Friday, June 15, 2007

Obama: Dems should not 'take the South off the table'

JACKSON, Miss. --
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made a brief stop at a Jackson soul food restaurant Friday night, grabbing a to-go order of peach cobbler before being whisked off to a fundraising event at the shiny new Mississippi Telcom Center a few blocks away.
This is at least the second time in the past few years that the U.S. senator from Illinois has appeared in Mississippi, which has a 37 percent black population. In the winner-take-all electoral system, the state has gone Republican in every election since 1980.

"What I'm interested in is making sure we don't take the South off the table as Democrats," Obama told reporters as he made his way into Peaches Restaurant on Farish Street, a now-quiet area that was the hub of a bustling black business district decades ago.

"I've always felt that you win votes by showing up and people getting to know you and understanding what your values are and what you care about," Obama said. "People in Mississippi are struggling with the same things people all across the country are struggling with - the lack of health care, trying to figure out how to pay for their children's college education, how they are dealing with retirement security (and) jobs."

Obama is the second presidential candidate to appear in Mississippi in the past three weeks. Republican John McCain, a U.S. senator from Arizona, was in Jackson to raise campaign money on May 31.

At the TelCom Center, a glass-and-steel convention building that opened last year, people paid $250 each to hear Obama speak. At a smaller event, donors who gave $2,300 apiece got to have their pictures made with him.

At Peaches Restaurant, though, the mood was casual as about 35 people packed the black leather booths and bar stools beneath the pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bob Marley. Obama spent about 15 minutes shaking hands and greeting people.

At one point, the candidate belted out a few bars of the blues standard "Misty Blue" with Dorothy Moore, the Jackson singer who made the tune famous in the 1970s.

"I've been knowing that song," Obama said as he smiled at Moore.

Outside the restaurant, 47-year-old Susie Camel of Jackson waited in a crowd of about three dozen people who were roped off behind yellow security tape. She waved a copy of Obama's autobiography, "The Audacity of Hope," and then danced a few steps as he signed it.

"I think he's going to be somebody who can really bring the cultures together because he has lived them all," Camel said after Obama got into a black Chevrolet Suburban, with a tiny brown paper bag of peach cobbler in his hands.



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