Titanic welcome

Titanic welcome

Leading Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama entered Titan Territory Sunday to the pounding sounds of U2 and the cadences of a diverse crowd that embraced him as fervently as they did Coach Herman Boone more than three decades ago.

Like Boone, who united black and white student athletes to win a football championship in 1971, Obamas campaign advocates uniting the country despite race, class or party affiliation. Coach Boone is even better looking than Denzel, Obama joked about the former T.C. coach, who was in attendance at the pre-primary TC Williams High School rally in Alexandria.

With a surprise endorsement from Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), Obama sounded many of the themes of his surging campaign that on Saturday gave him the delegate lead in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Alexandria is one of the finest towns in the country, Obama said. You’re lucky to have one of the finest mayors anywhere, Mayor Bill Euille.

Just one month ago most of the country and the city believed Super Tuesday to be the finite decider in the race for the Democratic nomination. But Virginia suddenly became relevant, and it was evident Sunday afternoon.

While fans on one half of the gym stomped their feet and shrieked, Fired up! the other half of the gym responded, Ready to go! and any silent void was quickly filled with chants of O-ba-ma!

There was also an overflow room. And an overflow room for the overflow room. More than 4,200 tickets to the event were distributed in less than two hours, an Obama spokesperson said.

But more palpable than the crowds volume and intensity was its breadth of faces. High school and college students filed in alongside retirees and small children sporting Obama stickers.

91 year-old Marion Papageorge once owned Del Ray Restaurant on Mt. Vernon Ave. in the 1940s, before it burned down. I adore the man, she said. If he doesnt become president weve lost something precious.

Daniel Logan, a young Alexandria resident, said hes supporting Obama for many reasons, but likes how he will represent his African-American community. First of all, we have an African American in the race and this time, I think, its actually going to happen, Logan said. I feel like in the African-American community there are definitely a bunch of problems, and I think Obama really understands those problems.

Im an Independent now, but I used to be a pretty strong Republican, Lynn Munch of Alexandria said. And he appeals to me.

Before addressing the raucous crowd, Obama sat down with five local residents in TC’s cafeteria  to discuss education issues. Education is the key that unlocks opportunity, Obama said. He proposed a $4,000 tuition credit for students needing college aid in exchange for community service, and made it known that he and his wife, Michelle, only recently paid off their college loans.

Karen Parker Thompson, who works for Alexandria City Public Schools, decided to support Obama after last weeks debate in Los Angeles. The problems we face like education, immigration and health care [Obama] addressed best for me.

Her husband, Stuart Thompson, also at the roundtable discussion, said he is supporting Obama over rival Hillary Clinton because of the stigma surrounding Bill and Hilary Clinton and the turmoil her nomination would cause.

Whether Tuesdays results favor Clinton or Obama, residents can be certain that their Virginia vote can actually influence that six-letter word every one is throwing around: Change.

Times writers John Arundel and Stephanie Green contributed to this article.