TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- On September 6th, fifteen days after being passed up as Barack Obama's running mate, Senator Evan Bayh joined Obama on a campaign stop here, in Bayh's home town. "The time for a change has come," said Bayh while introducing Obama, "and Barack Obama is the change we need." The crowd of over 1,000 Hoosiers crammed into a large barn named the 4-H Arena was brought to its feet multiple times even before Obama took the microphone.
Cindy Peterson, who sat in the front row next to George Stephanopoulos, said an Obama volunteer explained to her how the campaign filled the riser seating around the stage. "Phone bankers in Terre Haute called people at home and, if they said they were undecided in the Presidential election, they were offered the special tickets," said Peterson, "This way, the campaign could utilize the event to reach new voters, instead of just 'preaching to the choir.'"
At points, the talk seemed more like a comedy routine than a stump speech. Senator Obama appeared to truly enjoy talking about the speakers at the Republican National Convention.
"Since the beginning of this campaign, we've been talking about change. Everywhere I go we talk about change. That's been the theme of this campaign. And we must be on to something, because I noticed now that everybody's talking about change. So, John McCain, over the last couple of days, John McCain has said..."
[From the crowd, a shout of "nothing!" followed by laughter and cheers.]
"John McCain has said that, 'change is coming!' That's what he says. Now think about this, this is coming from the party that's been in charge for 8 years. They've been running the show! They've been up in the White House. John McCain brags, '90% of the time I've voted with George Bush. He and I, we're right there.' And suddenly, he's the change agent! He says, 'I'm going to tell those lobbyists that their days of running Washington are over." Who's he going to tell? He's going to tell his campaign chairman, who's one of the richest corporate lobbyists in Washington? Is he going to tell all the folks that have been running his campaign who are the biggest corporate lobbyists in Washington? Who does he think he's going to tell that change is coming? I mean come on, they must think you're stupid!
"You know, I guess what they're trying to say is, 'Watch out George Bush, except for economic policies, and tax policies, and energy policies, and health care policies, and education policies, and Karl Rove style politics, except for all that, we're really gonna bring change to Washington! We're gonna shake things up!' What are these guys talking about? You think we haven't been paying attention over the last 8 years?"
"Don't be fooled. These are the folks who've been in charge. John McCain's party, with the help of John McCain, has been in charge. I know the Governor of Alaska said, she's change, and that's great, and she's a skillful politician, but, you know, when you've been taking all these earmarks, when it's convenient, and then suddenly, you're the champion anti-earmarks person, that's not change. I mean, words mean something. You can't just make stuff up!"
One of the voters Obama seeks to win here stood up with a question:
Audience Member: "Up until you came along, all my life I've been a registered Republican."
Obama: "You've read the story of The Prodigal Son..."
Audience Member: "Will you, personally, and your group embrace people like me..."
Obama: "Yes. We call you Obamacons."
But look, the reason they're supporting us is because, Evan spoke about this, you know for so long politics has been about dividing each other instead of bringing us together. And the truth is, is that the country is not as divided as our politics. I mean, look, if you go to a little league game, and you're talking to one of your fellow parents over there. You don't first thing as, 'are you a Republican or Democrat?' You don't ask them about that, right? You talk about kids, you talk about the economy, you talk about the plant that closed, you talk about the price of gas, you talk about football. So most people, they have some pretty good common sense. And, if we can have that kind of sense reflected in our politics, then that's going to be a huge improvement.
And, I have to say, when John McCain says in his speech, that he wants to reduce the rancor in Washington, and I'm thinking, did you pay attention to the last two days of your convention? I mean, were you not watching it? There's gotta be some consistency in how you approach these things. There's nothing wrong with a vigorous debate, because the parties have very real differences. But when it starts getting personal, or you start focusing exclusively on trying to tear the other person down instead of what you are going to do on behalf of the American people to deal with this economy, that's not serving Democrats, that's not serving Republicans, that's not serving anybody, and that's the kind of politics we're going to put to an end when I'm president of the United States.
Senator Obama continued to ongoing cheers and standing ovations, until a little more than an hour into the program he thanked the crowd and left. After the cheering ended, I asked people in the crowd for comments.
Bryant Wolfe and Danielle Newton of Terre Haute, Indiana
OTB: Did Senator Obama say anything here that you didn't know already?
Wolfe: Well, he talked about the infrastructure and some of the jobs that we've lost and creating new jobs and how the government can help with that in creating an infrastructure with railroads, which I haven't heard before, so this is something entirely new for us.
Newton: I think the idea of creating renewable energy sources and creating jobs through that because, like he said, we've lost all these jobs and we can't get them back but we can at least create new jobs.
Wolfe: My first reaction was, "man, that's a lofty goal," but earlier on, in his speech, he talked about John F. Kennedy and going to the moon and things like that and I think if we can go to moon then surely we can build some railroad tracks to connect our major cities.
OTB: What is your main issue?
Wolfe: Everything he discussed today were things we wanted to hear more on. Plus, being from Terre Haute and having someone as important as Barack Obama coming here, I thought that was definitely interesting.
Newton: It made us feel like our vote counts. And I think, listening to him at the DNC speech, and then here, it's just empowering and it makes you feel like your vote is important and he cares. You know, he cares about what we have to say in Terre Haute, Indiana, of all places.
Michelle Pattison of Sullivan, Indiana, and Adam Reynolds of Indianapolis, Indiana.
OTB: Are you Democrats, Republicans or independent?
Reynolds: Yes! (laugh). I think I'll go with moderate. I really try not to associate with either party, because I don't agree with everything those parties do. So I think I'm more middle of the road to moderate.
OTB: Did you hear anything today you hadn't already heard before?
Reynolds: I heard a lot more specifics today than I'd heard in the past, so that was really good to hear explicitly what he is going to do to change and the policies he's going to implement when he, if he, gets elected, and some of his plan of action, which is more than I've heard previously.
Pattison: I hadn't heard about his plans for national service after college. I thought it was really neat that he wants to have young people give back as well as helping them go to college.
Reynolds: I volunteered while I was in college at the local community center and it was a really rewarding experience. I went to Rose Hulman here in Terre Haute and they paid for me to go and volunteer there and work there at no cost to that community. It was one of the best things I did in college. It was amazing. I think it's a great plan that all these people should do.
At Ruby Tuesday's, a lunch place down the street, I met sisters Cindy Peterson of Rosedale, Indiana and Linda Thomas of Tuscola, Illinois. They attended the Obama event and struck up a conversation at the salad bar. After lunch we sat together and discussed the event and the campaign.
OTB: Who have you supported in past elections and this primary?
Thomas: My first vote was for Ronald Reagan. I've voted for Democrats since. I supported Obama in the primary. I live in Illinois. Two weeks after Obama's DNC speech in 2004, our little tiny Democratic group in Douglas County said, "oh, Barack's coming to town and coming to our meeting tomorrow. We would hold our meetings in a tiny little restaurant and there were only 45 of us showing up, and here comes Barack. He stayed there and talked to us probably for an hour and a half and talked about anything any of us wanted to talk about.
Peterson: I supported Hillary in the primary. I'd never really heard much about Obama, and I thought he didn't have enough experience. Now that I've seen him, I see how inspiring he is. You can't discount how inspiring he is. But there's no way a Hillary supporter will support McCain or Palin. They are just the opposite of everything Hillary stands for.
OTB: Is there anything new you learned today?
Peterson: When he was talking about the war, and how we're like a gazillion dollars in debt, that they have a surplus of 80 billion dollars. At that point it gets personal. And I'm still thinking, "Why are we doing this [Iraq], again? Why are we there?"
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