Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Greater New Haven residents among thousands drawn to Obama Rally

By Gregory B. Hladky
Capitol Bureau Chief
— Barack Obama brought his surging campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination to Connecticut Monday, drawing an estimated 17,000 cheering supporters on the eve of today’s primary vote.
Obama was accompanied by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and his niece, Caroline Kennedy, at a rally where the legacies of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy were repeatedly invoked.
“We are at a defining moment in history,” Obama told the packed crowd at the XL Center, the former Hartford Civic Center. “The dream so many generations fought for is slipping away.”
National polls are showing Obama, a senator from Illinois, gaining on the Democratic frontrunner, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who also campaigned in Connecticut Monday.
A Quinnipiac University Poll released Monday indicated that Obama, while still trailing Clinton in New York and New Jersey, had made the race significantly closer in the past two weeks. Recent voter surveys in this state have also shown Obama cutting into Clinton’s lead.
Voters in 22 states will head for the polls today for both Democratic and Republican primaries.
The thousands who waited for hours in the cold for the chance to hear Obama speak Monday were not disappointed by the candidate’s nearly hourlong campaign address. He was frequently interrupted by chants and standing ovations from a racially diverse crowd from all over the state.
Obama promised to end the war in Iraq, make America a leader in global warming, reform what he calls “a broken health care system,” offer affordable college education to anyone who wants it, and provide tax breaks to middle class Americans.
“We cannot afford to wait,” Obama said. “We cannot wait to end this war in Iraq. … I will bring the troops home in 2009.”
The candidate never mentioned Hillary Clinton by name, but did dispute the Clinton campaign’s claims that he is too inexperienced to lead the nation.
“The American people don’t seem to be buying it,” Obama said. “The last thing we need is the same old folks doing the same old things. I am confident of my capacity to lead this nation,”
Obama said some of his critics warn that he will be “steamrolled” by Republicans. “I may be skinny, but I’m tough,” he said, drawing laughter as well as cheers. “I am not afraid to create a new politics in America.”
He did refer to Arizona Sen. John McCain, the front-running Republican candidate who made an appearance Sunday in Connecticut, managing at the same time to remind people that Hillary Clinton voted to authorize the Iraq war.
Obama said his strong and continuous opposition to that conflict would make it impossible for McCain to say in a debate: “You supported the war in Iraq.”
Joining Obama and the Kennedys at the rally were Reps. John Larson, D-1, Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, and Chris Murphy, D-5.
“I think I haven’t seen the likes of this kind of energy in a long time,” DeLauro said before going onstage. “And I started with John F. Kennedy.”
“Feel the moment,” Larson told those at the rally. “You are part of history. … This is something you’ll remember all of your life.”
Senator Kennedy sounded the same theme.
“This election now is in your hands,” he said. “I’m asking each and every one of you to do for Barack Obama what you did for John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.”
Obama also invoked John F. Kennedy’s name in promising a change in U.S. foreign policy “so that it reflects the best, not the worst of America.”
But Obama also insisted that he “won’t hesitate to strike against those who would do us harm.”
For Maxine Davis, a black woman from West Haven, Monday’s event was the first time she ever attended a political rally.
“I think it’s wonderful, exciting,” Davis said. She said she is supporting Obama “because he’s for change. … I think he can get the job done.”
Cherlyn Poindexter, a New Haven city employee and a union steward, said she has been an Obama supporter since 2006 when she heard him speak at a labor convention in Chicago. “I’ve liked him ever since,” she said.
Diane Cybulski, a Hartford resident, said she had come to the Obama event to “trying to recapture that feeling” of excitement she had when she was 9 years old and her mother took her to see John F. Kennedy campaign in 1960.
“Today, I have the same feeling I did then,” Cybulski said. “It is one of my most vibrant childhood memories.”
Tim Caldwell, a 23-year-old college student from Danbury, said he is supporting Obama even though he is an unaffiliated voter who decided not to switch registrations in order to vote in today’s Democratic primary.
“I got my dad and my girlfriend to vote for him,” Caldwell said. “He (Obama) is going to bring back Camelot.”
Gregory B. Hladky can be contacted at ghladky@nhregister.com or at (860) 524-0719.

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