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Obama Charges Up Crowds in Prince George's, Baltimore

Washington Post staff writers

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) took his campaign of hope and change to the University of Maryland College Park and to Baltimore yesterday afternoon.

The College Park audience included college students, professionals, Baby Boomer retirees and even some very elderly people who converged on the Comcast Center more than 20,000 strong to hear his message of unifying the country, improving education, providing healthcare to all Americans and ending the nation's involvement in Iraq.

The mood was electric from the time doors opened at 10:30 a.m. with men and women dancing to Motown hits blaring on the audio system, doing the wave, chanting the candidate's name and waving placards with his slogans "Change We Can Believe In" and "Yes We Can!"

About 12:45 p.m., Students for Obama member Chris Wilhelm, one of two students who addressed the rally, worked the crowd into one last frenzy.

"Do you think we can help Barack Obama become the next president of the United States?"

"Yes, we can!" the audience screamed.

And then, with U2s "City of Lights" playing, Wilhelm introduced the man of the hour.

"Our next president! Barack Obama!"

Obama thanked the event's organizers and his Maryland campaign team, including U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and State Attorney General Doug Gansler (D), co-chairs of Maryland for Obama.

"So I'm fired up and I am ready to go," he said. "I hope you are, too."

Then, he worked the crowd, which stood the entire time he was onstage.

"Thank you so much!" he said. "Wow! Look at this crowd! It looks like we're having March Madness a little early. Terrapins are all excited!"

In a 45-minute speech, Obama laid out his program. He told the crowd he is running for president now, instead of waiting until a later election, "because of something Dr. King called 'the urgency of now.'"

"We are at a defining moment in our history," Obama said, with 47 million people without healthcare, students going into life-long debt to pay for college, black men going to prison in greater numbers than going to college, young people unable to compete in the international economy and Americans losing hope in the their dreams.

"We cannot afford to wait," he said to the cheering crowd.

He is running, he said, before Americans "were desperately ready for something new, not tearing something down, but lifing the country up."

The mood was equally enthusiastic in Baltimore later in the day, when.Obama gave a rousing speech to about 11,000 supporters who converged on the First Mariner Arena.

The crowd was energetic, bursting into spontaneous chants, "Yes, we can," and doing the wave movement normally seen at rock concerts and sproting events. They stood throughout his nearly one hour speech.

Obama said he has been criticized for talking too much about hope, with the implication he is naive.

"I do talk about hope a lot," he said. "Let's face it, the odds of me standing here were pretty slim."

The crowd was made up of folks like Rochelle Ward of Baltimore, who came with her grandson, Reginald Smallwood, a seventh grader, at Stadium School. "It's time for a change," Ward said, explaining why she planned to vote for Obama. "This is a good thing for Baltimore. He's catching people's eye. I just hope they go out to vote."

Orlan M. Johnson. a member of Obama's finance team from Prince George's, said volunteers had been fanning across the entire Potomac region to get out the vote. "It's a big day. Nobody thought we'd be in play."

He predicted turnout would be strong, noting the thousands who went out in freezing temperatures to attend yesterday's rallies

By Anne Bartlett  |  February 11, 2008; 4:04 PM ET
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