BELLEVUE, Wash. — Barack Obama, the Democrats' rock-star senator and potential White House contender, on Thursday brought his "Audacity of Hope'' road tour to a longtime Republican stronghold that could send a Democrat to Congress for the first time.
Obama, a boyish 45 and with only two years under his belt in the Senate, has gotten a star buildup by his party and the national media after writing a book, touring his ancestral homeland in Kenya and announcing Sunday that he's considering a presidential bid in 2008.
He was the big draw at a campaign rally for Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who has a commanding lead in the polls for re-election next month, and Darcy Burner, a former Microsoft program manager who hopes the national anti-Republican tide can help her oust freshman Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash.
The 8th District, centered in this boomtown and in the suburban crescent east and south of Seattle, has elected only Republicans since it was awarded after the 1980 census. But Burner said dissatisfaction with Reichert and the Republicans could help propel her into office.
"It's time for us to send a message to Washington, D.C.,'' said Gov. Chris Gregoire. "How does that sound to you: Congresswoman Darcy Burner. That sounds like change to me.''
The only way to guarantee change is to change the congressional majorities and replace those who set the agenda, Cantwell said. From Iraq and oil drilling to health care and education, Democrats have a better way, she said.
The rally drew well over 2,000 cheering partisans to the Bellevue Community College gymnasium, the site of the state Republican convention a few years back. Some, like Sandra Lawrence, a 49-year-old insurance executive from Redmond, said they wanted to hear the charismatic Obama in person, to see if he lives up to the hype.
"Barack Obama brings a fresh view, a fresh agenda and something different from this constant bashing we see in politics,'' she said. "He's a candidate you can get behind.''
Obama sounded like a national candidate, but neither he nor the other speakers who lavished praise on him directly referred to his presidential bid. Obama sketched in a platform that calls for changes in the nation's Iraq policy and improvements in health care, education, climate change and other concerns.
On Iraq, he said the public is patriotic, but rebelling.
"People say that after years of 'staying the course' on a course to nowhere, on a course to disaster that has cost us half a trillion dollars and shattered the lives of men and women, surely we can create a foreign policy and a national security strategy that combines the might of our military and ... diplomacy.''
Obama also spoke in broad strokes about the national mood for change, drawing on themes from his new book, The Audacity of Hope.
"I'm sensing a change in mood, a shift,'' as dispirited voters begin to shake off their cynicism and demand cleaner politics and a national government dedicated to fixing America's problems.
"For so long, we have seen a politics that encourages us in our cynicism, that seems to be all about power instead of principle, politics as a business and not a mission.
"The nastiness, the slash-and-burn, it all seems like WWF (televised wrestling matches), somehow disconnected from reality. We just get weary and think government is just not going to make a meaningful difference in our lives. At most, we hope it does no harm.''
Obama, dressed in open-necked white shirt and suit, started his 17-minute speech softly and slowly, building steam as he went, ending up with a shout-and-call frenzy, shouting his lines over a growing ovation.
Obama, who drew 100 donors to a $500-a-ticket fund-raiser for Cantwell and Burner earlier, gave a lecture at a sold-out concert hall in Seattle Thursday night.
He was the third potential presidential candidate in a week to stump for Washington Democrats. Al Gore, the two-term vice president and the White House nominee in 2000, was in Seattle on Tuesday. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., was here over the weekend.
Previously, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry and other potential contenders have visited. Harry Reid, who hopes to become Senate majority leader next month, attended a private fund raiser on Saturday and Sen. Tom Harkin visited Spokane on Sunday.
Cantwell's Republican challenger, Mike McGavick, has drawn campaign visits from President George W. Bush, first lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Rudy Guiliani, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other luminaries.
McGavick, who is traveling through Eastern Washington, launched a new TV commercial that refutes Cantwell ads that say he's for privatizing the Social Security system. He says Cantwell backers have videotaped him numerous times saying that he isn't proposing privatizing, but wants to allow younger taxpayers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in government-run investment accounts. Cantwell hasn't backed down.
—The Associated Press