PHOTOPHILE- Obamarama: Barack packs the Pavilion
Whether Barack Obama (D) ultimately becomes President, the senator from Illinois made history in Charlottesville by pushing attendance at the two-year-old venue to beyond its capacity.
"We estimate it was a total of just over 5,000 people," says Pavilion manager Kirby Hutto. "That's way beyond anything we've ever done."
Before the presidential hopeful ever spoke a word, former state senator Tom Michie said that he could recall only one comparable rally.
"The last time I can remember something like this was in 1960," Michie said. "Lyndon Johnson made a whistlestop at the train station, and we had a mob this big."
After a $2,300-per-person pre-rally event at sushi restaurant Ten and an introduction by Governor Tim Kaine, Obama took the stage to U2's "City of Blinding Lights" and for 50 minutes, kept the audience rapt– until they exploded into thunderous applause.
After opening jabs at President Bush, Obama got a big ovation for a thinly veiled swipe at Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who raised $200,000 at a Paramount Theater event in September. (Organizers said this Obama event raised over $250,000.)
"There are those who say, ‘Elect me, because I know how to play the game better,'" Obama said. "We don't need someone who knows how to play the game better. We need someone who's going to put an end to the game playing, because the stakes are too high."
After discussing healthcare, energy, and the environment, the focus turned to foreign policy.
"I will stand up, even when its not popular," he said and then minutes later proved his own point.
"We will go after Al Qaeda," he said. "We will take out those who will kill us."
This met with stone silence from the dovish crowd.
Cheering resumed when he spoke of foreign aid, ending the Darfur genocide, and closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay: "We are not a nation who ships people off in the middle of the night to secret prisons to be tortured. That's not America."
As the candidate exited to the tune of Dave Matthews Band's "Ants Marching," attendees seemed to believe they had gotten their $29 worth.
"I've never come to a political rally before," said baby boomer Jamie Endahl of Albemarle. "He's an amazing speaker. He's almost apolitical. He has a different kind of rhetoric, and I think people are ready to hear it."
Americans may find out at the Iowa Democratic Caucus– the first of the nation's nominating contests– on January 3.