Though U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., did not draw as big an audience at a fundraiser Saturday as he did when he spoke to Austin residents in February, the energetic crowd's message was loud and clear: "Obama for president."
The grassroots fundraiser "Countdown to Change" drew about 3,500 people to The Backyard, an outdoor music venue west of central Austin, said Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama campaign. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $15 for students. Last spring's free rally at Auditorium Shores drew a crowd of 20,000.
"Countdown to Change" is designed to let smaller supporters, including students, contribute money to Obama's campaign. Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., hosted a similar fundraiser in Austin in June, allowing small-dollar contributors to donate to his campaign. The Students for Barack Obama campaign includes enthusiastic University of Texas students.
"All age groups and demographics were seen here today, and young people are a part of Obama's strategy," LaBolt said after the event. "He's bringing information to supporters who can educate their friends, family and neighbors."
Though Texas is not considered an early state in the primaries, Obama said he came to Austin because he always gets fired up when he's here.
"I need Austin to stand with me, to work with me, to march with me, not settle with what the Senate has to say," Obama said.
During his 25-minute speech, Obama made it clear that he never supported the war in Iraq and, if elected, would bring troops home within his first 16 months in office.
"The war should never have been authorized. The war should never have been waged," Obama said. "I will also shut down Guantanamo Bay and restore habeas corpus."
Obama criticized the Bush administration for not delivering what it promised Americans.
"We were promised compassion and conservatism, and we got [Hurricane] Katrina and wiretaps," Obama said. "We were promised a more efficient and more ethical Washington, and we got a more wasteful city."
Obama said he intends to make changes during his first term in office by providing health care to the 47 million people without it. Additionally, he intends to provide the best education to every student to close what he calls "the achievement gap."
"I don't want to send our children to failing schools. I won't be a president that talks about how good teachers are, but will do it by raising salaries and giving them support," he said. "I will also make college more affordable and accessible to every young American."
As of Sept. 30, Obama has raised more than $80 million for his campaign, none of which he said came from lobbyists. He said lobbyists won't drown out voices of people in the U.S. and they won't work in his Washington.
"I'm in this race to tell lobbyists and big 'fat cats' their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over," he said.
State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, endorses the presidential candidate and spoke to the audience before Obama took the stage. Strama said the 2008 election is an important one, and while he believes Democrats will win back the White House, more people need to get registered and vote.
Strama also praised Obama's "human approach" to politics, calling it unique, and Strama said he has never seen a politician bring together people from across the entire spectrum.
Obama echoed this approach in his speech when he said, "I don't want to pin red Americans against blue Americans - I want to be president of the United States of America."
© 2007 Daily Texan via U-WIRE