Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) made Virginia one of his first stops as he began his general election campaign Thursday.
I know its a little hot, but that just means youre fired up and ready to go, Obama joked to the thousands who trekked out to Nissan Pavilion in Bristow to see what a number of people in the audience called a historic event.
As an African American woman, Ive very excited, Sherelle Carper of Centreville said.
The visit fueled speculation that Obama would try to keep Virginia in play during the election, something that has not been true in the past. Virginia has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but it was clear that the party is hoping that will change. Both Gov. Tim Kaine and Sen. Jim Webb joined Obama to encourage Virginians to tip the state into the blue category.
I think we have a good chance, we just have to get out there and support him and campaign, weve got a couple months to do it, Keaira Jennings of South Riding said after the speech.
Kaine started the evening off, warming up the already enthusiastic crowd. People began spontaneous cheers as early as 2:30 p.m., hours before anything was slated to happen this was not a crowd that required a lot of work to be won over. Kaine got things rolling along, though.
I did a good job picking my wife and picking my presidential candidate, Kaine said. After two Bush terms in the White House, I thought America deserves excellence.
Obamas speech did not stray much from the typical stump speech he has been delivering over the last few months, calling for improvements in education, solutions for global warming, a more equitable economic distribution and a change in foreign policy, among other goals.
Sarah Moore and Sara Ackerman, two students at University of Maryland, College Park, said that they thought the evenings speech had less policy specifics than a speech Obama gave at their school ahead of the Chesapeake primaries several months ago.
It seems like what Ive heard on TV over and over again, but it was nice hearing it in person and being up close. The kids loved it, Alanna Almeda of Haymarket said. She said she is a Republican who came to the rally to find out more about Obamas stance on immigration, a topic he did not address.
Obama also delivered the same message of unity that has been a cornerstone of his campaign. He said he had been motivated to run because he believed that the American people were tired of being divided, of being sliced and diced. He added, My bet has paid off.
There were some moments that generated elevated interest, though. Obama spoke very highly of both Kaine and Webb, whose names have been circulating as potential vice presidential picks along with Mark Warner, who is running for the senate. Picking any of the three for that distinction would likely go a long way towards Virginias democratic lean this election year.
Kaine, Obama said, was one of the first high profile individuals to come forward and pledge to support him while others were still waiting to see what would happen. There was one person, who about three days after I announced [my candidacy], was willing to stand with me in the seat of the old Confederacy … and say that the time for change has come,” Obama said. In politics, there are a lot of people who are your allies, a lot of people you’ve got to do business with, but you don’t always have a lot of friends. Gov. Kaine is my friend.
Obama also praised Webb, who is being widely discussed in the national media as a possible running mate. When youre in a fight and were going to be in a fight you want Jim Webb to have your back, he said.
All three men took time to commend Sen. Hillary Clinton (D NY) for her efforts during the primary season.
Shes a reminder to all of us that the true strength of the Democratic party is keeping faith with working men and women, Webb said.
I am a better candidate because of the work she has done, Obama said of his former rival. My two daughters see themselves differently because she ran for president of the United States.
He dismissed the idea that Democrats would have difficulty coming together again after a lengthy primary season fight, saying that the differences between Clinton and himself paled in comparison to differences with Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Obama took a few jabs at his general election competition, but said that he and McCain had spoken on the phone last night and would campaigning on policy issues, not demonizing each other.
We joked about the fact that if youd asked the pundits a year ago who the presidential [candidates] would be, it would not have been me and John McCain, Obama said.
The crowd, mostly composed of Obama supporters decked out in T-shirts or other paraphernalia emblazoned with the image of their candidate, was very receptive. A number of people, including Carper and Jennings, talked about how inspiring they found the speech, and many agreed that something big was taking place.
Were at a rock [venue] and people are waiting to hear a politician speak, said Mike Gaffney, a college student from Vermont who is working in D.C. this summer. People are skipping a day of school so they can sweat outside for three hours to hear a politician.
Almeda, like several other parents in the crowd, tried to impress upon her children the significance of the evening, though with mixed success. I told [my daughter], we have to try to remember this, so 40 years from now youll be able to think back on it. She said, Oh, its hot, I want to go home.