By Lakshmi Gandhi, Claudia Cruz, Matt Townsend and Joshua Cinelli
An offthebus project by CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism
NASHUA, N.H. -- A crowd of about 2,500 people filled the gymnasium at Nashua High School North this morning to hear Sen. Barack Obama appeal for votes three days before the New Hampshire primary. A large number of hands went up in the crowd when Obama asked who was still undecided.
In a nearly 40-minute speech that addressed the state of health care, the Iraq War, and the economy, the senator never addressed the other candidates by name. Instead he reiterated his campaign message of hope and change and slyly poked fun at Hillary Clinton and others that have adopted this position in recent days.
"We talked about change when we were up," Obama said. "We talked about change when we were down. Now the change thing is catching on and that's good."
Obama also sharply criticized President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for leading the country down the wrong path.
At one point, he referred to Cheney as his cousin, a nod to the recent revelation that he and Cheney are distantly related.
"When somebody does your genealogy, you hope that you find out you're related to someone cool," Obama said. "Maybe Willie Mays."
The crowd grew so large that about 500 people sat in a smaller, adjacent gym and could only listen to Obama's speech through a makeshift sound system. They still cheered and applauded as if he stood in front of them and were rewarded when he made a short appearance in the secondary gym after his speech.
Paris for Obama
John Morris came all the way here from Paris to see Obama speak.
"He has a lot of support in France," Morris said.
The 91-year-old lives in France and said he has raised several thousand dollars for Obama from fellow Americans by hosting fundraisers in his Paris home. He traveled to the rally with family who he had been visiting in Maine.
Morris, a former picture editor for The New York Times, is a member of Democrats Abroad, which will have a global primary from Feb. 5-12. Members can vote by mail, fax or in person. And for the first time, they can vote online. Democrats Abroad has 75 regional groups across the world.
Democrats Abroad will send delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer. Morris hopes to be one. He served as delegate for Al Gore in 2000. His political activism dates back to when he worked for Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaign in 1952.
First-Time Voter Likes Obama
Soledad Guzman Salazar, who moved from Colombia to New Hampshire seven years ago, said she felt happy to have been at the rally. The first-time voter plans to cast her first ballot for Obama.
"I believe that I have made an excellent choice," Guzman Salazar said in Spanish. "Obama will win. He will be a good president and he will bring about fundamental change."
Obama Draws Out-of-State Voters
Many of those at the rally were from outside New Hampshire, driving hours for a glimpse of the candidate.
Kate O'Connell came to the rally from her hometown of West Hartford, Conn. because she desperately wanted to see Obama speak in person.
"I thought that he gave a good solid speech," said O'Connell, 48. "He hit on all the key issues."
A group of Long Islanders drove eight hours to see the various presidential candidates canvassing New Hampshire this weekend.
"I think that there is something that is charismatic about him," said group member Mary Pentecost, who hasn't voted for a Democrat in 20 years.
New Hampshire native Erin O'Malley, 22, had to vote via absentee ballot during the last presidential election because she was a student in Canada.
"I've been kind of leaning towards Obama," she said. "To be here for the primary is exciting."
Ian Bryan was visiting from Asheville, N.C., and had decided to canvass in South Carolina based on what he heard. "I think Obama's constituency is sick of the negative campaigning," said Bryan. "I think he handled it the best way he could. He did it in a joking way, but it's important not to ignore it."
Marjory Rome traveled from Massachusetts to hear Obama speak and said while she is leaning toward Obama, she was wishing to hear less jargon and more on what he was planning to do. Obama himself mentioned that he does talk quite a bit about hope, but it is something he believes very strongly in based on the fact that he grew up on love, an education and hope.
Bryan agreed that hope should continue to be stressed, "This country needs to get off the anti-depressants and start looking forward to something."
Robin Bergman traveled from Arlington, Mass. and said she was impressed with what she heard, but wondered if Obama was too comfy with big money. Bergman said she was disappointed as a woman in the type of campaign Sen. Hillary Clinton has run. "She did herself in and she sacrificed the Democratic base."
The Obama Traffic Jam
One way to judge the strong turnout in Nashua for Obama was the fact that it took an hour to get out of the parking lot after the rally. Obama stressed in his speech what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the "fierce urgency of now" in explaining his desire to be president. With three days left until the primary, those left in their car had plenty of time to question whether Obama's now is soon to come.