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Obama Energizes Crowd of 19,000
COLLEGE PARK - 2/12/2008
By Staff Writer Christopher Carey
To the untrained eye, the scene resembled an outlandish amusement park line.
In the bitter cold Monday morning at the University of Maryland, College Park, the line moved slowly. Twisting and turning throughout much of the northern side of the campus, bodies lined in single file and stretched as far as the eye could see. Puffs of air floated from the mouths of many, as they huddled in small groups for warmth. Vendors followed the seemingly never-ending line, showing off their assorted shirts and buttons. Murmurs of “Where does this end?” and “Can I cut in line here?” seemed to be the most popular questions asked from one stranger to another, and more flocked to join the masses.
“I’ve never seen a line this long,” said University Police Capt. John Brandt. “[The Comcast Center] holds about 19,500 people, but they’re going to pack them in.”
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Barack Obama would be speaking soon.
For the first time in recent memory, neither the Republican nor Democratic Party have settled on their nominee for the 2008 presidential election before the Maryland primaries. This allows Maryland voters to get a more personal view of the presidential candidates before they cast their votes, and have their vote count on the national stage.
The past few days at the University of Maryland, College Park, has been a whirlwind of political activity as the presidential primaries draw near. Former governor Mike Huckabee (R-AK) appeared before more than 900 supporters Saturday in the Stamp Student Union, and Chelsea Clinton appeared on behalf of her mother, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), in the Stamp Student Union food court Sunday to a group of about 250 supporters.
Despite both appearances, however, it was Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) that stole the spotlight at the University of Maryland on Monday afternoon.
Appearing before a crowd of approximately 19,000 roaring students, faculty and supporters in the Comcast Center, Obama spent about an hour speaking about the hope and change he plans to bring to the political world.
“I’m really interested in what he has to say to college students,” said freshman Molly Kirkup.
Along with her friends, Kirkup spent roughly an hour waiting in the cold to see Obama. Although some gave up before finally reaching the rally to seek warmth, most of her friends were too enthralled by Obama’s appeal to college students to pass up an opportunity to see him.
“Senator Obama's campaign has crafted a message that is geared towards people who have never been pulled into civic participation or are distanced from it,” said University of Maryland College Democrats president Jonathan Sachs in an e-mail. “Obama's rhetoric of hope and change is exactly what motivates students who feel removed from the current system.”
Some, however, just wanted to see if Obama was all that they hoped he would be.
“I want to see what he has to say,” said junior John Reyes. “I want to see if he’s for real.”
Obama’s speech resembled a basketball game more than a political rally. Students chanted and screamed while Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler compared the audacity to “Fear the Turtle” to the audacity of hope that Obama claims to bring to America.
Obama’s message of hope, which he reiterated throughout his speech, seemed to connect with the vocal crowd. His promises to “clean up the Chesapeake Bay” and to “invest in inner-city and rural America so no one is left behind” were personal to the many Maryland residents in attendance.
Obama’s humor also appeared in front of the crowd, from his banter with members the University of Maryland women’s basketball team to his belief that “I may be skinny, but I’m tough too.”
Molly Kirkup, who had finally regained warmth as the speech ended, was one student who walked away impressed.
“He made a lot of big promises,” she said. “I think he can do it.”
“He was well spoken, and really focused on college students. I liked his sense of humor,” Tampakis added.
Some, including the University of Maryland College Republicans president Christopher Banerjee, believe that the personal appearances made by candidates will make a difference to undecided voters.
“I think that students really appreciate Huckabee and Obama taking time out of their busy schedules to come talk to us,” said Banerjee. “I think it will sway some undecided voters in favor of [them], since they visited.”
Others, however, are not as sure of the impact a personal appearance makes to voters.
“There are a number of reasons which would shape the way students vote,” said Sachs. “Appearances could be one of them, but it is very difficult to judge.”
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