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Ottumwa Courier - Obama Shares Message Of Hope And Unity

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Ottumwa Courier - Obama Shares Message Of Hope And Unity

By Matt Milner

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign laid out seats for 300 people at Ottumwa High School for Monday's campaign visit. They were low by several hundred.

Obama's campaign is used to large crowds by now. He's drawn thousands of people at some stops. But the size of Ottumwa's event seemed to surprise everyone. Obama walked out onto the stairs above the cafeteria, paused for a split-second, then broke into a huge grin.

"What a wonderful portrait of America and what America's all about," Obama said.

The campaign believes the turnouts reflect a genuine desire for new government with new people.

"They're coming out because people in America right now are hungry for change," Obama said. "They want to turn the page on the kind of politics we've had the past six years. They want a new kind of politics and a new kind of governance."

Campaign officials said the first visit to an Iowa town serves as an introduction, and that's how Obama opened his speech. He talked about his early days as an employee for a group of Chicago churches who set up job training and after school services. He talked about his decision to run for the Illinois Senate, made after prayer and consultation with another "higher power:" his wife.

But most of the speech focused on the twin themes of hope and unity. Obama blasted the status quo, saying politics has taught people to be cynical.

"Those who do vote are voting against somebody, instead of voting for somebody," he said. "We've got a politics that's based more on fear than on hope. It's based more on what divides us than what unites us. I think that's why people are coming out in record numbers."

Obama favors universal health care. He said the country can save billions by covering routine checkups for children. Those checkups keep children out of emergency rooms, which are far more expensive.

He also called for increases in early childhood education, saying every $1 investment there yields $7 later. He backed increases in teacher pay.

Obama has long criticized the war in Iraq. He praised U.S. soldiers, but said the country must bring them home. Security can be better maintained through diplomacy and domestic decisions, he said. He pointed to gasoline mileage as an example, saying an average of 40-45 mpg for cars in the U.S. could end the need for all Mideast oil imports.

He said he sees some value in proposals to partition Iraq. But the decisions must be made by the Iraqi people. He warned attempts to impose a solution will fail.

When asked about immigration, Obama said the nation needs strong border security. That takes two forms: better border surveillance and crackdowns on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

But Obama said he does not see a way to deport an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants. He said if they want to remain in the country the U.S. should levy a heavy fine on them, require them to learn English and go to the back of the line for citizenship.

Obama repeatedly returned to the theme of popular strength, though.

"This campaign has to be a vehicle for your hopes and your dreams," he said. He challenged voters not to fall for promises of instant change and savior candidates. "Change doesn't happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up."

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