By Shir Haberman
Hampton Union, Tuesday, July 24, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[John Carden photo]
It was the first event Dolores Lintz of Rye has been to this political season, and Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama was the first candidate she saw in person.
While Lintz said her priorities were getting the troops out of Iraq, doing something about global warming and keeping Social Security viable, she said, she was interested in learning all she could.
By the end of about an hour of talk and audience questions at the Marston Elementary School gymnasium in Hampton, punctuated by several rounds of applause and two standing ovations from the more than 600 people who turned out on a rainy Friday morning, Lintz was as taken with Obama as many others in the audience.
"I thought he was fabulous," she said. "He was so direct with his answers, and he didn't joke around."
The response was the same from Peter Williams of Newmarket, also a prospective voter who, up until Friday, had not begun to closely follow the 2008 campaigns.
[John Carden photo]
"He had a lot of passion and commitment — that's how I would put it," Williams said.
In fact, for almost everyone the Union spoke with at the Hampton event, this was the first candidate forum they had attended this election season.
Obama said he knows why people are coming out in large numbers to find out more about him and some of the other candidates.
"Part of it is that things haven't been going well in Washington these days, so people are beginning to pay attention," the Illinois senator said. "The people coming out want change and not just to be against something, but to be for something again. "People want to recover their values."
His promises to restore those values to the presidency create some cynicism in the media, he said.
"They call me a 'hope monger' — a 'hope peddler,'" he said. "That's OK with me."
However, he stressed he is not naïve.
"When people tell you we have big problems, they're right," Obama told the standing-room-only crowd. "But we can overcome our problems."
One of the problems Obama noted was the ongoing war in Iraq, something he opposed in 2002 in the Illinois Legislature. The senator said he favors a pullout of troops from that country, but not from the region.
"We've got a war with no good options," he said. "But we have to be as careful coming out as we were careless going in."
Obama said America has to end U.S. involvement in Iraq not only because the Iraqi government has failed to live up to its promises and because American soldiers should not be involved in a civil war, but because those troops should be used more effectively in other areas.
"We need to bring the troops home, in part to fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al-Qaida is making a resurgence," he said. "As president, I plan to make sure we're fighting on the right battlefields, not the wrong battlefields."
Obama said he would not vote to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind education reform act until issues of how to create meaningful assessment tools for children and teachers were addressed.
"Teachers need an across-the-board raise and a career path," he said. "They should not be held accountable if they work in inner city schools and their kids start out behind. They should be held accountable for their kids making progress."
Other issues addressed by the Illinois senator included global warming, energy self-sufficiency, health care and poverty.
He also attempted to address a concern that was voiced by Exeter resident Erin Steckler, who attended Friday's event with her husband, Peter, and infant son, Collin.
"The big issue with me for Obama is his (lack of) experience," said Steckler.
Obama responded to that often-asked question with his usual confidence and caveat.
"I am confident in my ability to lead this country and that I have a vision that speaks to American values," Obama said in closing. "But what's important is that I can't do it alone.
"If we all put our shoulders to the wheel, we can change the direction of history."