Thousands attend Obama rally in Minneapolisby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Barack Obama was the first of four presidential candidates to campaign in Minnesota in the final days leading up to Minnesota's precinct caucuses Tuesday.
Minneapolis — Barack Obama did what the Minnesota Timberwolves could only do twice this season. He filled the Target Center. An estimated 20,000 people attended the afternoon event. Most of the seats were filled and hundreds stood on the floor watching Obama deliver a nearly hour long speech.
"Thank you Minnesota!" he said as he looked at the audience. "Wow! This is a pretty good crowd!"
Obama invoked Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and even the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. He told the audience that he inherited Wellstone's desk when he came to the Senate in 2005.
His speech focused on his key campaign theme -- change. Obama used the word at least two dozen times during his speech, much to the delight of the crowd. He said he was the candidate promoting change before it became popular.
"This change thing must be really catching on because I notice everyone is talking about change," he said. "Mitt Romney has change on his signs. George Bush, for all I know, he's for change. But see, we're not interested in change as a slogan. We want change we can believe in and that has to be earned."
Obama said, if elected, he would work to reduce global warming, lower the cost of health care and make college more affordable. He said he would roll back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy and give those tax breaks to the middle class. He disavowed lobbyists, saying their influence in Washington would be weakened if he was elected President.
Obama also criticized the war in Iraq, saying he opposed the war from the beginning -- a direct criticism of Hillary Clinton who voted to authorize military action against Saddam Hussein. Obama said the war will end up costing too many American lives and trillions of dollars - money he said could have been better spent in this country on schools, bridges, worker retraining and broadband lines in rural communities.
"We should have never gone into that war," he said. "And I will end that war when I'm president of the United States and I will bring our troops home in 2009."
Obama is still in his first term in the U.S. Senate. He said the pundits are questioning whether he is seasoned enough to be president and suggesting he needs a few more years in Washington.
"But you know, the American people, I think they're rejecting that argument because they realize the biggest gamble would be to have the same old folks doing the same old things over and over again and somehow expecting a different result," he said.
Obama urged the entire crowd, a mix of young and old, black and white, to caucus for him on Tuesday night.
He said he relied on college students, independents and even a few Republicans to help him win the Iowa caucuses. When he brought up how a few Republicans in Iowa would quietly whisper to him that they would vote for him, Armando Gutierrez stood up and yelled "I'm a Republican and I support you."
Guitterriez, of Mendota Heights, later said that he's backing Obama because he's working to end the divisiveness in Washington.
"As I continue to hear his message and sincerity in the way he delivered it and it really just hit home for me," he said. "And I do believe the politics is for all of America not just for two parties."
The event at the Target Center felt like a rock concert. In fact, a band entertained the crowd as they filed into the event. By 11:30 a.m., a line already wrapped around the Target Center.
The first supporter was standing in line a full six hours before the doors opened to the public at 1:30p.m.. The first group of supporters in line were mostly under the age of 25, all calling Obama their candidate.
The Obama campaign put some of those waiting in line to work. A campaign spokesman said they gave some of the supporters cell phones to make get out the vote calls to potential supporters.
Republican Mitt Romney was also in the Twin Cities on Saturday, and Democrat Hillary Clinton was scheduled to hold a rally at Augsburg College in Minneapolis on Sunday. Republican Ron Paul scheduled a rally at the University of Minnesota on Monday evening.