Missoula treated presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama like a rock star Saturday morning at the Adams Center.
Before the Democrat from Illinois even walked on stage, the crowd started a wave that rolled round the sea of people four times.
Fervent Obama fans filled all 7,500 seats, and a mosh pit of other people stood on the arena floor squished shoulder to shoulder, chests pressed against backs, just trying to get as close to the stage as they could. People held children on their shoulders, while others waved their hands in the air, eager for the show to start.
Former UM student Aaron Curtis, 22, stood on gym floor with blue paint running across his forehead and cheeks that spelled the phrase "REBEL 4 PRES."
"Right now, more than ever, we need someone who is charismatic and can smooth things over with other countries," Curtis said.
Curtis said he thinks Missoula is showing Obama so much support because it's a college town.
"He normally does better with younger crowds," Curtis said.
His speech started at 10 a.m., but the doors opened at 8 and, for some, that wasn't early enough. By 7 a.m., the line of people stretched from the west entrance of the Adam's Center through the parking lot, around the School of Law and zigzagged through campus to Arthur Avenue. Some took pictures of themselves and their friends waiting in line.
UM student Jeff Lasher, 19, was the first in line. He came at midnight and used a cardboard box for his mattress but didn't sleep, he said. He waited alone and cold.
"All my friends backed out because it was snowing. I said, 'You're from Montana. You should be used to it,'" Lasher said.
He said a few people showed up in the wee hours, but the crowd didn't pick up until 5 a.m.
Second in line was Norwegian exchange student Simen Haugvik, 17, who drove from Philipsburg to see Obama.
"This is a one in lifetime chance," he said. "It would be cool to say I saw the next president."
Obama played to the excitement and even used his own celebrity-filled music video to rally the crowd seconds before his stage entrance. The video, "Yes We Can," used a thumping R & B rhythm and had celebrities such as John Legend, Scarlett Johansson and Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am, who spoke and sang between spliced excerpts of Obama's speech. Near the song's end, they repeated Obama's slogan "Yes, we can" louder and louder as the thumping bass grew deeper and deeper, shaking the floor.
But the crowd didn't need the music video. They voluntarily chanted, "Yes, we can" for half an hour before the video played. It started as a low murmur in the section right in front of the stage and then grew to include everyone.
When the video ended, the crowd rose out of their seats. Thousands screamed and roared, and a brief introduction from Nathan Kosted, state director for Students for Obama sent the senator to the floor.
"It is good to be in Missoula," Obama said when he walked into the arena and mounted the platform. "You guys have a nice view out here."
Obama schmoozed the crowd, mentioning that he needs to come back, learn to fly-fish and buy some waders. Then, he got serious.
Obama focused his 50 minute speech on change, emphasizing the wrongs of Bush's administration that need to be undone, citing the war in Iraq, unlawful wiretapping, energy policy favoring oil companies and an insufficient education system.
"Our educational system, despite slogans, leaves millions of children behind," he said.
He also addressed the question of why he's better than his Democratic rival Sen. Hillary Clinton, stating that being young and less adept to the ways of Washington is a good thing for America.
&qut;We don't need someone who plays the game in Washington, we need to end the game playing in Washington," he said.
After Obama was done, he walked off stage and shook hands. Throngs of people went crazy and all compacted right where Obama stood, climbing over each other just to graze their fingertips against Obama's hand.
Tony Moratti, 35, was one of these people on the floor. He came to the speech with his wife and two children. His oldest child, Dante, is five years old.
"We weren't going to miss it for anything," Moratti said. "It was fun out there. Exciting."
© 2008 Montana Kaimin via U-WIRE