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Columbia Missourian

Obama speaks at town hall meeting in Rolla

By Catherine McComb, Sarah Panuska
July 30, 2008 | 9:58 p.m. CDT
Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama greets supporters at a town-hall style meeting Wednesday afternoon in Rolla. Obama toured three rural Missouri towns, beginning the day in Springfield and ending with a barbecue in Union.

ROLLA - "How you doing, Rolla?" Depending on who you asked, there were a variety of answers to Barack Obama's question.

Most of the 1,500 people braved multi-hour waits in the heat only to be moved to the stale and heavy air of a recreation center. But it didn't matter. Obama was there.


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The Democratic senator from Illinois has generated buzz throughout his campaign, and Rolla was no exception. Even before his bus rolled into the parking lot of the Missouri University of Science and Technology's Student Recreation Center, people lined up to see for themselves what all the fuss was about.

First in line was Frank Burke Jr., 47, of St. James who arrived at 5 a.m. to make sure he got a good seat. "It's a person you don't see every day," he said.

That's not necessarily the case for Scott Jefferson. He has been following the campaign since February, making 60 to 70 stops with Sen.

Obama. The 37-year-old from Cleveland sells Obama T-shirts.

"I think the fact that he wants to change Washington (appeals to me)," he said, citing Obama's health care plan.

Sue Campbell said she has several issues on her mind. Her son and her son-in-law each served three tours of duty in Iraq, one in the Air Force and the other in the Army. Campbell is also concerned about the cost of living, which has caused her to think twice about her post-retirement plans.

"My husband and I thought that we would be able to buy an RV and travel," said Campbell. "That's out."

Campbell was already an Obama supporter when she arrived. She said the possibility of change from the current administration is too good to pass up.

"He (Obama) has good and bright ideas for the future," Campbell said. "We can't live seven more years of the Bush administration. We just can't."

John Grommet, 70, of Rolla said he supports Obama, too. As he waited to enter the building, he said, "When I get in there, dear, he'll be preaching to the choir."

Karne Orozco brought her three children, whom she teaches at home, to see the senator speak. "I thought it would be a great experience for them to see," she said.

Not all voters were so certain. Beth Alphonse, 18, of Rolla, said she came out of curiosity and not necessarily support.

"I think he's a good speaker," she said. "I don't necessarily agree with everything he says all the time, but I know I'm never going to agree with everything about a president."

Some voiced their disagreement by protesting the senator's views outside the recreation center.

A group of around ten people gathered near the road to protest. Some came to voice their disagreement with "Obama's ridiculously over-the-top abortion ideas, especially the fact that he believes in partial birth abortion," said Tom Dilly, 34, of Rolla. Others carried anti-war signs.

"I'm particularly upset about the remark that Obama made about sending troops to Afghanistan," said Tom "Yusha" Sager, 66, of Rolla. "That's not a peace candidate. We hope we can change his mind."

Obama did mention the war in his opening remarks. His words on the conflict and other issues such as the economy, health care, and education plucked people from their seats.

The idea of choice was threaded throughout the opening remarks. Voters can choose to keep things the way they are or choose change, Obama said.

Campbell's choice was confirmed by the end of the event, as she walked back to her husband with arms full of stickers and T-shirts.

"I'm breathless," she said. "I tell you, it was dynamic. I got to shake his hand. If we let this opportunity pass us by, shame on us."

But another attendee, Don Derryberry, 54, of Springfield said some voters might not be so quick to choose Obama.

"This will be as close as John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon," he said.