Democratic nominee emphasizes economy, urges strong voter turnout
COLUMBIA — In a mad dash toward Tuesday's general election, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is trying to make sure voters make it to the polls.
"I have two words for you tonight," he said during his rally Thursday night at MU's Mel Carnahan Quadrangle.
With an audience of about 35,000 to 40,000 people — a crowd estimate that came from the campaign and confirmed by the Columbia Police Department — Obama delivered a 33-minute speech intended to reinforce his base and encourage participation on Election Day.
"We can't afford to slow down," Obama said. "We've got to go win an election right here in Missouri."
Lines formed early in the day for the nighttime rally, and security crews began ushering people through gates and metal detectors a little after 7 p.m. By the time Obama began speaking the crowd had nearly filled the area, and the security had relaxed. Hundreds of late-comers simply walked onto the quad and found a spot.
Thousands packed tightly around the Obama stage, and thousands more gathered around a jumbo screen on the north end of the quad, where a hill blocked spectators' view of Obama. Many held video cameras above their heads to capture the moment, while hundreds shifted from place to place struggling for even a brief glimpse of the Democratic candidate for president.
The sound system boomed Obama's voice across campus, loud enough that one could hear his words from the north end of Francis Quadrangle, on the south side of Jesse Hall.
The candidate arrived at Columbia Regional Airport at 8:35 p.m. after holding a rally in Virginia Beach, Va. He arrived on campus just after 9 p.m.
While Obama touched on many topics including education, health care and foreign policy, he said little that his supporters had not heard before. Many times throughout his speech Obama referenced the beginning of his campaign, trying to reinforce that his hope for a new attitude in politics has not changed.
In terms of policy, the majority of his message was aimed at his plans for the economy — an issue that has received extensive coverage during the campaign and significant attention in all three presidential debates.
"How many people make less than a quarter million dollars a year?" Obama asked, as hands shot up across the packed quadrangle.
The senator then repeated his promise to cut taxes for 95 percent of working American families.
Obama also promised to provide tax breaks to companies that invest in the United States. He also pledged to create 2 million new jobs to renovate the country's infrastructure and 5 million new energy jobs.
Although most of Obama's remarks were concentrated on the country's economic situation, some of the night's biggest cheers came when he talked about the war in Iraq.
"As president, I will end this war. I will end this war by asking the Iraqi government to step up," Obama said as the crowd roared its approval.
References to Republican nominee John McCain were frequent and never far removed from the words "George Bush," and "more of the same," or adjectives such as tired, stale and old.
Obama made little mention of vice-presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. His speech focused primarily on himself and his opponent McCain. He also addressed the most recent attacks coming from the McCain campaign.
"They can't even decide what to call me," Obama said. "They can't decide on a single angle."
He characterized the McCain strategy as a result of the bitterly partisan attitude in the nation's capital.
Several prominent Missouri Democrats spoke before Obama. They included 25th District State Rep. Judy Baker, Attorney General Jay Nixon, State Auditor Susan Montee and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. Baker is running for Congress, Nixon for governor and Carnahan for re-election. Nixon introduced Obama after doing the same for Biden earlier Thursday in Arnold.
All speakers addressed the need for supporters to get out and vote.
"We are five days from fundamentally transforming the United States of America," Obama said. "If you'll stand with me and fight beside me and cast your vote for me, we will not only win Missouri, we will win this general election."