Saturday, February 23, 2008

Obama draws thousands in Austin

Barack Obama issued an appeal to Austin voters to join his crusade for change as he ended a four-day swing through Texas.

By GROMER JEFFERS Jr. / The Dallas Morning News

Sen. Barack Obama delivers a speech on Congress Avenue in front of the state Capitol in downtown Austin. 'There's something about me and Austin,' he said. 'We just get along.' Earlier, he visited Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley. "The dream that so many generations fought for is slowly slipping away," Mr. Obama said. "We cannot afford to wait. ... Change in America doesn't happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up."

He spoke at a rally in front of the state Capitol. Estimates of the crowd's numbers ranged from 8,000 to 15,000.

Mr. Obama is no stranger to large Austin gatherings. Last year, he drew 20,000 for an event along the shores of Town Lake.

"There's something about me and Austin," he said. "We just get along."

Mr. Obama is locked in a tight race with Hillary Rodham Clinton for Texas. With 228 delegates, it's the biggest prize left in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The crowd chanted "Obama, Obama" as he called for affordable health care, which he promised to accomplish by the end of his term.

"I cannot do it by myself; no president can," Mr. Obama said. "The question you have to ask yourself tonight is: Are you ready for change?"

Rumors flew regarding access and crowd size in the hours before the event. Some thought they had to R.S.V.P. to get in; they didn't.

Others, like the Jaroliks of Temple, were told by the campaign that people were camping out overnight to get a spot close to the stage.

They weren't, of course. But the pair of longtime Republicans showed up at 3 p.m. just in case to support Mr. Obama. The couple said they are excited by a campaign they said is breathing life into politics.

"We're not delusional," said Joe Jarolik, who attended the rally with his wife, Sara. "He does have a message of hope and change."

Before wrapping up his Lone Star State swing in Austin on Friday, Mr. Obama made appearances in Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande Valley, the base of Mrs. Clinton's support in Texas.

Hispanics could make up 35 percent to 50 percent of the electorate in the Texas Democratic primary, analysts say.

At a rally in front of about 3,000 people at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Mr. Obama discussed immigration and education.

Mr. Obama told the crowd that the nation needed a sensible immigration policy.

"We do have to deal with the border in an intelligent way," he said. "But we can't do it by just building a wall all across the border."

Mr. Obama said he favored a plan that secured the border, perhaps with barriers in some places. He also would penalize employers who hired illegal immigrants.

The Illinois senator also supports a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

"We can be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants," he said.

Mr. Obama also discussed proposals to help students deal with the cost of college.

Before the rally, he met with about 25 college-age residents on campus.

Among other things, Mr. Obama has proposed a $4,000 tax credit that could be used for college, providing the student returns the favor with community service.

"All across America, I meet young people with the grades and the drive to go to college, but they don't have the money," Mr. Obama said.

Staff writer Karen Brooks contributed to this report.

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