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Des Moines Register - 300 Cheer Obama in Keokuk

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Des Moines Register - 300 Cheer Obama in Keokuk

By Erin Jordan

Fifteen minutes was all it took to convince Raymond and Sylvia Echols to vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Obama, a U.S senator from Illinois, started his Fourth of July tour through Iowa on Tuesday by standing on a vintage pickup festooned with flag bunting on the playground of the Hawthorne Elementary School in Keokuk.

A crowd of about 300 people cheered Obama's short talk that focused on uniting America behind goals of withdrawing troops from Iraq, providing universal health care and improving education funding.

"I wasn't a supporter until today," said Sylvia Mills-Echols, 54, a middle school teacher from Keokuk.

Obama made news earlier this week by raising more money in the second quarter of 2007 than any other presidential candidate with $32.5 million.

The Illinois senator didn't mention the total during his talks Tuesday, but his staff touted his 250,000 contributors as a way to show support for the candidate.

Americans are ready for change, Obama told Iowans.

"We've had six years of a 'can't do, won't do, won't even try' government," Obama said. He cited the Iraq war, floundering health care system and No Child Left Behind as failures of the Republican-led government. But Americans want more than to be opposed to the status quo, he said.

"We want to be for something," Obama said. "It's been too long since we came together for a sense of common interest." Obama, if elected, would seek to provide universal health care, require increased fuel efficiency for vehicles and allow college students to get loans directly from the government instead of paying banks to be middlemen, he said.

He drew the biggest applause when he talked about withdrawing from Iraq within a year, a decision he said would improve America's standing in the world.

"I know where America needs to go, but I can't go there by myself," Obama said.

Obama broke with his usual practice of taking questions by using the time after his talks to shake hands, kiss babies and meet Iowans that he needs as his supporters in the 2008 Iowa caucuses.

He charmed the crowd of about 150 people gathered on the rolling lawn of Lois and Frederick Crane's Mount Pleasant house when he accidentally swallowed a bug and joked that he hadn't had lunch. Several Iowans said they were spurred to support Obama because of his charisma, coupled with a message about uniting America.

"I'm a Republican, but I'm leaning toward Obama," said Donna Peevler, 47, a fourth-grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary.

Roger Harrison, 53, of Mount Pleasant, said he was 75 percent in support of Obama before the event, with 25 percent for John Edwards.

"It's pretty much solidified now," he said about his support for Obama. "He's hopeful and I like that." Irene Starks, a 64-year-old Keokuk resident who "works for the Lord" as a volunteer at a Christian television station, said she identifies with Obama's moral character.

"I heard he's a Christian and I am too," Starks said. "I want somebody who is for the people, not just for his own name." Obama will continue his Iowa visit Wednesday in Oskaloosa, Pella and Des Moines.

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