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Claremont Eagle Times: Obama spreads his message at Bourdon Centre

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Location: Claremont, NH

Claremont Eagle Times: Obama spreads his message at Bourdon Centre

By Stuart Norwood

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois was introduced to residents of the Earl M. Bourdon Centre as a "good friend of seniors."

From the welcome he received at the assisted living facility, the widespread feeling was mutual. Obama received an enthusiastic reception from the audience of some 150 senior citizens, and for nearly an hour and a half explained who he is, what he wishes for the United States and how he would lead the country into a new political era.

His speaking engagement was an event open only to residents at the facility, and a nod to the site's historical significance when former Speaker of the House and Republican Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton shook hands in the spirit of bipartisanship. Obama vowed to work in a "tradition and in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to solve the country's problems.

He also offered his condolences to the Newport family and friends of Justin Rollins, the 22-year-old soldier who was killed in a bomb blast in Iraq and will be buried Monday in Arlington National Cemetery. "Our thoughts and prayers are with that family in Newport," he said.

In an interview with the Eagle Times, Obama said closed meetings with groups such as the one at the Bourdon Centre are vital to him, allowing the airing of one-on-one views. He said all the fireworks and hoopla and electricity of the larger-scale engagements are fine, but he equally enjoys speaking to small groups.

He spends as much time and money and effort in meeting such speaking engagements, and it doesn't matter to him whether he is reaching the minds of 150 people or 1,500.

The 45-year-old candidate said the issues and concerns of senior citizens are the same as the rest of the population, the war in Iraq with no end in sight, health care that is draining the pockets of Americans, lack of an energy policy that is making Iran and Venezuela richer day by day, an economy in which people are losing ground as wages stagnate and the lack of transparency in government.

"We know what challenges there are. There is no national security policy for the 21st century," he said. "Can we bring the country together? We have to overcome the pettiness of our parties. We need bipartisan support to find solutions," he said.

Obama told the seniors that he wouldn't be in the race unless he thought he had something unique to offer. He said he will set a new tone in politics. The tone he espouses is one of "can do" and "will do." He would bring a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq, beginning the end of U.S. involvement in what he called a sectarian civil war. By March 31, 2008, he envisions the majority of the troops would be back home. We would continue our help and support, but not on the front lines of the conflict.

A town hall forum in Keene was canceled because of the storm, and it's uncertain when Obama will be back in New Hampshire, but he will be back to spread his message of inclusiveness and cooperation. And he is not looking over his shoulder at the polls. He dismisses their validity. It's clear he knows where he is in the presidential race - and where he is going.

Along the way, he is even finding the will to quit smoking, something he said his wife made him promise to get her approval for running.

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