Seattle's KeyArena jammed for Barack Obama
Sen. Barack Obama rallied a frenzied, overflow crowd at KeyArena today, urging them to support him at what he described as a "defining moment...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sen. Barack Obama rallied a frenzied, overflow crowd at KeyArena today, urging them to support him at what he described as a "defining moment in history."
"I believe in my gut if we could just join together, across racial divisions, across gender divisions, young, old, rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight ... then there is no problem we could not solve," told the crowd of about 18,000.
The arena was filled to capacity hours before Obama took the stage and police had to help turn away thousands of supporters. Some 3,000 people watched from an overflow area outside.
It's the latest in a string of huge rallies for Obama. In the week leading up to Super Tuesday, he drew monstrous crowds at most stops — including 14,000 in Boise, Idaho.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was wrapping up her Washington visit Friday — making appearances in Tacoma and Spokane. Clinton drew a capacity crowd of 5,000 for a rally Thursday night at Pier 30 on Seattle's waterfront.
If the crowds are any indication of what's to come in today's Democratic precinct caucuses, turnout should easily shatter the record 100,000 who showed up in 2004.
The crowd at KeyArena was overwhelmingly young, including many who looked at least a few years shy of voting age. Still, Obama urged everyone to caucus for him today.
"You have to take us over the finish line," Obama said. "I cannot bring about change by myself."
The crowd responded by breaking into Obama's popular campaign chant, "Yes we can, yes we can."
Obama was introduced by Gov. Christine Gregoire, who had been waffling for weeks over whether to back Clinton or Obama.
"I've done some soul-searching, I've done a lot of debating and I've come here today to announce my endorsement for Barack Obama," said Gregoire, speaking to perhaps the biggest crowd of her career.
"He's going to remember Washington state," Gregoire said.
Obama gave a shout out to hundreds of purple T-shirted members of the Service Employee's International Union (SEIU), who filled nearly two sections of the arena. The state's largest union, the SEIU gave Obama an endorsement earlier this week.
Spreading their messages
Obama's 50-minute speech was largely a cut-and-paste of speeches he's been giving for months, including his appearance in December at the Showbox SoDo in Seattle.
Obama said in his year on the campaign trail he has witnessed the biggest surge of political excitement in a generation.
"I would like to take all the credit for that," Obama said. But he said much of it is driven by years of pent-up frustration with the Bush administration.
The dueling rallies by Clinton and Obama have given voters a chance to hear first-hand the back-and-forth that has become the crux of their campaigns.
Obama spent much of his speech on his themes of hope and unity.
During her rally Thursday, Clinton took a swipe at Obama's happy-talk campaign, saying she too wanted to unify the country, "but not just for the sake of saying we're unified."
Obama shot back Friday, cracking jokes about those who have painted him as a "hope monger."
"They criticize me for being inspiring. The implication is that somehow I'm not a realist. The notion is that my head is in the clouds somewhere. That, in the words of Sen. Clinton, I'm giving false hope and I need a reality check," Obama said.
"I know how hard it is going to be to bring about change in America," said referring to his past as an organizer and civil-rights attorney.
Obama's appearance drew thousands to KeyArena Friday morning. Lines started forming before 6 a.m. Before the doors opened, the crowd snaked through Seattle Center.
William Spiritdancer, of Seattle's Central District, pulled his four children — ages 7 to 14 — out of school to see Obama speak. The teachers were OK with it and wished they could attend too, he said.
"It could be history in the making," Spiritdancer said. "He's inspiring. That's what's needed. You have to inspire people to something higher."
Brie Creegan, 19, of Tonasket, Okanogan County, who joined the ever-growing line at about 10:30 a.m., said she was excited about attending her first political rally.
"I don't know much about him, but I want to learn more," she said.
Her friend Brittany Gray, 21, of Lakewood, Pierce County, encouraged Creegan to come. Gray, who has scheduled Saturday off from work to attend her Democratic caucus, said she has read every book written by Obama and by his rival candidate, Clinton.
"Barack has more of an insight," Gray said.
Once the arena was filled, officials closed the entrances, turning away thousands who remained outside.
People outside were banging on glass doors and windows of the arena as police were trying to maintain peace.
Kathryn Hughes, a senior at Gig Harbor High School, got inside while her friend Hunter Burton, also a Gig Harbor senior, was outside, pressed against a KeyArena glass door.
Burton said he was "furious beyond words. Democracy should not be limited by a stadium's capacity."
About 12:45 p.m., Obama was entering KeyArena on the southeast side of the building when he stopped and addressed supporters outside in a makeshift speech that lasted three or four minutes.
Obama told the supporters he was sorry they couldn't get inside and thanked them for coming. He urged them to go the caucuses. Supporters said they felt like they had hit the jackpot because they got to see Obama up close.
Obama began the day in Georgetown with a tour of McKinstry Company, a mechanical contractor that retrofits buildings to make them energy efficient. It provided a blue-collar backdrop for the herd of media following the candidate.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels joined Obama on the tour, which involved visiting a huge workshop and meeting briefly with workers in the cafeteria.
Tim Gruenke, pipe-fabrication shop foreman, met Obama during the tour.
"Pretty impressive," he said. "This doesn't happen very often."
The superdelegate question
Obama was endorsed Friday morning by Gov. Gregoire, one of Washington's 17 "superdelegates," the party officials and prominent elected officials who are automatic delegates to the national party convention.
Superdelegates make up about 20 percent of the total that decide the nomination and are free to back whomever they want. There is growing speculation that, with the race so close, the decision could come down to the superdelegates.
"I haven't done the math, but obviously this thing is tight," Obama said at a news conference in Seattle this morning.
As of today, Clinton had commitments from six of Washington's superdelegates; Obama had three. Most counts show her leading among superdelegates by a wide margin nationwide.
Obama wouldn't say Friday morning whether he thought superdelegates should be bound to support the candidate who win the most votes in their states or congressional districts. But he said it will be problematic if the will of party insiders trumps "the judgment of the voters."
He said if he ends up winning the most states and the most regular pledged delegates, "then I think I should end up being the nominee."
Obama said he thinks he has been faring better than Clinton in caucus states because of how fired up his supporters are. "They're more likely to come out to a caucus," he said.
But he speculated that he would have done better in big Super Tuesday primary states like California and Massachusetts if he'd had more time to campaign there.
Obama outlined his energy plan during the McKinstry news conference, calling for a "hard cap" on carbon emissions, dramatically increasing federal investment in energy-technology research, and setting new goals and standards for green buildings.
He praised Nickels and the city as national leaders in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases. He said states and local governments should be "free to experiment" on ways to reduce emissions.
Reducing emissions "isn't a drag on our economy," he said, "it's the future of our economy."
Seattle Times staff reporters Stuart Eskenazi, Jennifer Sullivan, Christina Siderius and Ralph Thomas contributed to this story.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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