“Obamania” Sweeps Denver

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke to an adoring, overflow crowd at the University of Denver Wednesday morning.Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made a campaign appearance at the University of Denver this morning, where he spoke to a full house of 9,000 people packed into Magness Arena. Thousands more watched his speech on screens from an adjacent gymnasium and the lacrosse fields outside.

Inside the stadium, the vibe was electric — helped by the fact that so many of the Obama supporters in the crowd were young people. With face paint, handmade posters and rock-and-roll music, exultant Denverites welcomed the Illinois senator and his message of change and hope for the future.

One of Obama’s high-profile supporters, Caroline Kennedy, was on hand to introduce the candidate, whom she compared to her father, the late John F. Kennedy.

“All my life growing up I have been deeply moved by all the people who tell me that they wish they could feel the same hope and inspiration that they felt when my father was president,” Kennedy said. “That sense of longing is more pronounced today than it has ever been, but fortunately there is a candidate that offers that hope and inspiration.”

Nearly three hours after the doors to the event opened, Obama took the stage to riotous applause, the likes of which erupted during his speech more than 50 times.

The Illinois senator began by praising John Edwards, who announced today that he would end his campaign for the Democratic nomination.

“John spent a lifetime being a voice for the voiceless and hope for the struggling. And at a time when our politics are too focused on who is up and who is down, he consistently makes us focus on who matters.”

If elected president Obama promised his Denver crowd to crack down on Washington lobbyists, raise teacher pay, cap greenhouse gases, establish universal early childhood education, provide college-tuition credits and reform the health care system. Obama also emphasized the issue of national security and his capability to be tough on terrorists, saying he would not hesitate to “strike at those that would do us harm.”

“I want to end the mindset, the mentality that says the only way for Democrats to look tough on national security is by talking, acting and voting like a George Bush Republican,” Obama said. “It is time to reject the counsel that says the American people would rather have someone who is strong and wrong than someone who is weak and right. We are the party that is going to be strong and is going to be right.”

On the issue of Iraq, Obama promised that he would end the war that he opposed from the beginning.

“When I am president, I will immediately begin to remove our troops. I will finally put meaningful pressure on Iraq’s leaders to reconcile. I will end this war and do what we should have done in 2002 — increase our commitment to Afghanistan, pressure Pakistan to take action against terror and finish the fight against al-Qaeda.”

The serious-faced Obama spoke for about 50 minutes and was met with ecstatic applause and hysterical cheering at every turn. But at no moment was the roar of stomping and screaming as deafening as when Obama said:

“This has been an amazing race, and there are a lot of twists and turns yet to be had. But there is one thing we know for certain about the election in November. Whatever else happens, the name George W. Bush will not be on the ballot.”

Obama acknowledged his critics, who say he lacks the experience to be president, comparing them to those who had similar reservations about JFK in 1960.

“It’s time for a new generation of leadership because the old politics just won’t do. I am running for president now because I have met Americans across the country who can’t afford to wait another day.”

Chris Osborn, a student at CU Denver from Portland, Ore., who attended the Obama rally, dismisses the claim that the candidate lacks sufficient experience to be president.

“I think he has international know-how and understanding of international society due to his life experience,” he said of Obama, who grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia and whose father is Kenyan.

Mike Carter, a law student at DU, agrees Obama has what it takes and plans to caucus for Obama on Tuesday. Carter says he is attracted to the senator’s message of change but said he also feels some solidarity with Obama as a fellow African-American.

“The reason I would vote for Obama is not because he is black, but I do feel an obligation to show up because I know there are people out there who won’t support him for that reason.”

But Obama is hoping his campaign message of unity and new beginnings will assuage whatever doubts people have about him, his race or his character. 

“The real choice in this campaign is not between regions or religions or genders. It’s not about rich vs. poor, young vs. old, and it’s certainly not about black vs. white,” Obama said. “It’s about the past vs. the future.”

Sam Zarrin and Camden Johnson, both 17, were ditching class at Highlands Ranch High School to attend today’s rally.

“I prefer Obama to Hillary Clinton because I’m worried about American dynasties,” said Johnson.

Zarrin seemed more focused on Obama’s charisma.

“He’s got a great persona, and he’s so smart, and he danced on ‘Ellen Degeneres,'” said Zarrin. “It’ll be my first time voting in November – for the Obaminator! Isn’t that cool?”

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