July 11, 2007

Obama wins hearts and minds in Alabama

These are better than your average campaign coverage story. You get a view from the perspective of people who arrived already supporting Obama, but you also get to hear the folks who didn't have their minds made up, until they saw and heard him. Obama 'electrifies' crowd with his message, mingling- al.com

The donations were rolling in, but you didn't have to be a high roller: $25 got you a spot at a fancy hotel to see Charles Barkley introduce and endorse Obama, or $1000 got you a speech at the Heritage Club. Personally I'd have preferred seeing Obama with Barkley! It seems from the story that this candidate is just more comfortable connecting with people and audiences than I've ever seen him in debates. http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2007/07/obamas_alabama_stops_pull_more.html

Obama 'electrifies' crowd with his message, mingling

Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Times Staff Writer patricia.mccarter@htimes.com

Nation is 'hungry for change,' senator says

For a hairdresser and a retired teacher, $7 sausage quesadillas afforded as intimate an experience with Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama as most of the supporters who paid $1,000 for beef tenderloin and roasted vegetables.

Shirley Jordan, who has been fixing Anita Garner's hair for 20 years, sat with her friend on the patio at Humphrey's restaurant, just a few feet from the alley where Obama would walk to his fundraiser luncheon at the Heritage Club. They arrived 90 minutes before the Illinois senator, their cameras ready.

Shortly before Obama walked past, Garner wrote a sign and taped it to an empty chair at their wrought-iron table: "Reserved for our future President Obama."

"I like what he has to say," Garner said, her hands shaking with nervousness as she wrote out the sign, "but I'm still in the thinking phase."

The presidential contender saw the sign, grinned and took a seat.

"Oh, I've got to sit here," he said.

Obama posed for pictures with those eating lunch on the patio, and he shook their hands and gave a fourth-grader a fist knock. He commented on what a pleasant place it looked to have a nice lunch.

His ease and charisma won over Garner and Jordan.

"I don't need to think about it anymore," Garner said. "I'd vote for him. He was fantastic."

Two men with signs near the Heritage Club door gave Obama less of a thumbs-up.

"Anybody but Hillary, Even You," their placards read.

Richard French, a Madison retiree who characterized himself as an advocate of American values, said he considered Obama the lesser of two evils, "but even if my father, God rest his soul, ran on the Democratic ticket, I wouldn't vote for him."

Still, Obama mostly encountered people who seemed to want see him in the White House, including about 100 who paid up to $2,300 to visit with him at a reception or $1,000 for a buffet line and 30-minute speech.

The media weren't allowed in, but those exiting the fundraiser gave rave reviews.

"He talked about how the country needs rejuvenation, a breath of fresh air," said John Richardson, 40, who works in marketing. "He made my eardrums tingle. He was electrifying, and I'm generally a skeptic."

Chanda Crutcher, 33, said she'd never witnessed the American dream up close before, but now she believes that she has.

"He appeals to everybody," Crutcher said, referring to Obama's genealogy of a black African father and a white American mother.

"But he wasn't in there as an African-American candidate. He was an American candidate, at its finest."

As he left the luncheon, Obama told reporters what he talked about: the war in Iraq (he wants American troops out now); global warming (droughts and hurricanes are creating a more dangerous world, and more energy-efficient light bulbs and vehicles should be used); and family economics (people should be able to afford health and college education for their children).

"People around the country are hungry for change," Obama said.

Jordan Walker-Pearlman, who directed the movie "Constellation" that was filmed in Huntsville, said since he met Obama three years ago in Chicago, he wanted to introduce the senator to this city, "and with a little arm-twisting on my part, he picked Huntsville as his first fundraising event in Alabama."

Obama then went on to a $25-a-head fundraiser in Birmingham.

"I've done presidential events for him in Los Angeles and New York, but I really wanted him to come to Huntsville," said Walker-Pearlman, 40. "I've never seen him so pleased to meet people as he was here. I think he was anticipating an enthusiastic crowd, but not necessarily one as diverse and warm and sophisticated.

"He had a great time, from meeting people on the patio at Humphrey's to the hosts at the reception. He wants to be competitive in the South, and I believe he will be."

Walker-Pearlman said Obama talked about how entrepreneuralism is the answer to what ails America, from health care to pollution to education.

"And he is very strong on defense," the movie director said. "But he believes that diplomacy should be a big part of defending our country."

Retired accountant Reita Woolf waited on Humphrey's patio for the senator to leave the luncheon. She had with her Obama's books, "The Audacity of Hope" and "Dreams From My Father."

Woolf said she's gotten to know the presidential candidate from his books, and she likes him.

A lot.

"Right now, he's at the top of my list," she said. "I like his sincerity, his empathy, his common sense."

As Obama headed back down the alley toward his black SUV, he stopped and took questions from reporters and greeted supporters who didn't pay the big bucks to see him.

He also signed Woolf's books, books that she hopes one day can say were once in the hands of the president.

"I'd like to see some common sense in the White House," she said. "What I like best is his idea for us all to be one community, not a country of this group and that group.

"Doesn't that sound wonderful?"

Obama's Alabama stops pull more than $100,000
Posted by CHARLES J. DEAN and KENT FAULK July 10, 2007 6:34 AM

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama brought his presidential campaign to Birmingham and Huntsville Monday, raking in more than $100,000 to add to a war chest that already has topped $50 million.

And the Democratic candidate's swing through Alabama convinced some uncertain voters to come off the fence and support him.

Obama began his day in Alabama with a $1,000-a-plate luncheon at the Heritage Club in downtown Huntsville attended by 70 donors. The Huntsville event was closed to the public but a small crowd gathered outside the event caught Obama's attention. It included two men holding signs that read: "Anybody but Hillary Even You," a reference to Obama's main rival for the Democratic Party nomination for the White House, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

As Obama shook hands with the small crowd, he pointed at the two men, chuckled and said, "That's kind of a backhanded compliment."

Madison County Commissioner Bob Harrison said he went into the Huntsville fundraiser not sure if he supported Obama. He left impressed.

"Today, I saw a side of him and a level of confidence and assuredness in his ability to be able to lead," Harrison said.

At the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Birmingham, an energized Obama told a large, diverse and enthusiastic crowd that America under President Bush has seen a government that "can't do, won't do and won't even try."

"Americans are hungry for change. They are desperate for something new," Obama told about 2,000 cheering fans, most of whom had paid $25 each to listen to him. "We have had so much dysfunction, so much nonsense ... in Washington D.C., that people have just said enough."

The crowd, a mixture of white and black, young and old, affluent and not, repeatedly cheered as Obama criticized Bush.

"We've got a health care system that is broken, that is bankrupting families all across America," Obama said. "We've got an education system that, despite the slogan, is leaving millions of children behind. We've got the absence of an energy policy which means you're paying $3-and-something-a-gallon at the gas tank and sending all that money to some of the most hostile nations on Earth.

"And, we've got this war that never should have been waged. A war that has cost us half-a-trillion dollars so far and a war that has cost us, more importantly, thousands of precious American lives."

A crowd that was already buzzing waiting for Obama's arrival, got grew more revved when NBA Hall of Famer and Leeds native, Charles Barkley, took the stage to urge them to support Obama.

"The one thing you will hear is that this man is a uniter. You've got too many dividers," Barkley said. "Politics are broken. We need somebody who can fix it. Please listen to what Barack's got to say today, please."

At one point, someone in the crowded shouted at Barkley urging him to run for governor, something he has said for years he wants to do.

"Let me tell you something," Barkley told the shouter. "You don't have to worry about that. You've got my word on that."

One vote Obama won over in Birmingham was Christi Haynes of Birmingham, a mother of three who came to Monday's fundraiser not quite convinced Obama was the real thing.

"I was undecided coming in," Haynes said, who added that she will not support Clinton. "I don't trust her," Haynes said.

"I'm going to vote for him. I like it that he comes out and says it straight. That's why I came here, to see if he's real. And he is," Haynes said.

After his downtown speech, Obama headed to another fundraiser, this one at the Mountain Brook home of HealthSouth President and CEO Jay Grinney. Those attending paid $1,000 to $2,300 a person to meet the White House hopeful who by most polls is chasing Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination for president.

Alabama voters will go to the polls Feb. 5 to cast ballots in the Democratic and Republican party primaries.

E-mail: cdean@bhamnews.com

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