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Toledo Blade - Senator Draws Overflow Crowd at Savage Hall

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Toledo Blade - Senator Draws Overflow Crowd at Savage Hall
10,000 turn out; 5,000 turned away

Barack Obama speaks at the Keeping America's Promise rally yesterday at the University of Toledo's Savage Hall about his vision for bringing about changes he believes America needs.

Hillary Clinton and John McCain swept through Toledo in a span of two days, but they didn't come close to drawing as many people combined as Barack Obama did yesterday.

A diverse crowd of about 10,000 people crammed into the University of Toledo's Savage Hall to see Mr. Obama. More than 5,000 others were turned away.

The Illinois senator and Democratic front-runner, who has won 11 consecutive races and is looking for two more victories on March 4 in Ohio and Texas, energized the overflow crowd at UT with his smooth speaking style and message of hope and change.

He also slipped in attacks against his rival presidential candidates.

One of his first points was lobbyists' influence in Washington - a topic that Mr. McCain, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, had to defend himself against while in Toledo on Thursday.

Mr. McCain called a press conference Thursday morning to rebut a New York Times article that portrayed him as being too close to lobbyists - and possibly romantically involved with one in particular - before moving on to a campaign appearance in front of about 200 people in Perrysburg.

Without mentioning Mr. McCain by name during his UT speech, Mr. Obama said he would not be influenced by special-interest groups.

"If you are ready for change, then we can go ahead and tell the lobbyists in Washington that their days of setting the agenda are over," Mr. Obama said.

"They have not funded my campaign, they will not run my White House, and they will not drown out the voice of the American people if I am president of the United States of America."

He then turned his barbs toward Democratic foe Hillary Clinton, who spoke to a crowd of more than 3,000 at Whitmer High School on Friday night.

The New York senator accused the Obama campaign on Saturday of sending out mailers that falsely portray her as supporting unpopular trade agreements approved by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

"Now hold on a second, [President Clinton's administration] championed NAFTA, passed NAFTA, signed NAFTA," Mr. Obama said. He later added that Mrs. Clinton couldn't "take credit for everything that's good in the Clinton administration, then not take credit for what people don't like."

Mr. Obama also highlighted his opposition to the war in Iraq, his support for making college education affordable, and his plan to create a tougher, more effective energy policy.

He said critics who say his message of hope is not grounded in reality are disrespecting Obama supporters.

"[Critics say] they just want to come hear him speak, they don't really know what's going on," said Mr. Obama, who continued to say that huge crowds come to see him because people "know how tough it is" in America right now.

After the speech was over, many in the crowd said they were impressed with his style and substance.

"I thought he was great, inspirational, exhilarating to be around," said Chris Roman, 18, a student at Michigan State University who is from Bedford Township.

"He's a very powerful speaker," added Chris Mitchell, 29, of Toledo.

"But he's not just about words. I truly believe he's going to shake up the whole world, and it starts with his vision."

Mr. Obama began his day touring a factory in Lorain, Ohio, which was followed by a town-hall meeting focusing on bringing higher-paying jobs to Ohio.

He then met with The Blade's editorial board and John Robinson Block, co-publisher and editor-in-chief of the newspaper, for about an hour at The Blade building on Superior Street downtown.

Prior to taking the stage at Savage Hall, Mr. Obama went outside to speak briefly to those who were turned a way - a move Obama staffers said is commonplace for him.

Christopher Small, 24, of Perrysburg Township was not going to be one of those left outside.

Late to an Obama rally in Cleveland last February, Mr. Small was ushered into a separate room where he could only see the senator on a closed-circuit TV broadcast. So he said he showed up at Savage Hall at 3:45 a.m. yesterday to make sure the same thing didn't happen this year.

"I was the first in line, yes," Mr. Small said. "A group of about four or five people came at 6 a.m., but they left. Then two girls showed up about 8:30 a.m.

"It's embarrassing, I know, but Barack's an inspirational candidate."

Lindsey Whitehead, 73, of Toledo said he came to see Mr. Obama because "it's history, and I wanted to witness it in person."

Mr. Whitehead, a retired employee of the Lucas County Common Pleas Court who said he grew up in rural Georgia, said he never thought a black man would be president during his lifetime.

Now that Mr. Obama has sprinted to the front of the delegate race against Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Whitehead believes Mr. Obama has what it takes to get to the White House.

"He transcends race, gender, age, all of the things you would consider obstacles to America becoming what it could possibly be," Mr. Whitehead said.

Cynthia P. Wright, 63, of Toledo who like Mr. Whitehead is African-American, said she was planning to vote for Mrs. Clinton until recently.

"There's just something different about all this," Ms. Wright said before the rally at Savage Hall.

"It's God's time for a change."

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