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The Washington Square News - Obama Speaks to 24k in Park

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Location: New York, NY

The Washington Square News - Obama Speaks to 24k in Park

Emma Davis and Rachel Smith

As presidential hopeful Barack Obama spoke, a voice in the crowd declared love for him. Obama interrupted himself mid-sentence: "I love you back."

Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) spoke for about 45 minutes yesterday in Washington Square Park, running through his campaign promises, bantering with the crowd and emphasizing that he, too, was once a college student in New York.

"I used to hang out in Washington Square Park," he said, only seconds after striding on stage to the tune of Kanye West's "Touch the Sky" and opening with, "What's up New York?"

Standing before the arch, Obama said, "I know a little something about Greenwich Village," joking that he used to go to bars here but his campaign team didn't want him to tell anyone.

Obama spoke extensively about his campaign promises, clearly focusing on ones that impact college students, like financial aid. The crowd included about 24,000 people, according to Obama's campaign, and they cheered or jeered as he spoke, particularly when he mentioned "Bush," "Iraq" and "cost of college."

"Don't you think it's time we make college more affordable and accessible?" he said, to deafening cheers from the many students in the park.

He said the first priority in Iraq should be to remove U.S. troops, while later focusing on reconstruction. He said all troops should be out by March 30 of next year - a goal, he reminded the crowd, that he'd submitted to Congress, only to be vetoed by President Bush.

Obama also downplayed his status as a relative political novice, promising he would always be honest and put an end to Washington's "game-playing."

"People in Washington say 'He's talking about hope again - he's a hope-peddler, a hope-mongerer.' ... I stand guilty as charged," he said.

Obama also took several subtle digs at fellow presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former mayor Rudy Giuliani. He mocked Clinton's unwillingness to acknowledge she was a New York Yankees fan - she refused to choose between the Yankees and the Chicago Cubs - in Wednesday's democratic debate.

He also spoke about his mother's fight against cancer, segueing into his position on health care. He denounced drug and insurance companies for preventing reform. "I do not accept that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, we still have 47 million people without health insurance," he said.

Students in the crowd - most of whom were Obama supporters - reacted positively.

"Barack Obama is the most gangster politician to ever come to Washington," CAS freshman Lou Guberti said. Asked if Obama would get his vote, Guberti answered, "Hell yeah!"

Others were somewhat more skeptical.

"I don't think I could ever like Obama," CAS freshman Josh Schneier said. "But I think he could be decent, and I could get behind that."

The park was filled, some people resorting to sitting in tree branches and on the upper floors of the Kimmel Center. There were high school students from New Jersey, grandmothers from the Upper East Side and even a group from Oakland, Calif.

The campaign also encouraged people to register to vote, and said they could text a number from their cellphones to receive updates about the campaign.

Tisch sophomore Lance Rappaport said he was persuaded to register by an Obama worker. "I always meant to, and it was really easy because there was a booth set up here," he said.

There was also a booth where students could sign up to be volunteers for the Obama presidential campaign. Andrea Pagliai, a CAS freshman, was inspired to volunteer by the speech at the rally. "Obama was extremely moving and a strong speaker," she said. "He knew how to reach youth, which are the future."

Obama closed the rally by calling on all the attendants to mobilize and stir up support for his campaign. "I need you to work for a change, I need you to fight for a change," he said.

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