The most popular figure at Saturday’s
Democratic Party rally here won’t be found on any ballots in the state of Pennsylvania.
At least not this year.
Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, spent the day stumping for area Democratic candidates – and continuing a national tour for Democratic candidates that has added some fuel to the speculation that he is considering a run for the presidency in 2008.
Obama was delayed at the airport, forcing some candidates to take a second turn at the podium, but he finally joined several House and Senate hopefuls on stage at McGonigle Hall to headline an event to rally support for Pennsylvania Democrats looking to take back both houses of Congress.
Students and community members piled into the aging recreation hall to judge for themselves the highly regarded speaker.
“I’ll support him in anything,” Doris Battle of Germantown said. “He has a presence – he’s bright, intelligent. He has some answers.”
Students agreed that the other candidates
were good, but Obama was great.
“I thought everybody did a good job,” Brad Riley, a freshman, said.
“But when Obama came up he kinda made them look like amateurs.
While the candidates prompted some applause, Obama caused the crowd to roar – asking, “What’s up, Philly?”
He praised the city and its sports teams.
“I’m gonna keep coming back, because I like Philadelphia.”
“I like the Eagles, because they have a Chicago boy at QB.”
He praised the candidates.
“[Ed Rendell] is one of the best Governors
in the country,” Obama said. “He is doing outstanding work here everyday.”
He said he reserved the title of “best Governor in the country,” out of respect for his own governor – Rod R. Blagojevich.
Throughout the two-and-a-half hour event, Democrats didn’t really present any new policy – many of the candidates actually
led the crowd in call and response rally cries. Philadelphia Mayor John Street got the crowd to chant “we need a change,” and Lois Murphy, candidate for the U.S. House in the 6th District, led spectators down a confusing list of questions about the current administration.
“Do we need a new Congress that’s going to make education a priority?” Murphy
asked. “Do we need a new Congress that’s going to make you a priority?”
State Treasurer Bob Casey, candidate
for U.S. Senate, stayed relatively quiet, highlighting his time as a teacher in North Philadelphia.
“It’s great to be back in Philadelphia,”
Casey said. “I worked at 17th and Thompson, and lived at 23rd and Tioga.”
The rally was also a magnet for those seeking positions of power. Mayoral hopefuls Michael Nutter and Tom Knox were in the audience, while U.S. Reps. Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady were on stage. Brady also serves as Democratic Party Chairman for Philadelphia, and emceed the event.
While most of the speakers pleaded with voters to make a change on Nov. 7, Governor Rendell was in the unique position of asking for more of the same.
He invited on stage the three Overbrook
Football players who saved an elderly
woman from her burning home last month.
Sixers President Billy King praised them as “great people,” – and promised them tickets to the first game the Sixers play in the NBA Finals, but in the meantime gave them courtside seats for the home opener next month.
“That’s what this election is about,” Rendell said. “It’s not about Rendell, it’s not about Casey – it’s about the kids.”
After Nov. 7 – win or lose – Democrats
and Republicans will be looking ahead to the 2008 election. And for voters at Saturday’s rally, the 2008 election is all about Obama.
“He has a chance to do a lot of good if he stays on the right track,” Mike Gumbel,
a second-year law student, said.
Chris Reber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.