Chanting his name, a racially mixed crowd of about 3,000 flooded the perimeter of a makeshift stage, set up on an outdoor basketball court at the Rancho Cienega Sports Complex in South Los Angeles.
Promoting his bid for the Democratic nomination, U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama made his first trip to Los Angeles on Tuesday since he first announced his prospective candidacy 13 days ago.
Greeted by a sea of complimentary blue, “Obama 08” campaign signs, the 45-year-old junior senator from Illinois said America has to make a choice.
“The way we’ve been doing business has to change,” he said to scores of receptive onlookers. Packed in and perched on a large set of bleachers behind him, frantic photographers grappled for the best shots.
“We’re at a crossroads internationally, and we’re at a crossroads domestically,” Obama said.
Always an opponent of the War in Iraq, Obama again reiterated his stance against the war. He discussed a re-deployment bill that would call for the removal of all U.S. combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008.
“Half a trillion dollars and over 3,000 of our bravest young men and women have been lost, and now we’re less safe than we were before,” he said.
On the domestic front, Obama touched on his wish to overhaul the U.S. health care system, one that he said spends “1.9 trillion (a year), more than any other country in the world, and all while 46 million Americans remain uninsured.”
Obama said more of an emphasis should be placed on preventative rather than emergency medicine, and that a child with asthma has the right to be treated before the condition sends him to the emergency room.
Obama, clad in a white button down shirt – no tie – and black slacks also touched on his wish to capitalize on global warming by creating an alternative energy industry that would eventually allow America to be “free from its dependence on Middle Eastern oil.”
Transitioning to education, Obama skimmed the surface on what he said would be the eventual improved treatment of teachers and students at every level.
However, despite some audible pleas from the diverse South Los Angeles crowd, Obama did not discuss a sensitive topic that divides most Southern Californians – illegal immigration.
Some supporters who are passionate about Obama said the energy he emits reminds them of another leader who once ran the country.
“I think it is his audacity to hope, calling the country to change. He reminds me of my youth and John (F.) Kennedy,” said Marlene Bowman, a social worker.
“He excites people,” said Johnny Malone a Gardena High School band director and a former Motown artist development writer. “He speaks what we all think but can’t articulate.”
Eric C. Bauman, chair of the Los Angles County Democratic National Party, said Obama’s speech was, for the most part, received so well because it gave off a sense of excitement and energy. Bauman referred to Obama as an experienced educator. He said the senator has a “great understanding of the role of the state university system within our society.
“Not just the state university system,” he said. “But also vocational, technical and community colleges.”
Bauman also responded to any critics who might be leery of the prospective president, simply because of the color of his skin.
“There’s still a lot of internalized racism in this country, a lot of people just work that way,” he said.
Frank Barbaro, chair of the Orange County Democratic National Party, was also on hand for the rally. While Orange County, Barbaro said, is perceived nationally as being predominantly right wing, they still have over 500,000 registered Democrats – some with a lot of money to spend.
But Barbaro said Obama’s competition, prospective Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, has the financial advantage over Obama, and cited her ability to capitalize on the Clinton name through fundraising.
“Hillary represents the old school. She does have the advantage money-wise, but I still like Obama and the fresh air he provides for all of us,” Barbaro said, scurrying past security with his aides before the scheduled 3 p.m. speech.
Behind the stage, Bill Rosendahl, Los Angeles City Council representative of District 11, said while he is still undecided on whom to vote for, he cannot deny Obama’s electrifying energy.
“He represents a new generation, and he has the will to move them forward,” Rosendahl said. “I question what my generation has been doing. He gives hope to a lot of people. It’s great.”
Linda Moulton-Patterson, former Huntington Beach mayor from 1990-94, said she first heard Obama speak while working as a delegate at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston.
Saying that Obama has “struck a cord with young people,” Moulton-Patterson echoed the positive consensus heard by many at the event.
Nevertheless, Moulton-Patterson said she still likes Clinton as a potential presidential nominee and that she does not yet know where her vote will fall.
“It’s just exciting to see quality candidates, one of who is an African American, and the other, a female,” she said.
Sitting on bleachers in the corner of the media roundup corral, behind the raised stage, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connel said he needed to know more about a candidate than just race and gender.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” he said with Judy Chu, a board member representing California’s Board of Equalization’s 4th District, flanked at his side.
Art Stoll, a 62-year-old mortgage banker, said he wanted to experience first hand this historic occasion.
“A guy like this comes along about every 50 to 100 years,” he said. “He’s the most exciting candidate since Robert Kennedy, he has the capacity to pull and bring people together.” Stoll made the point that Americans are among the most hated people in the world, and that he takes refuge in knowing a presidential hopeful may actually have the power to heal America’s bully image.
Don Normon, a retired 71-year-old drug and alcohol counselor, said as a minority (he’s black), he would love to see Obama win the White House in 2008.
“I would vote for him,” he said. “He’s young and he has new energy. He’s more concerned with domestic issues than invading other countries.”
Normon referenced the War in Iraq as an ill-conceived mission and said while he thought Bush may have had good intentions in the beginning, he didn’t think the president realized what would actually happen.
“I’m optimistic it will all work out. Getting mad and blaming doesn’t help,” he said.
After the rally, Obama made the most of his Tuesday in Los Angeles by heading to a fundraising party, thrown by DreamWorks studio, at the Beverly Hilton. From there, according to the Associated Press, Obama visited the mansion of the studio’s co-founder, billionaire David Geffen, where he dined with some of his most generous contributors.
Kari Thumlert and Kristen Whitehurst contributed to this article.