. He's down to earth. He tells it like it is," Rollins said. "I just think he's very inspiring."