Obama draws 35,000 in Springfield

Sunday, November 2, 2008 | 3:52 p.m. CST; updated 5:48 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 2, 2008

SPRINGFIELD — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Saturday that Missouri voters are tired of political "name calling'' and want their leaders to "just solve problems.''

Speaking in a high school football stadium in one of Missouri's strongest Republican areas, Obama spent much of his speech talking about the nation's economy and pocketbook issues. He was joined onstage by his wife, Michelle Obama, and two daughters.

"The last thing we can afford is four more years of the tired, old, stale economic theories that say we should give more and more money to billionaires and millionaires and big corporations and hope the prosperity trickles down to everybody else,'' Obama said.

It was Obama's fourth Missouri campaign event in the past two weeks, having already hit the state's other largest metro areas of St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia.

Polls have shown Obama and Republican presidential candidate John McCain essentially even in Missouri. An Obama campaign spokesman said before the Saturday rally that they aren't taking any part of Missouri for granted.

Springfield is traditional Republican territory and the home of GOP Gov. Matt Blunt. Obama and McCain each held rallies in the city this summer before their parties' national conventions. And vice presidential candidates Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden also have campaigned in Springfield.

An estimated 35,000 people watched from the football field and the stands on both sides of the stadium while Obama spoke on a platform erected on about the 15-yard line.

Among those watching the roughly half-hour speech was Mary Peters, 57, of Norman, Okla., who drove about five hours with two others.

Peters, who works at the University of Oklahoma, skipped that night's football game between the Sooners and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, which was well into the second half before Obama even took the stage in southwest Missouri.

"The last time I felt this way about hope for America it was Bobby Kennedy,'' Peters said. "I was a teenager, but I remember that.''

The swing state of Missouri accounts for 11 electoral votes and has voted for the presidential winner every time but one in the last century, when the state picked Adlai Stevenson instead of President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.

McCain's co-chairman in Missouri, former state Rep. Jack Jackson, said Obama's swing through Springfield shows that the Democrats are concerned about losing Missouri. Jackson said he doubts the state is going to be receptive to Obama's economic policies.

"This is strong, conservative America, and we're not looking at redistributing the wealth,'' Jackson said. "We want to keep it, we earned it.''

Campaigns often spend the final days trying to energize supporters and drive up turnout in friendly areas. Obama's decision to campaign in Republican territory left political scientist George Connor trying to understand his strategy.

Connor, of Missouri State University, said he couldn't think of another example where a candidate went into an opponent's base so late in the campaign.

"I can't imagine what the strategists are thinking,'' Connor said. "I guess they think they have milked every vote in Kansas City, St. Louis and the suburbs, so why not go to Springfield.''

The closest example seems to be when Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, knocked off Republican Jim Talent in the 2006 U.S. Senate race. McCaskill focused on Missouri's cities but worked to drive down Talent's victory margins in the state's rural areas.

McCaskill, who introduced Michelle Obama at the rally, quipped to cheers, "I'm confused — I thought there weren't supposed to be any Democrats in Greene County.''

Obama, who counts McCaskill among his supporters, has tried to implement her strategy. He's held rallies that have drawn an estimated 40,000 people in Columbia, about 75,000 in Kansas City and an estimated 100,000 people under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. His campaign also has opened dozens of Missouri field offices, many in rural and Republican-leaning areas.

But capping off the Missouri effort with a large, boisterous rally could backfire and do John McCain's campaign a favor by highlighting the differences between the candidates and energizing Republican voters, Connor said.

"There are people in southwest Missouri who are fearful with an Obama presidency,'' Connor said.




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