Big arena crowd hears Obama's 'closing argument'


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"You want tickets to the inaugural?" Sen. Barack Obama said into a cell phone at his South Side phone bank. "You drive a hard bargain."

The Illinois senator made no promises, but he was unrelenting in his search for votes on a day of wholesale and retail campaigning just a week from the close of the White House quest he has been on for nearly two years.

After stirring the cheers of more than 15,000 supporters at Mellon Arena, Mr. Obama headed to a Carson Street storefront for a well-choreographed visit with volunteers working down computer lists of phone numbers.

For 10 minutes, he talked to voters on cellphones handed to him by some of the 14 workers sitting at a long table.

"Cathy, this is Barack. How are you? Thank you so much. I'm having a great time. I wanted to find out if you knew who you were going to vote for.''

The Illinois senator paced the room as he talked. He held the proffered phones to his ear with his left hand, his right, gesturing or thrust in the pocket of his gray slacks

Addressing his troops, he had positive reviews for their work and his own.

"All right, guys, you're doing great,'' he said. "I think on my calls I was like four for five. I take it back. I was four for five with one undecided, although it sounded like she just needed a little attention.''

At Mellon Arena, Mr. Obama delivered what his staff called a closing argument to this long and tumultuous campaign.

Chants of "Here we go Steelers, Here we go," rocked incongruously through the home of the Penguins as Steelers owner Dan Rooney rose to introduce the Democrat.

They quickly yielded to thunderous applause as the nominee joined him.

In a speech of more than 30 minutes, Mr. Obama summed up his campaign, promising to deliver a new tone in the capital and to leave behind the partisanship he has frequently denounced. His tone was not so lofty, however, to crowd out a few partisan shots at the opponent who was campaigning at the other side of the state.

"After decades of broken politics in Washington, eight years of failed policies from George Bush, and twenty-one months of a campaign that has taken us from the rocky coast of Maine to the sunshine of California, we are one week away from change in America," he as a wave of applause broke over the arena.

"I knew that the size of our challenges had outgrown the smallness of our politics. I believed that Democrats and Republicans and Americans of every political stripe were hungry for new ideas, new leadership, and a new kind of politics -- one that favors common sense over ideology; one that focuses on those values and ideals we hold in common as Americans."

Mr. Obama came to Pennsylvania as polls showed him with a double-digit lead over Sen. John McCain, who was on the stump in Pottsville, Schuykill County, in the first of a series of appearances in a state he badly needs as a buffer against potential losses in traditionally Republican states now leaning toward the Democrat.

The Democrat rebutted the McCain campaign's recent characterization of him as a figure who would use big government to redistribute wealth.

"Now, I don't believe that government can or should try to solve all our problems. I know you don't either," he said. "But I do believe that government should do that which we cannot do for ourselves. [It should provide] a shot at success not only for those with money and power and influence, but for every single American who's willing to work."

Recalling the beginning of his once long-shot campaign, he said, "Twenty-one months later, Pittsburgh, my faith in the American people has been vindicated. That's how we've come so far and so close -- because of you. That's how we'll change this country -- with your help."

And, as though anticipating the premature request for inaugural tickets he would receive a few months later, he said, "And Pittsburgh that's why we can't afford to slow down, sit back, or let up for one day, one minute, or one second in this final week.''

His staff wasn't sitting back earlier as thousands of supporters made their way though slow lines into the Mellon Arena. They patrolled the crowd with clipboards, seeking names, phone numbers and commitments for volunteering over the final eight-day sprint.

Allison Price, the Obama spokesman in Pittsburgh, said the staff's goal was to greet each person in line and attempt to sign them up for volunteer work over the home stretch. "They're asking, 'What are you doing on Election Day? Can you drive people to the polls? Do you have an extra couch for an out-of state volunteer?' "

By noon, about 100 supporters had gathered near the arena's Gate 8. By the time the doors opened at 3 p.m., the lines were stretching up the hill but were moving at a steady clip through the 13 metal detectors set up outside the entrance.

Charlene Foggie Barnett, of Swisshelm Park, brought her 17-year-old daughter Afton Barnett and two of Afton's fellow students at Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA). They were the first in line at 7 a.m.

Mrs. Barnett's father was Charles Foggie, who led the NAACP in Pittsburgh in the 1950s and 1960s and she said it was the work he did that compelled her to bring the girls to see Mr. Obama. "To see a candidate like this who wants to bring positive, definitive change is what he fought for," she said.

By 5:26 p.m., when Mr. Obama was introduced, the 17,000-seat-venue seemed nearly full.

This was likely to be the last Pittsburgh visit for Mr. Obama, but his staff will be carpeting the region with surrogate campaigners for the next week. Tomorrow, former President Bill Clinton will seek Democratic votes in Washington County.''


Post-Gazette politics editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562. Mackenzie Carpenter and Diana Nelson Jones contributed to this report.


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