Obama greets area voters

Obama greets area voters

URBANA – The self-described skinny black kid from Chicago appears on the fast track to capture the hearts and minds of rural Illinois and college towns alike.

U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama brought his stump speech and charisma to the Illini Union this morning after a change of venue from the University YMCA/YWCA for more space.

It was the beginning of the fourth day of a whirlwind 39-city, five-day tour of the state for the rising Democratic star, and he didn't disappoint the crowds.

Obama invoked ideas of connectedness and common goals in beseeching voters to engage their leaders in debate and work for change.

"There are more things binding us together than keeping us apart," Obama told the Illini Union crowd of students, academics and Democratic Party faithful. Obama said the nation is at a crossroads that requires the work of citizens, not professional politicians, to choose the right path.

He spoke of a poverty of ambition in those who shape their private lives on their values but fail to extend those values to public involvement.

"The most important work of public policy is that of the public citizen," he said.

The only point at which he departed from his stump speech in Urbana was with a reference to the need for equal treatment of gays, which won him a round of applause.

Obama was introduced by Democratic congressional candidate Dr. David Gill, who had introduced him in Clinton on Monday, then worked a night in the emergency room at Dr. John Warner Hospital in Clinton before driving to Urbana for this morning's event.

"I told my wife, Polly, this is a man our children and grandchildren will be reading about in history books," said Gill, the Democrats' hope to defeat U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, in November.

A crowd of some 300 people sporting seed corn caps and farmer's tans packed the Clinton High School cafeteria Monday to hear Obama.

Later in the evening, Obama addressed a crowd in Danville, in the eighth of nine stops Monday.

"They said white folks won't vote for a black guy, that city folks won't play in rural Illinois, that downstate wouldn't go for an upstate guy, but we're proving them all wrong," Obama told the Clinton gathering.

Riding a wave of popularity after his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston last week, Obama captured even 13-year-old Logan Redman's attention.

"I liked what he said," said Logan, the son of DeWitt County Democratic Chairman Terry Redman.

"He'd never paid a bit of attention to anything political before that," Terry Redman said. "Shows you how much influence his dad has," he joked.

Marjorie Devoe, vice chair of the DeWitt County Democratic Party, said Obama has something special that sets him apart from other politicians.

"Nobody, certainly no Senate candidate, has ever been able to draw people like this here," Devoe said. "He's saying what Middle America wants to hear. He's not common at all but has a very down-to-earth touch."

Traveling by motorhome with his wife Michelle and two daughters, Obama was more than an hour late to Clinton on Monday after large crowds slowed him at six previous stops throughout the day.

Obama touched on themes of his convention speech, saying people who are willing to work deserve a job and a fair wage, that they shouldn't have to go into bankruptcy for health reasons, that they should be able to go to college if they're not rich.

"All I've been doing is telling your stories," Obama said. "All anybody wants is a little dignity and respect."

Obama, as well as Gill, both got big rounds of applause for denouncing the war in Iraq.

"We'd all pick up arms if we had to to defend this country," Obama said. "But we have to make sure we're sending (our soldiers) to the right war."

Gill was endorsed as sincere and compassionate by Obama. Both prided themselves on not being career politicians wanting to go to Washington to get rich and profit from special-interest lobbying concerns.

"We're shaking things up, I think," Gill said. "Everywhere we go, we're well received. I'm not really a politician. I'm an emergency room physician who would like to improve several parts of our lives."

After leaving Clinton, Obama addressed about 750 people at the Turtle Run Banquet Center and Golf Club in Danville.

Arriving an hour and a half late for the Danville reception, Obama quickly worked his way through a photograph session with $100-a-ticket supporters at a fund-raiser for the Vermilion County Democratic Party, then moved on to the standing-room-only crowd awaiting his appearance.

"I've been talking about coming to Vermilion County for a while. Been close a couple of times. Now that I've been here, you know I'll be coming back," he said to the packed room.

The swelling crowds also made him late for a fund-raiser at Biaggi's in Champaign on Monday night, hosted by Champaign developer Peter Fox and Champaign County Auditor Michael Frerichs.

Obama said the reason he has been successful is that he's "willing to listen and not just talk."

In a joking reference to his keynote address, Obama said he gave "a little talk out in Boston."

"I didn't feel nervous," he continued. "I just gave expression to stories I heard from people when I was out on the campaign trail. I wanted to express your strength but also your frustrations – that you are tired of politicians that attack each other instead of the problems we face."

Obama said he wants to stay focused on the problem of jobs and health insurance.

"We don't inherit the world from our parents," he said. "We borrow it from our children."

He said everyone has an obligation to get involved, and he urged people to register and vote and make sure others do as well.

"The most important office in a democracy is citizen," he said.

Obama said he enjoyed Boston but was glad to be back in Illinois.

"It's critical to go to small towns. People don't like the hype. They want to open the doors and kick the tires," he said. "Take a look at my calendar. I've devoted a lot of time to downstate."

He said his only regret on this campaign swing is not having the opportunity to sit down and visit with people about what they find important.

To those who didn't get to the Danville reception, Obama advised: "Get information about not just my race, but the presidential race. I hope they get a sense of somebody who will work hard on their behalf."

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