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Austin American-Statesman - Obama-rama Feeling as Sen. Obama Rallies Austin Supporters

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Location: Austin, TX

American-Statesman - Obama-rama Feeling as Sen. Obama

Democratic presidential candidate pauses in Austin on Friday

Obama-rama sweeps Austin today as Democrat Barack Obama brings his 13-day-old presidential campaign to the Texas capital for a rare political do next to Town Lake.

The gates at Auditorium Shores will open at 12:30 p.m. for the 3 p.m. speech by the U.S. senator from Illinois, following a private fundraiser. The gates near Riverside Drive and South First Street might part earlier if a crowd builds. The capacity is 20,000 people.

Texans for Obama has fielded at least 16,000 online requests for tickets to the rally. A ticket is not required, spokeswoman Amy Everhart said, but it could ease entry.

"To get a good spot close to the stage, they need to get there as early as they can," Everhart said. "Anybody against the stage will get to shake hands with him."

Obama, 45, is believed to be the first presidential aspirant to rally voters at Auditorium Shores, typically home to concerts, since President Reagan did in July 1984.

Daron Shaw teaches a Friday afternoon class on political parties at the University of Texas. Shaw won't take attendance today in part because of interest in Obama, a civil rights lawyer who won election to the Senate in 2004 after making a prime-time address to the Democratic National Convention.

"When you have an opportunity to see people, you go," said Shaw, an associate professor of government. "It's like if you had a chance to see John F. Kennedy in 1960."

Not every politico is intrigued. Hans Klingler, spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas, likened the hubbub to preparations for Austin's annual celebration of Eeyore, a character from A.A. Milne's "Winnie-the-Pooh" stories. Austin "famously celebrates the birthday of a donkey from a children's book every year," he said, "so this sort of makes sense."

Obama's campaign has touched off an Internet boomlet, especially among students and young people.

And Obama might have the Web to thank for the volunteers who will collect tickets, sell T-shirts and help clean up.

Two weeks ago, UT law student Richard Cofer went on the Facebook social networking site to launch UT Students for Obama. More than 500 people have joined, Cofer said, and about 100 signed up to help at the event.

Kent Redfield, a professor of political studies at the University of Illinois in Springfield, has students who stood in below-freezing temperatures to watch Obama declare his candidacy outside the Illinois Capitol on Feb. 10.

In his remarks, Obama vowed to stem the influence of lobbyists and special interests in government, withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and achieve universal health care coverage in his first term as president.

"I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington," Obama said. "But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change."

Redfield said Obama, like former President Clinton, connects both with crowds and with people one-on-one. But he trails U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the Democrats' 2004 vice presidential nominee, in organizing and fundraising.

"There's nothing he's done up to this point to prepare for what he's about to go through," Redfield said. "We'll know an awful lot about him if he can survive the pressure cooker he's just walked into."

Next year could yield a wide open race for president. It's the first year since 1928 that neither party will give serious consideration to a sitting vice president or president as its nominee.

Declared Democratic candidates include New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. GOP hopefuls include Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Garry Mauro, the 1998 Democratic nominee for Texas governor, is helping Clinton, the former first lady. He said Obama will run a fascinating race. "I hope after this is all over that we'll never ask the question again, 'Can an African American be elected president or vice president?' "

Peck Young, director of the Austin Community College Center for Public Policy and Political Studies, said of Obama: "This is a Democrat who's got a bright future. If he does not win the nomination this time, we'll be dealing with him for a long time."

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