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Experienced or not, Obama can excite

The 46-year-old black man with just a few years of experience among the powerful in Washington walked on stage. If elected president, he must decide how to deal with terrorists and rogue nations and whether to fight wars.

What had been an anticipatory buzzing turned into a throaty roar. The lady next to me banged her cane on the floor and the sound from her mouth sounded like a happy howl.

I thought maybe a professional wrestler was snaking through the aisle to the ring.

Through the din of the entrance, the stomping and shouting, I didn't hear anybody ask about Barack Obama's experience. Obama wants to win the Democratic primary for this state Saturday, so he grabbed the crowd by its ears. He spoke of things that he always does in campaigning, talking about change and hope.

Obama brought up the war in Iraq. He vowed to end that war and those were -- by far -- the loudest cheers all morning. He clearly had enough experience for this crowd's needs to say he knows a boondoggle that has lasted years and trillions of dollars when he sees one.

"We cannot wait to bring this war to an end," he said.

He brought up Washington experience, and said he'd heard that criticism before.

"Obama may be inspiring, and he may have good ideas, but he hasn't been in Washington long enough," Obama said about descriptions of himself.

Then, he spoke of his 15-plus years as a political organizer, a state senator in Illinois, his time in the U.S. Senate.

He said some Washington types might say, "We need to season and stew him long enough and boil all the hope out of him. Then, he'll be ready. Then, he'll be just like us."

This crowd, they just went crazy for the idea that he doesn't act like the politicians that started and supported the Iraq war.

As the program went on, I looked around the room of hundreds. One row, seven rows from the stage to Obama's right, sure seemed to look like America. Filling the chairs were 11 whites, five blacks and an Asian. A black lady took the Obama sign she was holding and fanned the baby of the white lady two seats over. That mother was one of just a lucky few to ask Obama a question: "Let's say it is eight years from now, after your presidency. What does America look like?" she wanted to know.

Obama, unlike his droning policy answers to other questions on the economy and term limits, spoke to that lady with his voice soaring anew. He talked about schools that had gotten better and health care for all Americans and a strong military that will handle bad guys who attack us and finishing the job in Afghanistan. He spoke of America leading and not bullying. People overseas will look at America as "living up to its ideals," he said.

The speech ended, and one thing that makes Obama events different and exciting happened. People broke the rules. Aisles were supposed to be kept clear, but ladies elbowed up through those aisles to get photos. A burly guy in a flannel shirt pushed me out of the way with one beefy forearm while holding his camera phone. One lady put three young kids along the guardrail and told them, "Lean over and try and get a handshake."

I love it when people break rules out of excitement.

Those rules of politics might also say that a guy without enough experience shouldn't be elected president. Bill Clinton's experience before he was president was as governor of Arkansas. George W. Bush's experience was as governor of neighboring Texas.

The only foreign policy experience either had was worrying if Texas would invade Arkansas, or the other way around.

Still, I tracked down four people sitting side-by-side in that seventh row of America to see what experience meant. Morgan Meszaros, 18, said Obama has enough experience for her. But his speech, his message, drilled through her like an auger. She came undecided and left ready to pull the voting switch for Obama.

"I swear it was like he was just talking to me," she said.

Mary LeSesne, 20, compared Obama's speech to one she saw Republican Mike Huckabee give on the same campus Friday. Huckabee has less foreign policy experience than Obama, but her comment was, "It was so different, people are so much more excited," she said of Obama's crowd.

Elijah Abram, 25, said that Obama's lack of experience could hurt him, but at the same time, so many people want a new direction. Abram came undecided and left undecided. Experience matters to him.

Vo Han, 68 years old, said Obama has enough experience and will bring "reasoned change. Change with reason."

Through a stroke of luck -- as in, "Stand in the right place at the right time before a political event, smile a lot, say yes when asked if you want to sit behind Barack Obama" -- siblings sat on stage through the speech. Right smack in the front row. Takisha Bittle, 28 years old, and her baby brother, Tawon Bittle, 24.

"Younger is better," Takisha Bittle said of Obama's experience. "He's not afraid of change. And people want it. Everybody is talking about ending this war. There are other solutions besides the military one. He knows it."

Near the stage, I saw York Mayor and Winthrop history professor Eddie Lee sitting in the second row. Lee said after the event he had to scoot between classes to get to the speech because he wanted to see if Obama was as "bold and creative" in person as on television. Lee was not disappointed.

This election has similarities to elections in 1932 with FDR, 1960 with JFK and 1980 with Ronald Reagan, Lee said.

"Change, you can feel it," Lee said of the political winds this year.

I asked Lee about Obama's experience. He said what so many must have believed Wednesday in McBryde Hall, packed with black and white, young and old.

"Sometimes experience takes a back seat to bold and creative," Lee said.

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