Obama brings campaign to New Jersey

January 9, 2008 4:53:24 PM PST
Sen. Barack Obama brought his stump speech points of change, hope and a new type of politics to New Jersey on Wednesday as he campaigned next door to the adopted state of his chief rival for the Democratic nomination - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"My voice is a little hoarse, my eyes are a little bleary, my back is a little sore, but my spirit is strong," Obama told the rousing crowd as he took the stage. "I'm ready for change in America. How about you?"

The Illinois lawmaker spoke to 3,000 at an afternoon rally at St. Peter's College in Jersey City. Obama started the event late, but said that was because he greeted the some 1,500 people outside who couldn't get into the small basketball arena at the Yanitelli Center Obama's campaign, riding high after he defeated Clinton and John Edwards in Thursday's Iowa caucuses, saw its momentum blunted somewhat in New Hampshire, where Clinton upset Obama on Tuesday, resurrecting her bid for the White House.

Obama barely mentioned New Hampshire, or Clinton, during a 40-minute speech.

"There's something in the wind all across America," Obama told the crowd. "You first saw it in Iowa last Thursday and you saw it yesterday in New Hampshire, even though we just came up a little bit short."

He focused instead on the many reasons he said he is seeking the presidency.

On his signature issue, universal health care, Obama said he wants all Americans to have health insurance "at least as good" as the plan he has as a member of Congress.

He also promised to tackle issues as diverse as global warming, foreign trade agreements, the cost of higher education and making investments in cities.

He pledged "to end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home by the end of 2009."

The enthusiastic crowd was composed largely of young people, including many college students. They held signs like "No Drama with Obama," and "Obama for New Jersey," and chanted his name periodically during breaks in his speech.

"People are standing up. They're shouting out and shouting clear that the time for change has come," Obama said.

"We are at a defining moment in our history," he said. "Our nation is at war. Our planet is in peril. The dream that so many generations fought for is slipping away."

Among those waiting outside was Ida Yongo, 45, a native of Kenya who lives in northern New Jersey.

"So many people are talking about change. I want to see what he has to say," she said.

Daphne Dixon, 40, of Jersey City, said she admired Obama's consistent message.

"He stands up for what he believes in. He's his own man," she said. "Hillary is just going to be a continuation of Bill Clinton."

Obama was scheduled to attend a private fundraiser in New York, Clinton's adopted home state, on Wednesday night.

"We are in a position where we had some good results in Iowa, and we want to keep building on that momentum," said Mark Alexander, New Jersey state director of the Obama campaign, speaking Tuesday before the New Hampshire results were known. "We've been focusing on the early states, and we want to be really prepared in New Jersey and elsewhere to show everybody we can carry this through to the nomination."

New Jersey is one of 22 states holding primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5.

Obama has consistently run a distant second to Clinton in New Jersey polls. The most recent survey, taken in December by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, had Clinton at 51 percent, compared to 17 percent for Obama and 7 percent for Edwards.

Assemblyman Neil Cohen, a Union County Democrat and an early Obama supporter, said such polls became irrelevant after Obama won Iowa.

Alexander said any result is possible in New Jersey.

"We don't think anybody should take any state or any voter for granted," said Alexander. "There is every reason to believe we can do well in New Jersey. This (rally) is to tell everybody we are going to run for the presidency of the United States and New Jersey is an important state for us."

The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, said that with a primary victory in New Hampshire she is focused on the primaries here and in 21 other states on Feb. 5.

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., spoke about Clinton during a Wednesday conference call featuring several big-name politicians who are backing Clinton.

"We'd love to have her here," Menendez said. "Hopefully, we will have her. She's been here many times before."

Menendez praised Clinton for her work that has addressed issues that are prominent in New Jersey, such as port security and the heath care of emergency responders to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Obama last campaigned in New Jersey in October, when he hosted a rally for about 600 people in Newark. He stressed his opposition to the war in Iraq and focus on health care and education during a 45-minute address.

Obama has also tapped the Garden State for campaign cash.

He has raised $1.8 million here through September, the second highest total among Democratic candidates. Clinton has raised the most of any candidate of either party, $3.4 million, according to the Federal Election Commission Web site.

Associated Press writers David Porter and Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report.