More than 12,000 people jammed the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum Wednesday to hear Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama deliver a speech focusing on education, health care and the war in Iraq.
The Illinois senator told the energized crowd that he would fight to make a college education more affordable, ensure all Americans had access to health care, and pledged to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
“I will make sure the troops come home in 2009,” Obama said.
During the 45-minute speech he also spoke in broad terms about fighting corporate greed and poverty.
“If you work in America you should not be poor,” he said to the lively crowd that at times erupted into near deafening applause.
The reference to poverty comes just hours after one of his opponents, John Edwards, announced that he was dropping out of the race. He had made corporatism and poverty hallmarks of his campaign.
Obama also said he wants to enact a broad and inclusive health care plan.
“Every American should have access to a health care plan that is as good as the one given to U.S. Congressmen and Senators,” he said.
Hours before the rally, amped-up supporters gathered outside the venue waiting for their chance to see the Illinois senator.
“I want to see him in person,” said Jason Nordmark, a 26 year old from Chandler. “I’m still trying to make up my mind who I want to vote for this year.”
Nordmark is what the pundits call a typical swing voter — he’s not affiliated with any party and says he can go either way, often splitting his votes between Democrats and Republicans.
He’s exactly the kind of voter Obama is trying to reach on this campaign stop, just six days before Tuesday’s presidential preference election. Polls show the Illinois senator is closing the gap with Sen. Hillary Clinton but still trails her in Arizona and other states.
Arizona State University political science major Nick Odem of Chandler said he’s already planning to vote for Obama.
Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the daughter of late President John F. Kennedy, took the stage to warm up the eager crowd, who had been chanting “Obama.” On Sunday, Kennedy had given her blessing to the Obama campaign in an opinion piece in the New York Times.
She also is appearing in a new television ad for the Obama campaign now airing in California, according to the Associated Press. The ads, which are not currently running in Arizona, use images of the moon landing along with footage of former president Kennedy. Campaign officials did not know if there were plans to run the ads in Arizona.
During her brief appearance she compared the excitement surrounding Obama’s campaign to the excitement of her father’s run at the presidency nearly 50 years ago.
“Everywhere I go people tell me what it was like when they cast their first vote in 1960,” she said, acknowledging that same excitement today.
Gov. Janet Napolitano, who is not known as someone who vigorously campaigns on behalf of other political candidates, has actively stumped for Obama. Earlier this month, to the surprise of many political insiders, she publicly backed Obama during a press conference. The Arizona governor also appears in a recently aired television ad making a pitch for Obama.
“Every person in this coliseum should feel right now at this moment you are a part of history,” she said Wednesday night.
The Obama visit comes a week after Clinton made a campaign stop at a Valley high school attracting hundreds of people to the gymnasium.
Her husband, former President Bill Clinton is expected to appear on her behalf Thursday at ASU.
The two Democratic candidates have engaged in a tough and sometimes bitter campaign for the party’s nomination, however, Obama didn’t take any shots at Clinton as he had earlier Wednesday during a campaign stop in Colorado.
The Clinton campaign held a press conference a few hours before Obama’s arrival in the Valley to dispute what Clinton supporters consider inaccurate statements about her.
Dana Kennedy, a spokeswoman for Clinton, disputed Obama’s statements that Clinton is unelectable.
The Clinton campaign also took issue with Obama, who in an earlier speech in Denver said the New York senator held similar views as Arizona Sen. John McCain on the war on Iraq.
“He continues to distort Senator Clinton’s record and we just want to set the record straight,” Kennedy said. Unlike McCain, she said Clinton wants to withdraw the troops as soon as possible.
This is Obama’s second appearance in the Valley since October of last year. Obama trails Clinton in Arizona, but recent polls here suggest that he has narrowed what just a couple weeks ago was a commanding lead.
A survey released last week by the Behavior Research Center showed less than 10 percentage points separating the Democrat rivals. A previous poll several days earlier by Arizona State University showed Clinton with a 20 percentage point advantage.
However, Obama officials are hopeful that his recent victory in South Carolina coupled with endorsements from popular Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and other influential Arizona Democrats will give him the edge he needs to win here.
On Tuesday, the campaign released a list of more than 100 Democrats throughout the state who are supporting Obama’s candidacy. The list includes a mix of younger generation Democrats such as current state representatives Ed Ableser and David Schapira, as well as veteran politicos like former lawmakers Art Hamilton and Alfredo Gutierrez.