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North Bay’s Obama Mania: Senator’s star power wows crowd of 1,200 in Marin

The Press Democrat – October 26, 2006

North Bay’s Obama Mania:

Senator’s star power wows crowd of 1,200 in Marin

by Robert Digitale

Just as Sharon Turner was saying she wanted the schoolchildren around her to “see history in the making,” Illinois Sen. Barack Obama strode past her and began to shake the students’ hands.

A buzz spread across the Marin County Civic Center on Wednesday where the students and about 1,200 adults who paid $125 each had gathered for the appearance of a man who suddenly is the most visible Democrat on the national political stage. 
His eyes fixed on the 20 elementary and middle school students from Marin City, where most of the children are black and economically disadvantaged. Obama grasped several students’ hands, appeared to step away and then leaned in again for another handshake.

Turner, a community activist, said of her students, “I hope they come away with a greater faith that there can be change and that they can be change agents, too.” 
The San Rafael book signing had lured Obama to the Bay Area and provided a chance for people to come face to face with a man that many there predicted would one day become this nation’s first black president.

Whether the 45-year-old Democrat will try to make such history in 2008 has created a flurry of news coverage and speculation, boosted by his statement Sunday that he would consider running. Obama, a senator for a mere two years, drew laughter when he shrugged off the attention as the result of a “celebrity culture” where “I just happen to be the current flavor of the month.”

But his recent appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and his face on the cover of Time magazine are giving him a platform to say, as he did Wednesday, that “there is a hunger out there right now for a different kind of conversation.”

The audience erupted in applause at that line, and Obama added, “What I want to do is be part of the conversation, and I think you do as well.”

Amanda Metcalf, a San Rafael attorney, said she was “champing at the bit” to campaign on Obama’s behalf. 
“Let’s face it, the man has charisma,” said Metcalf, who was delighted that the senator autographed her “Obama for President” poster. She said she hadn’t felt this way about a candidate since John F. Kennedy.

Obama’s star power was reminiscent of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Bay Area appearances a decade ago. And Obama’s announcement this week that he will consider a run for the Democratic presidential nomination sets up the possibility of the two facing off against each other on the campaign trail.

Obama told the audience that during his recent campaigning on behalf of other candidates, “I’ve found a seriousness among voters that we haven’t seen in the last several election cycles.”

“People are in the mood for some serious answers,” he said, to such questions as why the United States outspends the world on health care but still has 46­million uninsured Americans or why the nation doesn’t craft an energy policy to “wean us off of dependence on oil from some of the most hostile nations on Earth.”

Kaleb Lawson, a senior at the Marin School of Arts & Technology, a Novato public charter school, said he liked Obama’s comments on health care and his sympathy toward those who oppose the Iraq war, which he voiced after an anti-war heckler was forcibly removed from the audience.

Even so, Lawson said he came away still knowing relatively little about Obama. 
“I would have liked to have heard a little more from him,” he said.

A good deal of the recent attention swirling around the senator has been tied to the release of his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” a line from his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Wednesday’s event combined the signing of 1,200 copies of the new book, organized by Book Passages of Corte Madera, with a benefit for the Marin Education Fund, which has provided more than 75,000 college scholarships over the past 25 years.