Students Energized by Obama Appearance

Posted January 28, 2008 at 6:48pm

The campaign rally for presidential aspirant Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) at American University’s Bender Arena on Monday was charged with the energy of 5,000 students ecstatic to see their candidate up close and on the heels of his dominating win in the South Carolina primary over the weekend.

The coveted endorsements of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), and Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, gave Obama’s supporters reason for optimism at the rally. But despite the focus on the future and the youth vote, the event’s overall theme centered more on the Kennedy-led “high hopes” of the 1960s than the “audacity of hope” of the 2008 presidential election.

“With Barack Obama, there is a new national leader who has given America a different kind of campaign — a campaign not just about himself, but about all of us,” Sen. Kennedy said. “I remember another such time, in the 1960s. We had a new president who inspired the nation, especially the young, to seek a new frontier.”

Sen. Kennedy, who spoke for nearly 10 minutes, continued to capture the attention and energy of the youthful audience by reflecting on the nostalgic period of his brother’s presidency. He touched on the Peace Corps, invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and recalled JFK’s vision of space exploration to educate the crowd of students on the legacy he foresees in an Obama presidency.

The senior Senator, whose service in the chamber exceeds four decades, also loaned his support and voice of experience to Obama, the youngest presidential candidate of either party.

“What counts in our leadership is not the length of years in Washington, but the reach of our vision, the strength of our beliefs, and that rare quality of mind and spirit that can call forth the best in our country and our people,” Sen. Kennedy said.

Obama, who has made youth appeal a centerpiece of his campaign, noted the inspiration he personally drew from JFK in his early years.

“I think my own sense of what’s possible in this country comes in part from what they said America was like in the days of John and Robert Kennedy,” Obama said, calling on supporters “to recapture the sense of common purpose that we had when John Kennedy was president.”

Obama’s home state was a key battleground for JFK, who won Illinois by fewer than 9,000 votes in the 1960 election. Obama said he hopes that just as Illinois voters helped deliver the presidency to Kennedy, the Kennedy family’s support will help him become the first Senator since JFK to win the White House.

“I know the cherished place the Kennedy family holds in the hearts of the American people,” Obama said. “The Kennedy family, more than any other, has always stood for what’s best about the Democratic Party, and about America.”

Sen. Kennedy, whose home state is one of 22 states holding its primary on Feb. 5, will be taking his message on the road for Obama. A person familiar with the campaign said the Senator may travel westward at the end of the week to campaign for Obama, most likely to California, New Mexico and Arizona.