PORTSMOUTH — Barack Obama's campaign headquarters staff and volunteers were treated on Saturday to a visit by the man they hope will be the next president of the United States.
Obama arrived in Portsmouth at 11:30 a.m. amid a phalanx of personal security detail complete with blackout sunglasses, ear pieces, blue suits and scowls.
"I started my career in public service by doing exactly what you're doing," Obama said at his jam-packed campaign headquarters at 75 Congress St. "I come from a grassroots tradition in politics, and that's the only way to find out what people are really thinking. You are my best eyes and ears. Listening is an important part of your contribution to this effort. If someone has a complaint about me, I want to hear about it. "
He also urged volunteers to spread his message and to dispel misconceptions about him that citizens may have.
"If anyone questions my opposition to the war in Iraq, let them know that I opposed the invasion before it happened at a time when that was politically unpopular, and that I now endorse a phased withdrawal which protects Iraqi civilians as well as the soldiers that manage the withdrawal," Obama said.
He punctuated that part of his talk by saying, "Let's get our troops out of there," an exclamation that was met with wild applause.
Obama took care to shake the hand of every person in the room, a process that took about 10 minutes.
Gail Carter of Rochester sat on the windowsill, her cane in her hand and a smile on her face.
"I suffer from Parkinson's," she said, though her persistent tremors said that for her. "When I look at the stem cell research issue, I am well aware that it is probably too late for me to realize any benefit from it, but I am very concerned for future generations. Right now, we have an administration that is more interested in power for itself than empowerment for all."
Obama thanked his staff by saying, "You are deciding who is going to be the next leader of the free world. It's going to be me, and that's all because of you."
The audience applauded the remark, then Obama shouted, "Let's hit the streets!"
The crowd again erupted in boisterous applause and began a chant of "Fired up! Ready to Go! Fired up! Ready to go!"
Obama, his entourage and the volunteers paraded up Congress Street, Obama shaking hands and speaking with people along the way. The throng turned left onto Market Street and entered The Portsmouth Brewery, where he again spoke to the crowd.
State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark was there flashing her trademark smile.
"I am squarely in the Obama camp," said the Portsmouth Democrat. "Some people point to the fact that he has only served a single term in Congress. Honestly, I see that as a positive. The fact that he doesn't owe a whole lot of favors in Washington makes him less beholden to the special interests."
Clark also remarked that she hadn't seen such enthusiasm among young people for a presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy.
Dover resident and Obama volunteer Helene O'Brien was happy to have seen Obama and heard him speak.
"Obama represents fresh thinking and a new way to meet challenges. We're in trouble all over the world and none of the last six presidents have done much to help matters," she said.