Penn State crowds make it a Happy Valley for Obama

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On the Old Main lawn at Pennsylvania State University, on a cold and sunny afternoon, the Democratic presidential candidate addressed an adoring crowd estimated by university police at 22,000 - a figure that would make it one of the larger rallies of the national campaign

[Election 2008]


After two days of visiting sports bars and steel plants and bowling badly, Barack Obama yesterday got back to what he does best.

He held a mass rally in a college town.

On the Old Main lawn at Pennsylvania State University, on a cold and sunny afternoon, the Democratic presidential candidate addressed an adoring crowd estimated by university police at 22,000 - a figure that would make it one of the larger rallies of the national campaign.

The gathering was the highlight of Day Three of Obama's six-day bus tour across Pennsylvania. The trip - which has been heavy on low-key, retail politics - is central to his attempt, three weeks in advance of the April 22 primary, to start eating into Hillary Rodham Clinton's double-digit lead in the polls.

In his speech, Obama talked about ending the war in Iraq, about reforming education and health care, and about making Washington a less cynical and more productive place. He also spoke to Democrats' concerns about the nasty turn the race has taken in the last few weeks.

"As this primary has gone on a little bit longer, there've been people who've been voicing some frustration," he said. They ". . . feel like that initial hopefulness that we had now is kind of slipping away . . . ."This has been a great contest, great for America. It's engaged and involved people like never before."

Many in the crowd said they were dazzled by what they saw and heard. "I'm filled up, and I got chills, which is a good sign," said Quinn Dwyer, 22, of Valley Forge, who has been studying to be an art teacher. "I was undecided, but I think I'm with him."

But her roommate, Stacey Cohen, 22, of Harrisburg, said she thought she would still vote for Clinton.

"He gives a great speech; he's a beautiful human," she said. "It's a tough decision. But I'm going into nursing, and I think her health-care program is outrageous."

As he opened his remarks, Obama made it clear he understood the priorities of the Penn State community.

He mentioned that he had spent the last few minutes meeting with Nittany Lion quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, son of Joe and an Obama supporter. He then saluted Sue Paterno, wife of Joe, who was in the crowd. And he mentioned that he'd had a pleasant and friendly cell-phone conversation, mostly about football and intercollegiate athletics, with the legendary 81-year-old coach himself. Joe Paterno is a Republican.

Clinton returns to Pennsylvania today with appearances in Harrisburg and Bucks County. She took yesterday off. But her top state surrogates were on the Sunday political shows making her case.

Both Mayor Nutter and Gov. Rendell delivered the message that the race was far from over and that Pennsylvania can give Clinton a lift heading into the final primaries.

"We're in the seventh inning, and one team may be ahead, but you have to play this out to the conclusion," said Nutter, who appeared on Face the Nation on CBS. "Let's not rush this game."

Nutter, in an interview aired Saturday by ABC News, touched on controversial sermon comments by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Obama's former Chicago pastor, that the United States had brought the 9/11 attacks on itself and that "God bless America" ought to be changed to "God damn America" for its treatment of minorities.

Nutter said he would have quit Wright's church had he been a member. "I think there's no room for hate, and I could not sit and tolerate that kind of language, and especially over a very long period of time," he said.

In the last few days, there has been increased discussion about the possible damage to Democratic prospects in the fall, the longer the primary race continues. "It's a disgrace that the Obama forces say, 'Well, he's won the popular vote, so he should be the nominee,' " Rendell said on ABC's This Week show. "There are 10 states left."

Clinton, in an interview published yesterday in the Washington Post, said that she had "no intention of stopping until we finish what we started and until we see what happens in the next 10 contests and until we resolve Florida and Michigan."

Obama, before arriving at his rally, visited the Penn State agriculture facilities, getting a lesson in dairy farming and learning that agriculture is the state's number-one business.

At one point, he put a bottle of milk into the mouth of a month-old calf, noting with satisfaction, "She chowed that sucker down." He made sure that photographers recorded the event, saying he needed it for his two daughters.

"Every day they say, 'What did you do today?' 'Well, I gave a speech.' 'Boring.' They are not interested in my work generally. So I can prove to them, once in awhile . . .."

On Saturday evening in Altoona, Obama, wearing a tie, went bowling, his first few rolls winding up in the gutter.

"My economic plan is better than my bowling," he told onlookers.

"It has to be," a man called out. Today, he has events in Lancaster and Allentown.

(The Philadelphia Inquirer Senior Writer)




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