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Greater Bangor


Obama sets sights on November battle

By Bill Trotter

BANGOR, Maine - The immediate goal of Sen. Barack Obama when he spoke to a total of about 7,000 people Saturday afternoon in Bangor was to drum up support in the Democratic presidential caucuses held throughout Maine on Sunday.

Click here to view a slide show of Barack Obama's "Stand for Change" rally in Bangor.

But his remarks suggested he wasn’t thinking about just Sunday or about whether he or Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton might get the party’s presidential nomination at its national convention in August. He indicated he also is thinking about the weeks leading up to the general election in November.

"I am looking forward to having a debate with John McCain," he told about 5,700 people inside Bangor Auditorium, referring to the senator from Arizona, who seems likely to win the Republican presidential nomination in September.

The rally in the auditorium was the culmination of a whirlwind afternoon for Obama in Bangor. After flying from Chicago to Bangor International Airport on Saturday, he spent about two hours at Nicky’s Cruisin’ Diner on Union Street, where he talked to some surprised customers and held a round-table discussion with some hand-picked supporters. Between the diner visit and the rally, Obama briefly addressed about 1,000 people who were kept outside the auditorium because the crowd already filled the building to its capacity.

Several people spoke briefly before Obama took the stage, including Maine Speaker of the House Glenn Cummings of Portland; state Rep. Sean Faircloth of Bangor, the majority whip in the Maine House; Lael Stegall of Deer Isle, with the women’s political action committee Emily’s List; and state Rep. Jeremy Fisher of Presque Isle.

When Obama walked into the auditorium’s main arena, about 90 minutes later than his original scheduled start time of 2:30 p.m., the raucous crowd erupted in cheers, waving signs and taking flash photos while Obama grasped the hands of eager people lined up near the speaking platform.

In his hour-long talk, Obama stuck to the theme of his campaign, repeatedly beginning sentences with the phrase "if you are ready for change." He has consistently drummed upon the idea of change over the past several months and is expected to keep using it as the state-by-state contest for Democratic delegates continues. Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia will hold their Democratic primaries on Tuesday, while on Feb. 19, Hawaii holds its caucus and Wisconsin its primary.

Obama defeated Clinton in all three preliminary state Democratic contests held Saturday in Louisiana, Nebraska and Washington state. Estimates vary, but according to The Associated Press, Clinton and Obama each are believed to have secured nearly 1,100 delegates, with Clinton having a slight edge. Each has the goal of winning 2,025 delegates to secure the party’s nomination.

Maine’s caucuses on Sunday determined how 24 delegates will be distributed between the candidates, while 10 more delegate positions from Maine are held by state party leaders and elected officials who will get to choose which candidate they support.

At Saturday’s rally in Bangor, Obama touched upon Democratic talking points that all presidential hopefuls from his party have trumpeted this year: getting troops out of Iraq, reforming health care, protecting the environment, and decreasing the nation’s dependency on oil, to name a few. He cited President Kennedy’s goal of moon exploration, Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for equal rights, and other historic American events as inspiration for changing the world for the better.

"Bangor, this is our moment. This is our time," he said to a crescendo of cheers in the packed auditorium. "There is no such thing as false hopes if we are willing to work for it."

Though he mentioned the possibility of debating McCain, he also made direct reference to Clinton, who drew about 2,000 people to a rally held earlier Saturday in Orono.

Obama said suggestions by the Clinton campaign that he does not have enough experience to lead the country are not true. Even though he has held federal office for only four years, he said, the emphasis on hope and change in his campaign is supported by specific ideas he has formed during his 20 years of working to improve the lives of his fellow Americans.

"I talk about hope a lot," Obama said. "[Clinton’s] argument goes, ‘We need to season and stew him a little bit longer and boil all the hope out of him.’ The American people don’t seem to be buying this argument."

Obama suggested that Clinton too often takes a confrontational stance with Republicans instead of working with them to seek bipartisan solutions.

"I don’t go out of my way to call Republicans names," he said. "You can disagree without being disagreeable."

But he still criticized the policies of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney — who, he acknowledged, might be a distant cousin of his — and had comments for the Republican front-runner.

Obama said he would be a better debate opponent against McCain than Clinton would be because, unlike his Democratic rival, he did not vote in favor of the war in Iraq. He also said McCain wants to learn more about the economy by reading a recent book by Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve System.

"You don’t need to read Greenspan’s book," Obama said. "You need to go to Nicky’s diner and talk to the people to find out what’s going on in America."

While addressing reporters at Nicky’s, Obama said Bush’s economic policies have been bad for Mainers, who continue to lose traditional forestry-related mill jobs and who need more federal help paying for escalating heating fuel costs.

"This has been a hard winter for people in Maine," he said, standing at a podium in the back dining room of Nicky’s while four Maine supporters sat at a table behind him. "What Americans need is a new generation of leadership."

After the auditorium rally, Obama, his campaign workers and about 30 members of the national media returned to BIA and flew to Richmond, Va., where Obama and Clinton spoke separately Saturday evening at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, an annual fundraising event held by Democratic Party organizations across the country.