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Omaha World-Herald - Obama Mania Arrives in Omaha

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Omaha World-Herald - Obama Mania Arrives in Omaha

"We can't wait to fix our health care system, we cannot wait to fix our schools . . . we cannot wait to bring this war in Iraq to a close," Obama said. "We cannot wait."

Bringing his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to the Civic Auditorium, where some in his audience had waited since morning, Obama said voters share that sense of urgency.

"Everywhere I go, the American people tell me that the time for change has come," he said.

Obama is seeking the 24 national convention delegates at stake Saturday in the Nebraska Democratic Party's first-ever caucuses.

Talking about earlier contests, Obama said he's even won support from some Republicans and noted the reports that younger voters across the country had been turning out to back him.

Details of Obama's visit to Omaha today Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will hold a "Stand for Change" rally today at the Omaha Civic Auditorium.

Doors open at 3:30 p.m.

Tickets are not required.
"Everywhere we go, we've seen these enormous crowds, this enormous enthusiasm. . . . I would like to take all the credit for this." But Obama said some of that credit may go to the incumbent president.

"No matter what else happens, the name George W. Bush will not be on the ballot - and that makes everybody excited," he said.

Before Obama addressed the Omaha crowd, he picked up an endorsement from across the Missouri River. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, whose state held the nation's first caucuses Jan. 3, joined the senator on the stage.

"Not since John Kennedy has a politician had the ability to inspire Americans regardless of who they are or where they come from," Culver said.

Obama was an hour late, but the overflow crowd didn't seem to mind.

They roared when Obama took the stage. They roared when he said, simply: "Cornhusker" or "Go Red."

And they roared when he talked about his campaign theme that it's time for change.

"When I decided to run, I was certain that the American people were hungry for something different," he said.

"They wanted a politics that wasn't about tearing people down, but about building the country up. The people didn't want ideology. They wanted practicality and common sense," Obama said.

Obama was introduced by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who compared Obama's visit to that of Robert Kennedy in 1968.

"This person can get the job done," Nelson said.

Nebraskans have long crossed the Missouri River to attend presidential campaign rallies in neighboring Iowa - the site of the nation's first presidential caucuses.

This time it was different.

This time, a presidential hopeful came to Omaha to ask Nebraskans for their support in the Democratic Party's first-ever caucuses, set for Saturday.

The excitement was palpable as the crowd poured into the Omaha Civic Auditorium. Some waited eight hours to get a seat.

At times, the line extended around the auditorium. People arrived waving signs and chanting: "Go 'Bama" and "Yes We Can." The last was a reference to a video circulating on the Internet in which an Obama speech is crafted into a song.

At 4 p.m., the crowd roared as Omaha band Bright Eyes took the stage. Lead singer Conor Oberst, an Obama supporter, sang for 15 minutes.

"We want to see the man," said Joe Kinnaman, a Lincoln businessman who had arrived with his wife, Tanna Kinnaman, outside the building about five hours before the event.

"There's a lot of excitement going on here. We haven't seen this in years," Kinnaman said.

Fire Department officials estimated the crowd inside at more than 7,000.

Obama, coming off a strong performance in the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, is hunting for more Democratic National Convention delegates - and 24 are in play in Nebraska's caucuses.

Louisiana, Washington and the Virgin Island also will hold Democratic presidential tests Saturday. Obama visited New Orleans Thursday morning, Omaha in the late afternoon and planned to end his day with a rally in Seattle.

So far, Hillary Clinton has given no indication that she plans to visit the Cornhusker State. Her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, spoke to students Thursday at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and campaigned in Grand Island.

The Clinton campaign also aired its first Nebraska television advertisement, featuring a testimonial from former Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.

Clinton, however, appears more focused on states further down the election calendar. She campaigned Thursday in Virginia and Maine. Maine's caucuses are Sunday; Virginia's primary is Tuesday.

After 28 states' primaries and caucuses this year, no clear front-runner has emerged on the Democratic side. Both Clinton and Obama appear to be preparing for a long fight.

After the polls closed on Super Tuesday, Clinton held a narrow lead in delegates by some counts. Obama appeared to have the edge in money.

The Illinois senator has raised $7.2 million since Tuesday, his campaign said. Clinton disclosed this week that she loaned $5 million to her campaign in late January, but her campaign later said it had raised more than $4 million online since Tuesday.

Thursday, as the eager crowd waited to see first black presidential candidate with a serious chance to win the White House, the atmosphere in the Civic Auditorium was a sharp contrast to nearly 40 years ago, when it was the scene of racial turmoil.

On March 4, 1968, segregationist George Wallace spoke at the Civic Auditorium, prompting a chair-throwing melee and several days of unrest in Omaha.

"I never thought I'd see it in my lifetime," said Raymond Parks, who'd been a protestor at the Wallace rally in 1968. "It's absolutely wonderful."

"And it speaks volumes to how far civil rights in America have come, that a woman and an African-American can run for president and be taken seriously and have a chance to win," Parks, 56, said in a phone interview from his present home in Milpitas, Calif.

Many prominent members of Omaha's black community were in the Obama audience, including Brenda Council, a former city councilwoman, and Fred Conley, the first black elected to the council.

Many Nebraskans who attended the Obama rally said they wanted to be a part of history.

It is rare that Nebraskans get to play a role in the Democratic presidential nominating process. Usually, the nomination has been clinched by the time Democrats vote in the state's May primary.

Obama's visit marked the first time in years that a major presidential candidate has campaigned in Nebraska during the primary season.

Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson both campaigned in Nebraska in advance of the state's 1988 primary. Dukakis won the Democratic nomination. Then-Vice President George Bush, the eventual GOP nominee, also stumped in Nebraska that year.

In 1984, Jackson, Gary Hart and Walter Mondale all visited the state. Mondale won the nomination.

Teenagers and 20-somethings came in droves to hear Obama.

Laura Baxter, a senior at Duchesne Academy, waited for more than seven hours with a group of friends to see the Illinois senator. She said she hopes to cast her first vote for Obama.

"I think he's really a good person. I really trust him and I believe in him," said Baxter, 18. "He really wants to unite people of all ages and all parties."

The audience was not limited to Democrats or young people.

Several said they were Republicans who had come to see what all the excitement was about. Some Republicans said they supported Obama because they believed he would bring change.

"He's inspiring. He's a leader. And he's positive," said Sterling Schultz, a Republican farmer from Naper, Neb., who said he planned to fill out the paperwork necessary to caucus Saturday as a Democrat.


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