Crowding onto North Carolina Central University's football field, thousands gathered Thursday to catch a glimpse of presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
The rally--Obama's first public visit to the state since he threw his hat into the ring last February--was part of his "Countdown to Change" campaign, a countdown to the initial caucuses in Iowa and Nevada, as well as the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.
"I am running for president of the United States of America because I want to change how politics is done," he said. "I want big change, not little change. I want fundamental change, not change around the edges."
Introduced by Mayor Bill Bell as "the best candidate for president," Obama said his top priorities as president would include instituting universal health care, revising No Child Left Behind legislation and moving the country away from its dependency on oil, which he said has been an issue since the 1970s.
"It doesn't help when my cousin Dick Cheney is put in charge of energy policy," he said, laughing. "I've been hiding this for a long time. Everybody's got a black sheep in the family.... But I'm not going on that family hunting trip anytime soon."
Since announcing his candidacy, Obama has faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for his relative lack of political experience. Having served only three terms in the Illinois State Senate and two in the U.S. Senate before beginning his campaign, Obama said his limited time in Washington should not reflect his ability to perform well in the White House.
"I am optimistic about the American people," Obama said. "In fact, when people say, 'We're not sure if Obama has been on the national scene long enough to be president,' what they really mean is they're not sure I've been in Washington long enough. See, they want me to sit there and stew a little bit. They want to boil all the hope out of me. I have to remind them, 'Listen, two of the longest resumes in Washington were Dick Cheney's and Donald Rumsfeld's, and they led us into the biggest foreign policy disaster in a generation.' So a long resume doesn't guarantee good judgment. Longevity says nothing about your character."
He added that his work as a community organizer, civil rights attorney, constitutional law professor, state senator and U.S. senator has given him the experience to get things done and bring people together.
Ben LaBolt, a spokesperson for the campaign, said Obama came to Durham because he wanted to unite the state of North Carolina and encourage people to vote. He added that it is also an attempt to sway the primaries in the neighboring state of South Carolina, a state where Obama is trailing Hillary Clinton in the polls 19 to 41 percent, according to American Research Group, Inc.
"The purpose of the North Carolina campaign was to translate the grass-roots enthusiasm that we found across the state into an organization that would turn out to vote on election day," he said. "Also, this visit will hopefully boost our efforts in other early states, such as South Carolina."
Local college students made up much of the audience, arriving in packs with discounted tickets in hand. However, Duke Democrats President Samiron Ray, a sophomore, said Duke students were not very informed about the event.
Obama's visit to Durham could spark campus discussion on the issue of the presidential election, Ray said. He added that the campaign stop in Durham was strategic because of the demographic of the city.
"I think that Sen. Obama [came] to Durham because his platform speaks especially strongly to the voting constituency here," Ray wrote in an e-mail. "As a civil rights lawyer, his experiences with public interest work reonates among Durham residents."
Closing his speech, Obama said he admitted his flaws as a person and as a politician, but his policy in the White House would reflect honesty-a virtue he said is uncommon today.
"I am reminded every day of my life... that I am not a perfect man," he said. "I will not be a perfect president. But what I can promise you is this: I will always tell you what I think. I will always tell you where I stand. I will be honest with you about the challenges that we face."
© 2007 The Chronicle via U-WIRE