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Obama speaks in Fort Collins Sunday

Rocky Mountain News
newsroom@vaildaily.com
Fort Collins CO, Colorado
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., speaks at a rally in Fort Collins, Colo., Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP | AP

FORT COLLINS, Colorado ” Sen. Barack Obama gave Denver another chapter in what could be his history-making playbook and was greeted Sunday by a massive crowd spilling out of Civic Center and up the steps of the state Capitol.

The Democratic presidential candidate, up in the polls and full of momentum, spoke before a crowd police estimated at “well over” 100,000 like a coach going into the final quarter with a big lead.

He implored the sea of supporters not to give up until the buzzer sounds Nov. 4 and warned that the days ahead will be filled with “say-anything, do-anything politics,” from “ugly” phone calls to misleading ads.



“We’re going to have to work, we’re going to have to struggle, we are going to have to fight every single one of those nine days to move this country to a new direction,” Obama said. “We cannot let up.” The rally, and one later in the day before more than 45,000 people in Fort Collins, marked the Illinois senator’s third visit to Colorado since the Democratic National Convention in August – when Obama became the first black presidential nominee of a major political party.

Crucial swing state



It also capped a dizzying seven- day stretch in which all four members of the major presidential tickets visited Colorado – an indication of how both campaigns see the state’s nine electoral votes as crucial to victory.

Republican Sen. John McCain was in Denver, Colorado Springs and Durango on Friday; his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, held rallies in Colorado Springs, Loveland and Grand Junction on Monday; and Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, campaigned in Greeley, Commerce City, Colorado Springs and Pueblo on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The size of Sunday’s crowd was difficult to pin down. The campaign initially put it at more than 75,000, but a Denver Police Department spokeswoman later said it exceeded 100,000.



If that number is accurate, it would be the largest Obama rally in the United States this campaign season, surpassing the 100,000 who attended an event in St. Louis earlier this month.

Obama, whose convention speech drew about 80,000 people to Invesco Field at Mile High, commented on the size of the crowd as he walked on stage just after noon Sunday.

“Goodness gracious,” he said as he looked out at the throng from the northwest corner of the park. “Do you ever have small crowds in Denver? Who are those folks way at the top of the Capitol over there?”

Obama’s appearance came one day after a Rocky Mountain News/CBS4 poll found him leading McCain by 12 percentage points in Colorado, a state that has voted for just five Democratic presidential candidates since 1920.

McCain spokesman Tom Kise said Sunday the campaign is confident that come Election Day, Colorado will be in the McCain column.

GOP not giving up

Republicans have thousands of volunteers, a focused message and a well-established ground game the party has “used to great success in the past,” he said.

Kise also noted that Denver is a Democratic stronghold where Obama could expect large crowds.

He compared it to McCain’s recent trip in Durango. Though the town is in a blue county that voted for Democrat John Kerry in 2004, the rally on a high school football field drew more than 6,000 people.

“We went there, drew a line in the sand, and it was great,” Kise said. “That’s a testament to the fact it’s going to be a competitive race.”

Even before Obama took the stage Sunday, a series of Democratic leaders warned the crowd not to become overconfident.

“My friends, please do not rest,” said former Denver Mayor Federico Pena, a national co-chair of the Obama campaign. “Don’t listen to those polls.”

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper called Colorado one of the few states that can make a difference this election.

He urged people to take Election Day off from work, if possible, to help get people to the polls.

“Together, our city and our state kick-started one of the most electrifying general election campaigns in our nation’s history,” Hickenlooper said, referring to the DNC.

“But we are not done yet. Now we must do our part once more, to finish what we started: to close the deal.”

Obama’s speech included little new material.

He said “restoring opportunity on Main Street” would be his top priority as president.

He criticized McCain as being more of the same of what the nation has seen from President Bush and said the Arizona senator “even called me a socialist” for offering a plan that would cut taxes for the middle class rather than the wealthy.

“For the last eight years, we’ve tried it John McCain’s way. We’ve tried it George Bush’s way. We’ve given more and more to those with the most.

“And it hasn’t worked,” Obama said. “So don’t you think it’s time that we tried something new?”

Obama also asked who in the crowd earns less than $250,000 per year.

He then told the sea of raised hands they would get a tax cut under his plan.

The large crowds have been a boon to the Obama campaign, which political analysts say faces a tougher task than Republicans in getting young and first-time voters to turn out on Election Day.

Before heading to Fort Collins, Obama even stopped at his Brighton campaign office to make some calls to potential voters.

A call for volunteers

After the rally with 100,000 people in St. Louis and one that drew 75,000 in Kansas City, Mo., thousands of people turned out the next day to volunteer, an Obama campaign official said during a conference call last week.

Sunday afternoon, the campaign sent an e-mail to supporters, including those who filled out an RSVP online for the Civic Center rally.

The Obama camp has used such RSVPs to accumulate lists of e-mail addresses and cell- phone numbers, which it then uses to solicit funds, ask for volunteers or encourage early voting.

Sunday’s e-mail said the race “will be won or lost in a few crucial battleground states – including Colorado.”

It then asked recipients to sign up to volunteer.

And, as he closed his speech, Obama did the same.

“If you will organize with me and march with me and knock on doors with me and make phone calls with me for nine more days,” he said, “then I promise you, we will not just win Denver, we will win Colorado, we’ll win this election, and you and I together, we’re going to change the country and change the world.”

Campaign events

TODAY

* Conservative radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt will broadcast live from John McCain’s regional headquarters, 6334 S. Racine Circle, Centennial, from 4 to 6 p.m. Hewitt will join nationally syndicated radio host Michael Medved at a McCain rally at the Marriott Denver Tech Center, 6 p.m.

* Kevin Costner campaigns for Barack Obama at Colorado College, Colorado Springs, 4 p.m. at the Worner Center. Rally and sign-making party, campaign office at 6940 N. Academy Blvd. in Colorado Springs, 4:45 p.m. Rally at campaign office, 116 S. Wilcox St., Colorado Springs, 6 p.m. Women for Obama meet and greet, 7860 Crest Drive, Lakewood, 7:30 p.m.

TUESDAY

* Michelle Obama, wife of presidential candidate Barack Obama, will attend an early-vote rally at the Colorado Springs City Auditorium, 221 E. Kiowa St. Doors are scheduled to open at 4:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

* Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl will lead a “Western Values” bus tour for the McCain campaign. Times and locations to be announced.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. ” “Hey, Mom, how are you?” Barack Obama yelled into somebody’s cell phone, complying briefly but happily with yet another star-struck stranger’s request to impress a far-off friend or relative. This time it was from inside a barber shop, but this sort of thing happens to Obama many times each day, just one illustration of the near-phenomenon that is his campaign to capture the White House.

A snapshot of one day on the trail with the 47-year-old Illinois senator, taken exactly two weeks out from Election Day and nearly 21 months after he began his campaign, reveals what a grind it is to seek the presidency. It also displays the ways that this campaign by the first black man with a clear shot at the presidency is no ordinary one.

The day was 18 hours of nearly hyperkinetic activity, of meals jammed in between appearances, relaxation coming only in the form of hushed conversations with foreign policy gurus or campaign staff while ESPN played in the background.

Up before dawn, Obama dashed across south Florida and finished the day in a bed in a Virginia hotel after midnight.

In between, he led a 95-minute discussion of the economy with several governors and a former Federal Reserve chairman while 1,700 people looked on, spoke to 30,000 at an outdoor rally, grinned for untold numbers of photos with cops, caterers, drivers, campaign volunteers and others, shook hundreds ” if not thousands ” of hands, and gave 13 interviews. He alighted in nine locations across seven cities and two states, not even idle during transport, burning up the miles on the phone, in staff meetings and schmoozing with politicians on his bus.

There was a personal bright side: Obama’s schedule made a rare midweek intersection with his wife’s for a few hours late in the day.

There were also largely unseen thoughts of grief and loss.

The night before, Obama’s campaign had revealed that his grandmother was gravely ill and that the candidate would leave the campaign trail later in the week to visit her in Hawaii. He was determined not to repeat the mistake he made nearly 13 years earlier, when he failed to reach his dying mother’s bedside in time.

His grandmother, 85-year-old Madelyn Payne Dunham ” Obama calls her “Toot” ” is the only person still alive of those who raised him. What if he lost her? What if he won, and none of his familial mentors saw it? How would it feel to see her for possibly the last time?

Obama mentioned none of these anxieties publicly. But when a woman called out to Obama at a diner that she had his grandmother in her prayers, he blanched. For an almost imperceptible moment, he appeared completely stricken. Then he thanked the woman and moved on, smiling, down a row of outstretched hands.

___

Obama awoke at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 21, in a resort on a wind-swept stretch of Palm Beach. By 8:43 a.m., he had conducted interviews with radio stations in North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada and was out the door to catch a workout.

The interviews are a key part of his campaign strategy. A candidate doesn’t just campaign where he is, but in other crucial battlegrounds, too. Any day on the trail ” like this one ” finds the candidate spending more time talking to far-flung local interviewers than actually appearing at traditional campaign events.

Bypassing his luxury hotel’s gym, Obama was driven more than six miles, in a motorcade of seven vehicles accompanied by at least two dozen motorcycles, to a strip mall’s Planet Fitness. Wearing his never-changing workout uniform of gray T-shirt and black sweat pants, he spent 25 minutes walking a treadmill and lifting weights.

As with everything he does, his workout attracted a crowd. People gawked at him through the gym’s plate-glass windows while fellow exercisers asked for his autograph. Planet Fitness employee Natalie Aguirre said workers thought the Secret Service agents who arrived ahead of the man they have code-named “Renegade” were businessmen trying to sell something ” or joking. When Obama actually appeared, “I didn’t know what to say what to do,” the 21-year-old said.

“He was really just a normal person,” Aguirre said.

___

Just before 11 a.m., Obama, now showered and in a suit, left the resort again, this time taking his standard campaign bus ” a giant, black-from-rim-to-rim and seriously imposing vehicle.

En route to Palm Beach Community College, Obama had a conference call with the leadership of the AFL-CIO, mindful that union members can still make the difference for Democratic candidates.

His entourage pulled up to the school to a rock-star greeting. Backstage, Obama briefed governors and business leaders there for the economic round-table and chatted with staff while absentmindedly tossing a basketball (a frequent habit). When he finally strode into the gymnasium, he was welcomed with frantic screaming that rivaled what he’d seen outside.

“I love you back,” said Obama.

He reined in the exuberant crowd with an almost scolding reminder that quiet was required for this event. About an hour in to the discussion, the wonky subject matter and steamy temperatures took their toll; people had quieted to the point that some nodded off and others simply filed out.

Afterward, it was the standard drill for Obama: He sat down to affix his distinctive “BO” scrawl to the stack of books and other items that autograph-seeking supporters had shoved at aides, probably 40 items in all. He wolfed down lunch, some salmon. Then he spent about an hour doing still more local interviews, this time via satellite with television stations in battleground states: two hitting Virginia markets, two in North Carolina and three in Pennsylvania. Throughout the day, he never spoke once to the national media pack that travels with him everywhere he goes.

___

By 3:11 p.m. Obama’s motorcade had made the hour-long drive from the community college in Lake Worth to a duplex in a gritty part of Fort Lauderdale.

“How ya’ doin’ guys?! Don’t want to interrupt your cut!” he barked as he burst into a old-timey barber shop called the Neighborhood Unisex Salon.

Then he went next door, his Secret Service agents struggling to cut a path for him through exuberant throngs, to a cramped Obama campaign office buzzing with excitement. Obama bucked up the troops with a pep talk about getting Floridians to the polls ” and winning, of course.

“Until you came along, I was a Republican,” said Richard Long, a white retiree spending his days getting out the vote in nearby black projects.

Then it was down the road again, to The Deli Den for another unannounced stop, known in campaign parlance as an OTR, or “off the record.”

Obama ordered and paid for two plastic bags of food from the deli counter, a half-pound of whitefish salad, some Nova lox, bagels and cream cheese, latkes and three black-and-white cookies, and wandered around the restaurant tables. As he worked the unruly rope line that had formed outside, his security again jostled with the pulsing crowd.

One man, his face incredulous, yelled into a phone: “Yes! I’m only five feet away from him!”

___

After another long bus ride, Obama met up with his wife, Michelle, at a Miami hotel where they waited until time for a rally that was already rocking a park a short distance away. The couple gently joshed each other about who could draw the biggest crowds ” as if there was any question. The rally attracted 30,000 people ” the kind of eye-popping number that has become commonplace for Obama.

Later, with the audience gone and darkness fallen, Obama’s day was far from done.

He signed another stack of books. He taped an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” dancing alone before the cameras on a patch of concrete. He chatted with Florida’s former governor and senator, Bob Graham. He and Michelle crammed in a 15-minute dinner on the bus. He answered a few questions from a group of local black reporters. He posed for more pictures. And he sat down in an elaborately laid-out tent for an interview with Univision’s Don Francisco.

After saying goodbye to Michelle, who was spending the next day in Florida, he spent the bus ride to the airport in phone consultations with campaign staff back in Chicago, as baseball clips flashed on the giant flat screen. He spent the flight to Richmond, Va., with foreign policy advisers who were traveling with him ahead of a high-profile meeting scheduled for the next day.

Bedtime: 12:30 a.m.

“What an extraordinary day,” he had said earlier in Miami, shaking his head as the sun set over the sea of people.

___

Associated Press writers Ann Sanner and Jim Drinkard in Washington contributed to this report.


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