Portsmouth crowd wants to see action

Presidential candidate Barack Obama takes a moment to prepare before beginning a forum on health care in Portsmouth, Tuesday. (Don Clark photo)
Barack Obama (D) Senator, Illinois
Born: 08/04/1961
Birthplace: Honolulu, HI
Home: Chicago, IL
Religion: United Church of Christ
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PORTSMOUTH - Clif Horrigan wanted answers. The Portsmouth resident came to hear Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for her children, all of whom have faced unemployment, all of whom have been without health insurance.

She wants a single-payer, "prenatal to death" health care system, and she said that she was a tough customer before Obama even strode in the room at Seacoast Media Group on Tuesday .

"I havenít heard what he stands for. I need details," she said.

Two hours later, after Obama had listened to dozens of people relay a litany of problems and issues with their health insurance, Horrigan declared herself unconvinced.

"He gave no specifics, I have no firm idea where heís going," she said. "Iím disappointed. I did not hear what I wanted."

Horrigan was among a small group of people who spoke with the Herald both before and after Obamaís appearance from among the 200-plus who attended Tuesdayís town meeting-style event on health care .

Friends Natalie White of Portsmouth and Rose Ruffin of Dover were also "frustrated" with the event afterward.

"I wanted to hear more specifics," said Ruffin. "I donít think he answered the questions."

White said she understood he was there to listen, but is concerned he is not going to have enough time to put together a cohesive plan in time for the primary season. "He doesnít have a plan," she said.

Not everyone was disappointed with the senator. Helen Shaw of Portsmouth is a self-employed former nurse who bemoaned the rising cost of premiums - especially after she turned 60. But sheís worried about more than herself. Younger self-employed people, she said before the forum began, were simply going without.

She hoped the senator would hear a story like hers, and a number of self-employed did speak about high-deductible, high premium coverage.

"I was pretty impressed," she said later. "He seems to have a grasp on the issues." She was particularly intrigued with the senatorís plan to gain comments from Americans via his campaign Web site. Obama encouraged the audience to submit their health care stories and ideas, which in turn will be reviewed and perhaps incorporated into a plan which Americans will in turn also be invited to address online.

Judith Silver of Portsmouth will be among those watching that Web site. She said health insurance was the single most important issue for her besides the war in Iraq, and she wanted to hear Obama proclaiming his approval for a single-payer system.

She later called Obamaís appearance "a wonderful dialogue," but sheís still waiting to be convinced. "He says heís going to come up with a plan, and Iím hoping heíll do it," she said.

Referring to the title of his most recent book, Silver said, "The question is, does he have more than an audacity of hope? Does he have audacity of action?"