February 1, 2008

Crowd jostles to glimpse Obama and his Kennedy endorsers

By Jonna Knappenberger
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON - This was the cry of both press and crowds of students and others Monday at American University. The scene included pushing and long lines of people waiting to see Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and his new endorsers, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., his son, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and niece Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former President John F. Kennedy.

The endorsements give a boost to the Obama campaign before the Feb. 5 “Super Tuesday” primaries.

After being shut out of Bender Arena, hundreds of supporters and spectators shuffled through tight security to an outdoor amphitheater, where Obama and Kennedy made brief statements after their speeches inside.

Sen. Barack Obama speaks at an overflow audience in amphitheater at American University after giving a speech inside Bender Arena.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., Obama’s newest endorser, listens. SHFWire photo by Jonna Knappenberger

“I grew up in a big family. There were nine members of the family. I was the ninth member of the family. And whenever we had a crowd, I was always put on the outside,” said Kennedy, to cheers. “When Obama is the president, everyone’s going to be on the inside!”

The appearance came at what many think is a pivotal time for the Democratic candidates. Obama won the South Carolina primary Saturday, garnering an absolute majority over his main rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

Many in the crowd, however, didn’t think that Obama’s South Carolina victory affected the turnout at American University.

“People expected him to win anyways,” said Janet Sullivan, 30, of Washington. She, like many others, had no connection to the university but wanted to see Obama.

“I think what made people come out is everything that happened in the last couple of weeks - the backlash from Hillary, the media attention. I think if he’d lost, we still would’ve come,” she said.

Support for Obama was evident among those waiting in the cold for an hour or more to get into the arena for the 12:15 speech. Those at the outdoor amphitheater waited until 2 p.m. for Obama and Kennedy to appear.

As the crowd in the amphitheater grew increasingly expectant, cheering began at the slightest hint of his arrival.

When Obama finally appeared, he invoked the memory of John F. Kennedy, speaking about the former president’s legacy of public service, as he did in his speech inside. “That’s the inspirational part. The practical part of all this is, we’re going to win this election,” Obama said, before running down a list of issues.

Some outside the arena said they came because of the presence of Ted Kennedy and Obama together. But many cited other motives for supporting the candidate, beyond endorsements, mentioning the recent politics among Democrats. Students from American University turned out in droves.

“I was undecided, but I’ve kind of been pushed into the Obama camp lately. It’s because of Clinton, acting the way they’ve been acting the past few weeks,” said Matt Grant, 22, a Washington resident and a history major at American University.

A sense of history was palpable in the crowd.

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