Several thousand die-hard and potential Obamaniacs gathered at a theater near Qwest Field on Friday evening for an event that was part grass-roots rally, part proletariat fundraiser.
"It's time to turn the page and write a new chapter in America," Barack Obama said in his first visit to Seattle since the Democrat launched his campaign for president in January. "We are going to transform this country of ours."
Obama's half-hour speech spanned his life story, his perspective on the Civil Rights movement and his views on the Iraq war, health care, education and the environment. He infused it with humor and idealistic talk of change, and sought to set a tone of down-home charm, youthfulness and optimism.
"We are in this together. We rise and fall together. We can pull together and work together and organize together to create a better America," said Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois. "That's why you are here."
Obama, 45, worked the shrieking, whistling crowd like a rock star from the get-go -- strutting onto stage with a cordless microphone and a jacket but no tie, to the beat of "Think" by Aretha Franklin.
"I am fired up. I am all fired up!" Obama said, with his Bill Clinton-esque easy stage presence. "I love Seattle. Every time I come here I have a good time, even when it's raining I have a good time. And when it's 80 degrees and sunny, you know I'm having a good time."
It was an ethnically diverse crowd by Seattle standards, and made up largely of young adults and the middle-aged. The city fire marshal estimated the crowd at 3,500, according to event organizers.
Tickets were $25 to $100, depending on the location within the WaMu Theater at the stadium's events center, which has played host to such acts as Van Morrison and Seal.
Most of the crowd, some of whom arrived several hours early, watched from a huge pit in front.
The idea behind the unusually cheap tickets was to throw a fundraiser that students and other budget-conscious supporters could attend, the Obama campaign said.
Indeed, the price was just under the wire for Ryan Anderson, a 19-year-old University of Washington student.
"The most I would spend is $30 tops," said Anderson, who is mulling a business degree. "That is more than most concerts I go to."
But Anderson was willing to break his typical Friday night entertainment budget because "he's not going to come around every year," he said. "I came mainly for the experience."
But the discount rate wasn't a factor for Mitchell Smith, a 51-year-old architect from North Seattle. "I never thought I would see a viable black man running for president -- or a woman for that matter," Smith said. "Price was no issue."
Later in the evening, Obama planned to attend a private fundraiser in a Westin Hotel ballroom. Tickets were $500 for general admission, $2,300 for a moment with the candidate.
"That's going to be the more usual type of political event," said lawyer and Democratic Party activist Matthew Bergman, who helped plan it.
Hors d'oeuvres, cash bar, relative intimacy and about 200 wealthy people paying $2,300 to have their photo taken with Obama. Bergman predicted the more elite event would probably showcase "a little less charisma" from the candidate.
"Barack is at his best in a large group when he's really connecting with people," Bergman said.
The freshman senator from Illinois last visited Seattle in October. During that visit, thousands of fans who treat the Harvard-educated lawyer with celebritylike adulation packed both a Democratic rally in a community college gymnasium, as well as Obama's book-promoting appearance at Seattle's Benaroya Hall.
Peter Olagunju, a 29-year-old biologist from Queen Anne, had seen Obama last fall and once earlier. Friday night's appearance was the most polished, Olagunju said.
"He's building momentum," said Olagunju, who plans to vote for Obama. Olagunju said he's impressed every time he hears Obama recall his life story. But it was also nice to hear specific campaign stances for the first time Friday. "He's developing his shtick."
And Obama managed to touch on several key platforms during the speech:
# His call for withdrawal from Iraq: No topic roused the crowd more. Obama repeated his stance that all American troops should be home by this time next year. He also said the country needed to restore civil liberties diminished under the Bush administration, close the prison in Guantanamo Bay and heal relations with the rest of the world.
"We lead with our values and we lead with our ideals," he said. "That's how we've always led the world -- by example, not by force."
# His plan for universal health coverage: Obama said all Americans would have access to health care by the end of his first term if he's elected, highlighting a package of health reforms he proposed Tuesday.
"We can make sure that every single person in America has access to high quality health care ... by the end of my first term as president," he said
The plan would expand subsidized health care for the poor and children and create a national health insurance plan for individuals and small business. It would be paid for through tax increases on the wealthy, as well as medical savings thanks to care improvements and administrative efficiencies.
# Obama said the nation needs to eliminate its reliance on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by turning to alternative fuels.
Obama and former vice presidential nominee John Edwards are currently the favorites with Washington voters, and Hillary Clinton and Bill Richards follow "in a close second tier," said Dwight Pelz, chairman of the state Democratic Party.
Campaign finance numbers support Pelz's theory. Washington donors have contributed more to those two than any other Democratic presidential contenders: $244,750 to Edwards and $211,176 to Obama, according the watchdog Web site, opensecrets.org.
That's far more than Washingtonians have given Clinton ($89,225) or Richardson ($35,050).
Still, Clinton leads among Democrats nationwide, with more than $36 million in contributions, according to federal campaign reports.
Obama follows with nearly $26 million.
Obama has the strongest grass-roots support here -- he's popular because he's "a breath of fresh air," Pelz said. "Obama is sort of our first post-baby boom candidate for president," Pelz added. "He doesn't have to see the nation and the world through the eyes of a person who marched against the war in Vietnam or called for women's rights."
in the Bothell Times.