Roanoke, Virginia -- To the music of Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" and against a backdrop of a huge contingent of screaming Virginia Tech students from nearby Blacksburg, Barack Obama spoke to over 8,000 enthusiastic fans in Roanoke, Virginia, Friday, as he made his seventh trip to southwest Virginia in an effort to try to turn the state blue for the first time in 44 years. Bristol, Virginia, two and a half hours to the south, was Obama's first stop after gaining the nomination.
Hundreds of people waited hours out in the rain, the sidewalks around Roanoke's Civic Center dotted with umbrellas. Shuttle buses moved the people seamlessly from parking lots to the venue; it was one of the best organized events this reporter has ever seen, motivated by Southern hospitality and an even-tempered, well-behaved crowd.
With just 18 days to go until the election, the campaign has taken on an urgency that aroused the crowd, who did a series of the "waves" in perfect synchronicity while waiting for the speakers, which included local congressman Rick Boucher and Senator Jim Webb.
Shouting "I love you, too," to an enthusiastic fan, Obama walked on stage and turned fatherly for a moment and told a young girl to get down from the shoulders of another or she would hurt herself, and then quickly turned serious as he once again laid out his plan for America in positive tones, adding that he could take "three more weeks of attacks but American can't take four more years of failed policies."
He likened McCain's health care plan to those ads for drugs one sees on television where it looks all happy and light until one gets to the potential side affects at the end, and added once more that "every American has a right to health care."
He also told a funny story about stopping for a piece of pie at a small restaurant where the owner, a Republican, told him how badly his business was doing. Obama asked the man how his business had been faring for the past eight years and when the man admitted it hadn't been good then either, Obama suggested that the man "stop banging his head against the same wall" and try something new." The audience laughed appreciatively. He then, once again laid out his plan for small businesses, and said that 21 states, including Virginia, are facing budget shortfalls, and promised to create a 25 billion dollar fund to help those states right now. But, he added. "We need to also create new priorities," and again stressed the necessity of spending money in the present to ensure a brighter future.
Obama cited the need for a new tax code and promised that his increased budget for energy independence would create millions of new jobs, and he told the students cheering in front of him that if they gave back to the nation and the world he would make sure they would be able to go to college.
He said that it was time to "turn a new page in this country. And we have to do it from the bottom up. Not just for the C.E.O.s but for the secretaries and the janitors. We can steer ourselves out of this mess," he said to wild and sustained applause.
"America," he said forcefully, "will rise or fall as one nation."
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