Obama keeps it simple
Presidential hopeful, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., taks to residents during a campaign stop at the Earl M. Bourdon Senior Center in Claremont, N.H., Friday, March 16, 2007. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Barack Obama (D) Senator, Illinois
Born: 08/04/1961
Birthplace: Honolulu, HI
Home: Chicago, IL
Religion: United Church of Christ
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The silver-haired crowd was on its feet, clapping and whistling before the youngest presidential candidate even opened his mouth yesterday at Claremont's Earl M. Bourdon Senior Centre.

But Barack Obama got down to business quickly. The Illinois senator called for an end to the war in Iraq, a "Manhattan project" to search for new energy sources and for a return to fiscal restraint.

He started at the top, explaining that his name comes from Kenya, his father's home, and his accent from Kansas, where his mother was born.

Facing a wall-mounted BINGO board, Obama gave several homespun explanations of problems facing the nation. In response to a question about fiscal policy, he laid out the problem and called for a return to pay-as-you-go budgeting and an end to the war, which he said has cost nearly a half-trillion dollars.

"Essentially, what we've done is we've taken a credit card and we've taken it out in the names of our children and our grandchildren and we've run up trillions of dollars in debt," he said.

Meanwhile, China is loaning a lot of that money, which puts the U.S. in a difficult bargaining position for trade agreements, he said.

"It's hard to go to the person who has your mortgage and act tough," he said.

Asked about global warming, Obama said he supports a cap-and-trade system, which means "slapping a price tag" on carbon emission credits and auctioning those off to the highest bidder. The billions generated from those auctions should be plowed into a "Manhattan project," searching for new energy sources.

Additionally, he said, the government should raise fuel efficiency standards on cars. American automakers have fought such changes, he said, because they put their stock into big cars like SUVs while foreign automakers have specialized in more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The government could find ways to help Detroit, he said, but change is inevitable.

"You're going to have to change anyway, because the Japanese car-makers are running circles around you," he said.

The first question came from Carol Thebarge, who said she has a son Obama's age - 45 - who just came home from Iraq. She said she fears her son will be called back and asked Obama what he thought of President Bush's "surge" policy.

Obama, who twice reminded the crowd that he opposed the war from the outset, said that more troops won't solve Iraq's problems.

"We are not going to solve the violence in Iraq militarily," he said.

While Obama was engaging, his answers were so serious that he didn't hit many applause lines, said state Rep. Sue Gottling of Sunapee.

"I was almost expecting more - what can I say - drama?" Gottling said. "The approach he took was very issue-based and fact-based."

But Obama did inspire passion from the crowd.

Before the speech, Rep. Ellen Nielsen of Unity said she's leaning toward Obama.

"I read his book and liked it. I like the fact that he understands the Constitution, having taught Constitutional law," she said. "And he's hot."

After the speech, Bourdon Centre resident Helen Cormier, 89, said she warned people not to get between her and Obama, saying: "I'm going to push them aside. I'm determined to shake hands with that man." (She got her shake, and she took the chance to tell him she thinks he's "sensible.")

Obama made a harder sell for civic engagement than he did for votes.

"When the American people don't pay attention, Washington gets into a whole bunch of mischief," he said. "In the Obama presidency, I want people looking over my shoulder, because I'm not going to be perfect myself."

More than once, Obama touted the quality of the Democratic field. He urged the crowd to support him, but asked that if they didn't, they work for one of the other candidates, "because this is one of those elections I don't think we can sit out."

He ended his spiel by saying that life on the campaign trail isn't easy but that he thinks it's worth it.

"I have a gorgeous wife, gorgeous kids, two daughters, 8 and 5. I haven't seen them in a week. And I wouldn't be doing this unless I thought there was something unique I had to offer," he said. "And what I do think I can particularly bring about in this campaign is a change in the tone of our politics. I think the day I'm inaugurated, the country sees itself differently and I think the world sees this country differently. And I think it expresses the best - the best of the American spirit, that says anybody can do anything."