By Liz Premo, Alantic News Staff Writer
Atlantic News, Friday, July 27, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]
[Atlantic News Photo by Liz Premo]
HAMPTON -- A spirited basketball game at Hampton Academy was the precursor for last Friday's energized campaign stop in Hampton by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The Illinois senator shared some early morning court action with a group that included local firefighters, as well as David O'Connor, principal of Marston School where the candidate held a town hall meeting an hour or so later.
According to campaign staffers, approximately 600 people were in attendance at the event. The standing-room-only crowd was about five deep near the back of the school gymnasium, where folding chairs and bleachers were quickly filled to capacity.
The now-familiar basket-toting Cookie Mom and "I'm a Health Care Voter" folks worked the crowd as Secret Service agents kept careful watch over the surroundings. An earlier security sweep and inspection by bomb-sniffing dogs assured that everything was in order.
When Sen. Obama's name was announced, the audience welcomed him with a standing ovation to the "freedom" chorus from Aretha Franklin's empowerment anthem, "Think." A personalized introduction by NH State Sen. Jane Kelley followed.
"This is the biggest thrill of my life, to introduce the next president of the United States!" exclaimed Kelley, pointing out that "if anyone wants a woman in the White House, make it Michelle Obama," referring to the candidate's wife.
Kelley praised Obama for his "integrity" and for his "courage to come out against the war [in Iraq] when no one else did." She added, "His politics don't come from his head; [they] come from the heart."
Delivering his comments prior to a question-and-answer exchange with the audience, Sen. Obama swiftly addressed a number of familiar campaign issues, including healthcare, education, energy and the environment, the war, and government in general.
Of the latter he observed that "people are a little fed up and are paying attention to the fact [that the government] is broken." The Bush Administration's education policy is, he said, "leaving millions of children behind," and he bemoaned the opinion that there is "no energy policy in this country."
"Then we've got a war that should never have been waged, should never have been authorized," he noted.
The public is paying attention to current issues, the senator observed, because "they are desperately hoping for something new … they want to feel good about this country."
He also revealed he has been described by various entities as "a hope peddler or a hope-monger — but that's OK," he acknowledged, to vigorous applause.
Observing that the war in Iraq is "leaving us with no good options," the senator said made a case for pulling out the troops, saying "I believe we can still act responsibly [and] be as careful going out as careless as we were going in."
The United States, he said, "should not have to expect our men and women to police a civil war" in Iraq. "We need a timetable." He also stressed a desire to "close Guantanamo" and "restore habeas corpus" in dealing with the detention facility currently housing prisoners taken into custody in the War on Terror.
"If we put our shoulder against the wheel," he added, "we're going to be able to move history."
Following his comments, Sen. Obama dressed down to his shirtsleeves in preparation for what he humorously predicted to be "some tough questions" from the audience.
The first question asked whether the United States should consider withdrawing from Afghanistan, where troops have been deployed since just after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
"I do not believe we can get out of Afghanistan right now," Obama replied, noting that "we haven't handled Afghanistan well because we got distracted" by Iraq. "We've got to focus our attention there [to help the] Karzai government [and] stop al Qaeda" and keep Pakistan from falling into the hands of extremists.
Regarding global warming, the candidate claimed that "for the past six years we've been told it's a hoax" by skeptics, and that "every scientist outside the White House acknowledges that global warming is real." He reminded his audience that he is "a co-sponsor of the toughest climate change bill in the Senate right now."
When questioned about whether he will "be doing something to impeach President Bush," Sen. Obama firmly replied, "No," adding that it's "very important to not to get into the habit [of impeaching] every president."
Additionally, he said, to pursue impeachment "would be an enormous distraction," and he would prefer to dedicate his efforts to "undo the encroachments" upon Americans' civil rights rather than begin any sort of impeachment proceedings.
Prior to extensively addressing questions regarding education, federal housing and fair trade, Sen. Obama told his listeners that if elected president, "I will appoint people who are competent" and "people with integrity," which appeared to be welcomed as another crowd-pleasing comment.
As the event concluded, Sen. Obama took the opportunity to shake hands and greet his supporters, before leaving Hampton for a similar gathering in Manchester that evening. His trip to the Granite State took place just days before his participation in Monday night's unique CNN Democratic "debate" using videotaped questions selected from YouTube submissions. Depending upon the various polls, early results indicated that the senator had scored fairly well against his fellow candidates.