This story was written by Lauren Erlich, Central Florida Future
Rousing choruses of both "Yes, we can!" and "Si, se puede!" filled the Kissimmee Civic Center Wednesday in support of senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama. More than 1,000 people filled the auditorium before 5 p.m. eager to hear what Obama had to share with the Orlando community.
The event was by ticket only, and attendees had to pick up their free ticket from a volunteer for the campaign. The ticket method kept the crowd smaller than some of Obama's previous campaign stops, but UCF students Shawn Urbach and Brandon Lustig managed to secure tickets and support their candidate.
Lustig, a 20-year-old hospitality management major, said that he is a supporter of Obama because, "He's the only candidate that can really bring about a change and a new vision. I just really have faith in him."
Urbach, a 21-year-old political science major, supports Obama also because he's been able to run a mainly positive campaign. "I've noticed that even though he has criticized [Hillary] Clinton, he has still kept it overall positive, despite the controversy with his pastor, despite other controversies, he still keeps it positive."
Obama maintained Urbach's "positive campaign" idea by keeping mentions of his opponents minimal throughout his speech. Obama mentioned Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, sparingly, and he mentioned his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton, once.
Obama's speech covered topics from health care to education to the annexation of Puerto Rico, and he emphasized the recurring campaign theme of change. "We are tired of the same old politics, and we are tired of the same old people," he said to the crowd.
Obama explained his plans for reworking the public school system, starting with what he called the most important part of a child's education: teachers. "We can't afford a teacher shortage," he said.
He introduced plans to use federal funds to properly compensate underpaid public school teachers, as well as offer professional development programs to school districts and teachers all over the country. According to Obama, a weak support system is at fault for high-teacher turnover. By providing mentors for new teachers and a continuing professional education program, Obama said he hopes to retain good teachers.
He also offered plans for a scholarship program for those who commit to teaching when they enter college. Young students have to dedicate themselves to teaching in troubled schools throughout the country and, in return, will be given tuition to college.
His educational plans didn't stop at teachers. Obama said he would like to offer more after school, before school and summer school programs to "keep kids off the street." But, he said, it's just as important to help at-risk parents get their children where they need to be.
Obama emphasized plans to help anyone have access to higher education. Obama proposed a $4,000 yearly grant for college students who complete community service projects or serve their country in some way.
Lustig was particularly excited about the $4,000 scholarship for college students, and he said that he would do work for Habitat for Humanity and other organizations as a trade for the funds.
Although Obama didn't say he won the race, he exerted confidence in his ability to conquer the Democratic party. "I can't do it by myself," he said, but emphasized that with the help of his supporters, he would go to the Democratic National Convention in August and he is "going to accept that nomination."
A question-and-answer session filled the second half of the meeting, with questions from members in the audience. An aerospace engineer from NASA asked aboutplans for the space program once the space shuttle program ends. Obama replied that he plans to maintain and strengthen the space program once they have worked together to "define a core mission."
"Other countries can leapfrog us if we don't make an investment," Obama said. To him, however, part of that investment is in the future employees of NASA. "I'm a lawyer," he said. "But we have enough lawyers. We need engineers."
Some of the largest cheers from the crowd came when Obama reiterated his plans to put money back into middle-class pockets. His plans include a $1,000 tax cut per family, per year and an earned income tax credit for people who are working 40-hour weeks but still cannot make ends meet. "We will make sure you aren't living in poverty," Obama said.
Obama also said that, under his plan, everyone will have access to high-quality primary care, and that those who cannot afford it will be subsidized by the government.
After the meeting, Urbach and Lustig said their allegiance to Obama remained strong.
"Now I can see that he is truly as cool as he acts on TV," Lustig said. "He's really down to earth. He's shaking everybody's hands and really talking to everyone about the truth."
Urbach was slightly more skeptical. "He mentioned a lot of plans that would probably cost a lot of money, and I'm not sure how he would pay for that stuff; that's what I'm worried about," Urbach said. However, he said that he is still more confident in Obama's abilities after seeing him speak.