Add Sen. Barack Obama to the list of Hoosier fans who are disappointed about Indiana University's Big Ten Tournament loss Friday.
"I want to give my condolences for what happened last night," the Democratic presidential candidate told a crowd of more than 2,000 supporters packed into the Plainfield High School gym Saturday. "It was a good game, though."
But, the Illinois senator said he is unhappy about freshman Eric Gordon's choice to play for the Hoosiers rather than the Illini.
In his first major campaign stop in Indiana, Obama spoke for about 45 minutes before fielding about 10 questions from his wildly supportive audience. He spent most of his time talking about his favorite campaign issue -- unity -- though he also tackled the rising cost of health care and outlined a plan to make college more affordable.
And even as he kicked off his speech, Obama promised that he would return to Indiana en force.
With its late May 6 primary and 84 delegates, Indiana could be the last major battleground state of a hard-fought Democratic primary season.
Currently, Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., are neck-and-neck, according to an Associated Press delegate tally. Obama has 1,617 delegates and Clinton has 1,498. A total of 2,025 delegates are needed to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination.
Obama will likely hit the Indiana campaign trail hard after Pennsylvania's April 22 primary, said Tim Granholm, president of IU Students for Barack Obama.
In a potential blow to Indiana's burgeoning biofuels industry, Obama called corned-based ethanol "sub-optimal" and suitable only for a transition away from fossil fuels. Fuels made from other crops -- such as Brazil's sugar-based ethanol -- are more practical substitutes.
But the message that seemed to resonate with the audience was his appeal for voters to cross political, racial and economic boundaries and come together.
Obama also said one of his first moves in the White House will be to instruct his attorney general to review all of President George W. Bush's executive orders and reverse the ones that he deems unconstitutional or restrictive to civil liberties.
Only once in his speech did the senator stumble. He was greeted with scattered but audible boos when he thanked a group of union workers who turned out to support him and called them "boilermakers."
"This is mostly an IU crowd, I guess," he quipped, bringing out a raucous cheer from the Hoosier fans in the audience.
Evoking a speech 1968 presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy gave in Indianapolis after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, Obama said the American people have a choice between rage and bitterness, and unity.
"We have different stories, but we have common dreams and common hopes," Obama told the crowd.
Tickets for the event were available online through Obama's Web site, though all of them were spoken for within 30 minutes of being made available, a campaign spokeswoman said.
If elected, Obama said he plans to institute a federal program that will pay for the first $4,000 of a student's college education in exchange for community service.
"It was a unifying message," said Granholm, a senior majoring in political science. "I think for him to do well here, we need him to do be a unifying candidate."
Granholm volunteered at the rally Saturday and has seen the senator speak three other times. After the speech, Obama took the time to thank the volunteers and even posed for photos with them, he said.
Perhaps Casey McFall best embodies Obama's vision of unity. The 24-year-old Indianapolis resident and IU alumnus was one of dozens of people who signed up after the rally to volunteer for the senator's presidential bid. McFallsaid he voted Republican in the last two elections but he has been inspired by Obama's sincerity and ability to speak plainly about the issues.
"He really motivated me," he said.
© 2008 Indiana Daily Student via U-WIRE