Obama hits Newark

Boom. He’s here.

That was the way Barack Obama’s New Jersey State Director, Mark Alexander, described tonight’s low-dollar Obama fundraiser at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. About 1,300 people turned out for the event, where students paid $15 for admission, while everyone else paid $25.

“We are here to plant the flag to say ‘we have arrived’,” said Alexander. “It’s our way of saying ‘Boom. We’re here.’”

Tonight was the beginning of a push by Obama’s campaign to make headway here in New Jersey, where polls have him trailing Hillary Clinton by 30 points. The idea, his staffers say, is to introduce their candidate to the public – because once they see him, how could they resist? And then, once he’s made impressive showing in the earlier primary states, the public will know him and New Jersey will be ripe for the taking come February.

“After Obama wins Iowa and New Hampshire, he’ll win New Jersey or come darn close,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman, who serves as the Obama campaign’s northeast regional co-chair.

And you could almost here the message to New Jerseyans in the title of one of the songs from the 1980s played while the audience waited: “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” by Simple Minds.

After a short introduction by Mayor Cory Booker in which he defended Obama’s experience level, Obama emerged to give folksy 40 minute stump speech, starting with “How’s it going Newark? It is good to be back in New Jersey.”

But the New Jersey references ended there, and Obama’s speech went on to range from Iraq, to health care reform, to genocide in Darfur. Much breath was spent condemning the Bush administration. And although he didn’t mention Hillary Clinton by name once, he did make clear the differences between himself and the Senator from New York – most of all, his early and constant opposition to the Iraq war.

When friends warned him not to speak out against the Iraq war when both the idea of the war and the president were popular – and when he was campaigning for a Senate seat in Illinois — Obama said that he went anyway.

“I told them that I don’t want to start my career as a U.S. Senator biting my tongue, so I went to that rally,” said Obama.

Obama cast himself as the candidate who would challenge the special interests, noting that he was not accepting donations from lobbyists. He referenced his recent spat with Sen. Hillary Clinton about talking to anti-American dictators, pledged to take on health care reform and start withdrawing troops from Iraq.

“We don’t need someone who will play the game better,” said Obama. “We need someone who will put an end to the game playing.”

Obama also joked about his distant relation to Vice President Dick Cheney. The two, Lynne Cheney recently discovered, are eighth cousins.

“We’ve been trying to hide that for a long time,” said Obama. “Everybody’s got a black sheep in their family.”

Obama ended the speech on an idealistic final note: “Let’s go change the world.”

Just after the speech, Edison Mayor Jun Choi, an early Obama backer, conversed with state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who just recently signed on to the campaign. Despite the polls, he was optimistic.

“I think he wins Edison, Newark, New Jersey and America,” said Choi.

As Weinberg and Choi were extolling Obama’s virtues, Weinberg’s intern, Leonia High School Senior Zain Abbass, said he wasn’t convinced.

“It was pretty good,” said Abbass of the rally. But he still hadn’t made up his mind regarding who he was going to vote for.

“See, we give them all the independence they want,” said Weinberg of her interns.

Obama hits Newark