Sen. Obama talks to North Dakota veteransby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama highlighted veteran's issues at a campaign stop Friday, in Fargo. It was the second Obama campaign appearance this year in North Dakota and campaign officials say they expect to be back in the state at least once more. Campaign officials say they believe they have a chance to win the traditionally red state.
Fargo, N.D. — More than 200 veterans invited by the campaign, sat in folding chairs near the stage as Senator Obama spoke.
About 1,000 people who got free tickets to the event were kept behind barricades on the tree-covered lawn of a Fargo museum.
Obama spoke about the American ideals of freedom and opportunity cherished by soldiers who serve their country.
"Keeping faith with those who served must always be at the core of America," Obama said. "It's a core American value and a cornerstone of American patriotism."
Obama told the audience that honoring veterans is about more than saluting at a Fourth of July parade.
"It requires giving them the care and benefits they have earned," he said. "It requires standing shoulder to shoulder with our veterans and their families, after the guns fall silent and the cameras are turned off."
Obama told veterans that as president, he would create a new Veterans Administration that would improve health care for veterans and increase the support for military families.
After a short speech, Sen. Obama took questions. At least two veterans asked how he would respond to a military threat in Iran.
"It's just common sense for us to be willing to talk and listen to anybody," Sen. Obama outlined. "Not to give in, but to make clear where we stand, what our interests are, what we believe in. That kind of tough diplomacy is a supplement to our military power."
The crowd applauded when Obama talked about shorter tours of duty for National Guard troops, and more time between deployments.
Obama has supported a phased withdrawl of troops from Iraq. Earlier in the day, he told reporters he may refine that plan after he visits Iraq and talks with military leaders.
There were also questions from the audience about health care and education. Obama talked about better regulation of health insurance companies, and a national health care plan comparable to what U.S. senators receive.
He called education the single most important issue for the economic future of the country. His pledge to increase teacher pay and funding for schools drew loud applause.
One of the veterans invited to the event was Dewey McLaren of Fargo. He's voted Republican for president since forever, as he puts it. But this year, he's undecided.
"I was on the border, on the fence," McLaren said. "I wanted to hear what he had to say. I had a few of my questions answered and I was very impressed with him. He's convinced me to look at him more serious. I won't make a decision until the big day."
McLaren says he likes Republican Sen. John McCain, but is concerned about the condition of the country, and wonders if it's time for a change.
A lot of Dewey McLarens would need to change their minds for Barack Obama to win in North Dakota.
Democratic presidential candidates have carried the state only five times. The last time was 1964 when Lyndon Johnson won in a landslide.
Long time North Dakota political observer Phil Harmeson says the Obama campaign has it's work cut out.
"It's going to take convincing of a basically conservative population on social issues," Harmeson point out. "If Barack Obama can convince people that he's not as left as his voting record indicates he is, I think he might have a shot, particularly in this political environment."
Obama left Fargo to fly to Montana, another traditionally Republican state where he will attend a Fourth of July picnic and rally.
- All Things Considered, 07/03/2008, 5:20 p.m.