Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Locals react to Obama's visit to area"

The Citizen of Laconia (NH):

They stood in lines along the banks of the Winnipesaukee River, holding their folding chairs and cameras. By 11:30 a.m., the line of people waiting to hear Illinois Sen. Barack Obama wound around Beacon Street East and on to Union Avenue.
When the senator bounded out of the Belknap Mill to Aretha Franklin's "Think" blasting from the public address system, spry, youthful, and grinning from ear-to-ear, the crowd rose and gave him a standing ovation.

For about 90 minutes Monday, Laconia was Obama Territory — and the senator did what he came to do by convincing at least a few of them he was ready to be their next president.

"I made my mind up when I saw him in Keene," said Marjorie Bonneville of Tilton who, along with her husband, wore green and white "Obama" T-shirts. "He's sincere. He's down-to-earth and listens to people."

"He's got a heart. I can tell. He wants to help people," said 85-year-old Betty O'Neil of Laconia who asked Obama the first question of the day — it was about a reduction in her Medicare check — and stayed around for an additional hour so she could speak to him again when he went to the Soda Shoppe.

"I've been trying to figure out what you stand for," said O'Neil initially, prefacing her question. By the time he was done and O'Neil sat waiting for him on the bench, she was a convert.

"I hope he comes back and I'll be right here in the front seat," said O'Neil.

While many of the local people were saying how Obama had their vote, local politicians remained reluctant to endorse any one candidate.

"This is a big day for Democrats," said Rep. Gail Morrison of Tilton who also asked Obama if he would support civil unions.

"People should be treated equally," was the senator's reply, congratulating Gov. Lynch on signing the recent act. "It's time for us at the federal level as well as the state."

"I'm just working to bring all the candidates to Laconia," said state Sen. Kathy Sgambati who introduced Obama. "I'm still listening," she added.

"He's every bit as handsome and personable as I heard he was," said state Rep. Judie Reever who was still reluctant to tip her hand as to who she would support.

"This has been a great opportunity to build the Democratic Party," said Beth Arsenault, who added that she remembers how excited she was when Sen. Ted Kennedy came to town to campaign in the 1970s.

"I remember Eisenhower speaking at Gunstock," said her mother, Reever, laughing.

Up close and personal, Obama exudes warmth. Taking a short break after the speech, he greeted individual reporters for brief chats with his famous smile and a handshake. "Would you like some almonds?" he asked, offering the can.

When asked about executive privilege and how an Obama administration would be different from the Bush administration, he leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees, and began to talk.

He said there would be no one in his administration who would be allowed to work as a lobbyist once they left and no employees would ever be in charge of areas dealing with their former industries. "Like the oil companies," he said between almonds.

He said all meetings between lobbyists and the White House would be conducted in open forums and all information would be disclosed by executive order.

Referring to the Google for Government bill he cosponsored with Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, Obama said any government spending beyond $25,000 must be disclosed and made available on the Internet.

High school senior Samantha Durgin waited for Obama in the Soda Shoppe. "I at least got to meet the person I'm voting for," she said, excited about casting her first vote.

Plymouth resident Alison Brown brought her three children to see him.

"He's incredible, inspirational," she said as her two oldest jumped up and down to get a glimpse of him. "My boys really want to meet him."

After the speech and as the crowd jostled its way to meet him when he was shaking hands, O'Neil carefully made her way to the safety of the bench outside the Soda Shoppe.

"I really believe this is the man to be president," she said.



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