About 2,000 attend spirited rally at Northwestern High

Local residents' feelings apparently were not too hurt after presidential hopeful Barack Obama canceled an earlier visit to Rock Hill. About 2,000 people showed up for a rally with the Illinois senator Saturday night at Northwestern High School.

Obama's speech emphasized hope for the future and the need for substantial political change.

"We don't need somebody to play the game better, we need somebody to put an end to the game playing," he said.

"I don't accept that the American dream is a thing of the past," he added later in the speech.

Obama originally was supposed to hold a town hall-style meeting at the Freedom Center Sept. 20, but his campaign canceled the night before. Obama said the cancellation was because of votes on the Iraq war taking place the same day.

"I apologize for having to reschedule, but I've got a day job," he joked at the rally. "I can't be running for president all the time. Sometimes I've got to vote."

After warming up the crowd with humor and jabs at the current administration, Obama got down to the nuts-and-bolts of his plans for the White House.

Highlights included:

• Withdrawing the troops from Iraq

• Providing health care to all Americans

• Raising vehicle emissions standards to decrease dependence on foreign oil

• Lowering the cost of higher education and providing more grants to students

• Improving education by providing more early childhood opportunities, hiring more teachers and working with them to develop standards of assessment

• Increasing the minimum wage

• Giving tax breaks to countries that invest in the United States

• Attracting jobs that cannot be shipped to other countries

Obama acknowledged that many of the changes he looks forward to will cost money at the start, but said in the end they will pay off.

In his speech, Obama criticized Democrats and Republicans for failing to reform energy and healthcare policies, despite decades-long discussions about doing so. He also harshly criticized President Bush for pursuing what he called, "a war of passion."

Obama also touted the need for open government and pledged to be honest about where he stands on issues and what his plans are.

Despite the turnout Saturday, recent polls show Hillary Clinton leading Obama by as much as 33 percentage points.

In an interview with The Herald before the rally, Obama said his campaign is not focused on national polls. Instead, he said the emphasis is on states with early primaries -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

"We're going to be spending a lot of time in those early states," he said. "We want to deliver a message that will bring the country together."

In his only mention of his top primary contender, Obama said he and Clinton differ on whether the president should talk to the country's enemies.

"Strong countries and strong presidents talk to their adversaries and tell them where they stand," he said. "It doesn't make us look tough not to talk to other folks -- it makes us look arrogant."

The crowd in the school gymnasium rallied behind Obama, sometimes cheering so loudly it drowned out his speech.

Afterward, those in attendance said they were excited, inspired and "fired up."

"I got to really hear the specifics of what he was going to do and how he's different from other people," said Charlotte resident Amber Logan, who said she hasn't decided if she will vote for Clinton or Obama.

Others were more certain Obama is their choice.

"I'm a Barack man myself," said 22-year-old Rock Hill native William Dunlap. Dunlap said he could relate to Obama and that the senator inspired him to never give up.

"For me, being a black male, when I see him I see myself," he said. "It just empowered me to keep going."

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