Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama greets supporters at Cuyahoga Community College in Highland Hills, Ohio.
HIGHLAND HILLS, Ohio - It was an election eve crowd 18 months early, and it roared with every promise of troop withdrawal and health care for all. It came for a candidate, but it left with a charge.
"I'm asking you with the last little bit of voice I have left," a hoarse Barack Obama told the 2,000-plus at Cuyahoga Community College last night, "to say to yourself, this is not Barack's campaign, this is my campaign."
The gymnasium crowd, and hundreds more watching from overflow rooms across campus, watched the first presidential candidate to hit Ohio this year pitch himself as an Iraq war critic, a champion of children, and above all, a political movement larger than himself.
With the first primary vote almost a year away, the Democratic senator from Illinois ended the first swing of his campaign with a rally that looked more like an American Idol performance than an early stump speech.
"If this is just about me, I will fail because I'm an imperfect vessel for your hopes and dreams," the senator said.
The half-hour speech covered many of the greatest hits of Mr. Obama's fellow Democrats: John Edwards' division between the working class and the hedge fund class; John Kerry's lament of America's declining international reputation, and Hillary Clinton's quest for universal health care.
Mr. Obama's twist to this message - and his sharp elbow to opponents such as Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards, who voted in the Senate for the Iraqi war in 2002 - was that America's involvement in Iraq hinders any chance of making progress on those issues.
"We're in the midst of a war that never should have been authorized," the senator said, adding that all American troops should be pulled from Iraq before April, 2008.
Although Ohio does not figure to factor in the Democratic primary, Mr. Obama said he expects to win the state in November, 2008, "so we must spend time in Ohio."
The event showcased the distinct racial identity of Mr. Obama, who has a Kenyan father and a white American mother.
The acts introducing Mr. Obama celebrated black culture. They included an electric violinist who played mixed classical music with bongos, a blank verse poet, a Cleveland high school marching band, and a drum corps.
The 19-year old violinist, whose stage name is Humble G, said he identified with Mr. Obama because they shared an enlightened style.
"He fits most with what I'm trying to do: edutainment," he said. "The way he teaches is what I express through my music."
Yet for people like Rebecca Witheridge, one of 60 Oberlin College students who took a school bus to the event, Mr. Obama transcends race.
"I think he represents a lot of people who need to be represented," the freshman said, explaining that she feels Mr. Obama is a stronger voice for women than Mrs. Clinton because he stands a better chance in the general election.
Ms. Witheridge, who has yet to register to vote, was among a particularly young crowd that differed from the donors Mr. Obama met with earlier yesterday. The Cleveland rally followed a breakfast fund-raiser in Cincinnati hosted by state Sen. Eric Kearney, a noon fund-raiser in Columbus hosted by prominent Republican attorney Larry James and his wife, and an evening event in Cleveland. The Associated Press reported that the events raised at least $450,000.
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