LARGO – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama brought his star power to Prince George’s Community College Wednesday night, where a diverse crowd of thousands helped him raise more than $60,000.
With the Democratic race wide open in Maryland, the Illinois senator’s stop in Largo was important to solidify his base among African Americans and young voters, analysts said.
Campaign estimates put the crowd, which was more young than old and more black than white, at about 3,000, with adults paying $25 and students $15 to see the senator.
Obama said he has support from all kinds of diverse people, even some Republicans. They whisper to him, he said: “‘Barack, I’m Republican and I support you.’ And I say, ‘Why are you whispering?'”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, and Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, the co-chairmen of his Maryland campaign, stumped with Obama.
“There are more elected officials supporting Obama than any other candidate,” Gansler said.
“We started this 16 days ago,” Cummings of this event. “We were going to do this in the gym. But so many came out, it’s too big for that. This is not just a campaign, this is a movement for the future of America.”
Cummings called Obama a “young man who is absolutely brilliant. He’s done everything a mother and a father could want their son to do.”
Obama’s speech focused on health care, energy independence and the Iraq conflict, which he called “a war which has diminished our standing in the world.”
He also talked about accountability in government, highlighting a young heiress who violated probation and a former White House official, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of lying and obstructing an investigation.
“Even Paris Hilton got jail time, not Scooter. People are yearning for justice.”
Obama was also hard on the other candidates, saying that they “know how to work the system. . . .”
“But the system is broken . . . What we need is competence in our capacity to fundamentally change how Washington works to make it work for you.”
Probably the biggest criticism leveled at Obama during this campaign is his inexperience in federal office, an issue he took head on.
Although he took over his current office in January 2005, Obama said he has been in public service for more than 20 years, as civil rights attorney, state senator and now as a United States senator.
“A long resume doesn’t guarantee judgment. Bush and Cheney have a long resume,” Obama said. “I have the experience of overcoming special interest . . . I have the experience that America needs right now to restore this country to greatness. That is why I’m running for president of the United States of America.”
He also directly addressed Sen. Hillary R. Clinton of New York, his chief rival for the presidential nomination, on talking to rogue world leaders, a point of controversy between the two.
“Not talking does not make you look tough, it makes you look arrogant,” Obama said.
Obama said he would work with Cummings to convince Congress that there is no military solution in Iraq. He also referred to Gansler as “a lawyer for the people.”
Obama’s Prince George’s County stop is the second visit to the state by a major presidential competitor in a month. Clinton appeared in Bethesda last month, attended by Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
Among the Democratic candidates, Maryland is split between Obama and Clinton, analysts said.
“Prince George’s is a treasure-trove of Democratic votes,” said pollster Keith Haller, president of Potomac Inc. in Bethesda. “When Kweisi Mfume ran for Senate last year, a predominantly large share of his votes came from African Americans.”
Haller said Obama could upset Clinton in Maryland.
Prince George’s County is a smart stop for Obama, said Steve Raabe, president of another polling company, OpinionWorks of Annapolis. The county is a “bedrock of strong middle-class African Americans.”
Right now, Raabe said, their vote is still split between Obama and Clinton, and a visit by Obama could swing some votes in his favor.