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Toledo Blade - Obama Wows Youngstown Crowd

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Location: Youngstown, OH

Toledo Blade - Obama Wows Youngstown Crowd
Senator kicks off Ohio campaign

Sen. Barack Obama yesterday chose the Mahoning Valley, long the poster child of Ohio's decline as an industrial power, to kick off his campaign for the state's Democratic convention delegates in the March 4 primary election.

Speaking at Youngstown State University to a packed field house crowd of about 7,000 people, Mr. Obama got one of his biggest cheers - and there were many big ones - with a dig at the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA has been blamed for the loss of many Ohio jobs and was enacted during the term of former President Bill Clinton.

"Sen. [Hillary] Clinton says speeches don't put food on the table, but NAFTA didn't put food on the table, so I'm happy to have that discussion," Mr. Obama said.

Mrs. Clinton is the front-runner in Ohio, according to polls of likely voters. President Clinton, visiting Toledo Sunday, indicated victory in Ohio was essential for Mrs. Clinton to go on to wrest the nomination from Senator Obama, with whom she is locked in a tight race nationally.

As of yesterday, Mr. Obama had 1,262 delegates to Mrs. Clinton's 1,213, according to CNN. The winner needs 2,025 delegates to cinch the nomination. Ohio will have 162 Democratic delegates up for grabs.

Earlier yesterday, the senator from Illinois visited a titanium-manufacturing facility, RMI International Metals Inc., in nearby Niles, Ohio.

"Great company. Took a tour of the plant. Folks are so proud of the work they are doing making critical materials for our airline industries, for our defense industries," Mr. Obama said. But, he said, "for every one of those plants we have four, or five, or six close."

Mr. Obama met with workers, according to his campaign, and unveiled what he called a plan for "Patriot Employers" that would end the tax breaks that he said provide incentives for U.S. multinational corporations to invest profits overseas and would reduce the corporate tax rate for companies that invest in the United States and its workers.

According to Mr. Obama, Ohio lost 32,337 manufacturing jobs and 93 plants in 2006.

The Clinton campaign announced yesterday that it would pay a second visit to Youngstown tonight. Mrs. Clinton was in Youngstown, among other Ohio cities last week. So far, neither candidate has announced plans to come to Toledo.

Also so far, neither campaign has agreed to the proposal of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), in a letter co-signed by her Democratic colleagues from Ohio, to join her in a bus trip around "the real Ohio."

A spokesman for Senator Obama yesterday, while not ruling out such a trip, said the senator is already embarked on travels around the state that will bring him into direct contact with Ohioans, such as the workers at TMI in Niles.

Spectators waited in a long line to get into the field house, at which tight security prevailed. As they streamed out after the 45-minute speech, several said they were committed to voting for Mr. Obama.

Among those supporters were YSU students Jasmine Jackson, 18, of Warren, Ohio, and Camille Tevis, 19, of Cincinnati.

"I really liked it," Ms. Tevis said. "I have friends who don't have health care and my mom is also a single parent," a reference to Mr. Obama's observation that he was raised by his mother and his grandmother, after his father left when Barack was 2.

She said she has not registered to vote but plans to do so. Her friend, Ms. Jackson, said she is registered and liked what Senator Obama had to say about helping to pay for college.

Rita Rogers, 54, a fifth-grade teacher in Akron, said she agreed with Mr. Obama's emphasis on putting less stress on standardized tests and more on art, music, poetry, and literature.

"I think he's going to exceed Hillary because he has the momentum," Ms. Rogers said.

In his speech at Youngstown State, Mr. Obama promised tuition credits of $4,000 for college students, but said they would be expected to commit to some kind of community or national service, such as the Peace Corps.

He offered a response to what he said were four major criticisms of him, all of which centered on his perceived lack of experience and a perception of him as one who offers rhetoric and hope but few specific solutions.

He said his critics say "we need to season and stew him a little bit more … and boil all the hope out of him and then maybe in 20 years when he sounds just like us, maybe he'll be ready," Mr. Obama joked, to appreciative cheers.

His jabs at the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq also hit pay dirt with the crowd. Mr. Obama said he honored Sen. John McCain, the leading Republican candidate for president, but rejected his suggestion that U.S. soldiers could remain in Iraq another 100 years.

"When John McCain talks about spending another 100 years in Iraq, that's a good reason not to give him four years in the White House," he said.

Mr. McCain has said he was referring to remaining in Iraq in the same way the U.S. has remained, with relatively little controversy and no combat, in Germany and South Korea.

Also yesterday, the McCain campaign announced that Senator McCain would hold Ohio events in Columbus today and tomorrow in Yellow Springs.

Mr. Obama prefaced many of his ideas with the phrase "if you are ready for change," and emphasized that his quest to change American politics would require the help of his audience.

He said he would pay teachers more, but said children and parents would have to help: "Children are going to have to work hard. Parents, you're going to have to turn off the TV, put away the video games."

He criticized Bush foreign policy as based on the belief that "there is a contradiction between us being safe and respected in the world." He promised he would "not hesitate to strike" to keep Americans safe as commander in chief, but promised more emphasis on properly equipping the military and treating veterans with respect.

"Part of keeping you safe is also using our military wisely and the war in Iraq was unwise," Mr. Obama said.

He promised action on health care, the mortgage crisis, annual increases in the minimum wage, and rolling back tax cuts for "the wealthiest Americans."

Bringing his pitch close to home, Mr. Obama said, "Youngstown, this is our moment, this is our time, if you stand with me and if you vote for me on March 4, I promise you we won't win just Ohio; we will win this nomination, and we will win this election and we will change the world."

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