U.S. senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama speaks to a private gathering of supporters on Sunday at One Harbour Place in Portsmouth. The Memorial Bridge is in the background.
Photo by Scott Yates
PORTSMOUTH — Hours after attending a nationally televised debate in Iowa, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama was in Portsmouth addressing head-on one of the main issues of his candidacy: Does the young, first-term U.S. senator from Illinois have the experience necessary to be the next president?
Speaking to an audience of more than 100 supporters and undecided Democratic primary voters, Obama said he has the experience and the judgment necessary to create a mandate for major change.
"There is nobody in this race who can do it better," said Obama, who answered questions and asked voters for their support during an outdoor event on a pleasant summer afternoon at One Harbour Place. He also said it would take a candidate who could reach across partisan lines to create that mandate.
"Change has to come from the bottom up and the top down," he said. "It's not enough to change parties (in the White House). We need to build a working majority" to deal with issues such as ending the war in Iraq, health-care reform and creating a new energy policy.
Obama has been criticized by his Democratic opponents and scrutinized by the national media for his lack of experience. But Obama, who has criticized U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton for her judgment in supporting the Iraq war authorization in 2002, said his campaign travels have shown him the country is "hungry for change and has an appetite for new direction" that can't be satisfied by currently entrenched politicians.
"When I am inaugurated as president, America will look at itself differently and the world will look at us differently," he said.
After many appearances in the state that drew large crowds since he announced his candidacy in February, the Obama campaign said he would be making more small event appearances such as the one in Portsmouth. The goal is to highlight his retail-politics strengths that are a staple of New Hampshire primary campaigning. Today, Obama will attend five such events, beginning at a house party in Exeter.
Chris Culver, a veteran elementary school teacher who lives in Portsmouth, is an undecided Democrat who said Obama "was thoughtful and impressive."
She likes that he is not taking "special-interest money," because such political "integrity" is important to her.
But Culver's not yet sure whether Obama will get her vote. "I'm waiting for a candidate who says that poverty" is the biggest contributing factor to the difficulties faced in public schools today, she said.
In Portsmouth, Obama fielded a wide range of questions. He sidestepped a question about supporting gay marriage while reaffirming his support for civil unions.
When the father of a soldier serving in Iraq asked about his stance on keeping troops in Iraq, Obama said he would get troops out as soon as possible and promised there would be no permanent bases or combat role for them.
In answer to another question about Iraq, he criticized GOP presidential candidates who support the war for not facing reality. "They keep on searching for a rationale for a bad policy," Obama said.
They're talking tough now, he said, but sooner or later they will initiate a withdrawal plan.