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Statesville - Hopeful Obama Makes Stop in Hickory

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Statesville - Hopeful Obama Makes Stop in Hickory

Chants of "Yes, We Can!" followed by "O-ba-ma!" echoed from Hickory High School's Craft Gymnasium Tuesday as supporters greeted Barack Obama.

The first presidential candidate to visit Hickory in more than a decade addressed an overflow and diverse crowd of more than 2,000. Making his second campaign stop of the day in North Carolina, Obama talked up his universal health care plan, tax cuts for the middle class and ideas to fix the struggling economy.

The Illinois senator took the stage at 4:42 p.m. to a prolonged standing ovation, one of at least 15 he received during the next hour. After thanking Hickory High Principal Kim Maddox and other school officials for their hospitality, Obama asked for a raise of hands of those who remained undecided voters. After a few hands rose, Obama said he would attempt to persuade them.

Obama explained why he sought the presidency and mentioned the economic problems facing the nation, including recent layoffs in the Hickory region such as at Henredon Furniture, Joan Fabrics and Delta Apparel.

Family incomes have declined while gasoline and education costs have skyrocketed.

"People feel they are working harder and harder just to get by," he said.

The ongoing mortgage crisis and the millions of Americans without health insurance and failures in education add to the uncertainty.

Obama also reiterated his them of unity, saying Americans are tired of politics of "tearing people down instead of bringing them up."

Obama spoke of the campaign spats with his opponent, Hillary Clinton, but urged a return to a positive tone. He referenced change, another constant campaign theme, then gained possibly his biggest ovation.

"One thing is for sure, the name George W. Bush will not be on the ballot," he said, adding that John McCain is running for Bush's third term.

Obama criticized the Iraq war on several occasions, offering other ways to use the billions spent on the effort and promised to end the war in 2009.

Obama questioned McCain's proposal to suspend the federal gas tax this summer, a move that would save the average American $9 a month, he said. The energy crisis' burden can be eased by the tax cut for the middle class, elimination of income tax for seniors with incomes of less than $50,000, developing alternative fuels and more fuel efficient cars, he said.

Regarding the economy, Obama said trade agreements must be fair and tax breaks given to companies that retain jobs in the country.

"I believe in trade. But it's got to be fair," he said.

Obama said he would propose investing $60 billion in infrastructure projects, including updating water and sewer systems.

Early education should be a priority to close the achievement gap, he said, along with raising teacher salaries. He proposed a $4,000 college tuition credit for community or national service, such as the Peace Corps.

Obama's 42-minute speech ended with the story of his background and his hope to make the American dream available to all people.

He then took several questions, lasting about 20 minutes, from the audience. Most notably, Obama said he would rework the No Child Left Behind federal education guidelines. He then shook hands for about 10 minutes before leaving.

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