Friday, March 07, 2008

Barack Obama stages huge Laramie rally

Some 10,000 people packed into the Arena-Auditorium tonight at the University of Wyoming in Laramie to greet Sen. Barack Obama. The crowd was jazzed to be at what might be the largest political rally ever held in the state. College and high school students were huddled near the stage. Their elders were huddled in their fold-out seats, most recently used by Pokes' b-ball fans.

As my friend K and I drove into town, we saw the senator's jet circling town, aiming for a landing at Laramie International Airport, with puddle-jumper service twice daily to Denver. I'd never seen a big passenger jet over Laramie. Usually it's the 18-passenger vomit comets piloted by Great Lakes Aviation, and the ocassional Piper Cub. I suppose the Veep uses Air Force Two (accompanied by a fleet of black helicopters and flocks of vampire bats) when he comes to Laramie to raise funds for his alma mater. He's also donated a bunch of his ill-gotten Halliburton gains for scholarships for students studying foreign affairs. Now don't laugh -- Cheney knows a few things about foreign entanglements.

Sen. Obama was in town to rally the troops for the Saturday Democratic Party caucuses. He wants all of Wyoming's twelve delegates at stake this weekend -- and he'll probably get them too. Obama's teams have been in the state for a month, and they're organized and ferocious. And there are a lot of us volunteers making calls and knocking on doors. Now we just show up and vote.

Sen. Obama delivered a fine speech. he's an orator, a trait that Hillary Clinton can't claim. Her silver-tongued husband was in Laramie yesterday charming a crowd not nearly as large as this one. Sen. Obama talked about details of his health care plan and the phased withdrawal from Iraq, which will be complete in a little more than a year after he takes office. He got a rousing cheer from students when he talked about plans to make college more affordable and tax credits for higher-education costs up to $4,000, which would be a boon for us taxpaying parents of collegians. Students would be expected to pay back this largesse with community service, which also received a round of applause.

I sat next to Nancy, an Army veteran who's a member of the national group Vets for Peace and Laramie's Stand Up for Peace. She was knitting a "Vets for Peace" stocking cap and cheering whenever Sen. Obama talked about withdrawal from Iraq. She's been knitting socks and caps for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other side of me, K used her digital camera to record the event. I took photos, as my digicam doesn't have enough juice for an hour-long video.

It was great to be in the arena, watching and listening an African-American presidential candidate who can draw a crowd of 10,000 on a Wyoming winter night -- and a Friday to boot. An historic event, no matter what happens on Saturday or during April in Pennsylvania or in August in Denver.

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