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Obama: 'We want to try something different'

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Like thousands, Kathy Aamot and her daughter, Shelby, 4, stood in line for 90 minutes Friday to get in to hear Sen. Barack Obama in the Alerus Center. Hours later and after Obama's speech, Shelby still was having fun, climbin...

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Like thousands, Kathy Aamot and her daughter, Shelby, 4, stood in line for 90 minutes Friday to get in to hear Sen. Barack Obama in the Alerus Center. Hours later and after Obama's speech, Shelby still was having fun, climbing on a metal railing.

"I can't believe how well she paid attention," Aamot said. "She really listened."

They were part of what Sen. Kent Conrad said, while introducing Obama, was the biggest political event "in my adult life."

Alerus officials said more than 17,000 people joined, for a few hours, the North Dakota Democrat Party's convention, cheering, stomping and yelling like a crowd at a rock concert when Obama took the stage, and throughout his 45-minute speech.

"Some people think the Democrats can't win in North Dakota, so we shouldn't put too much time in here," Obama said. "I tell you what, we didn't fly over North Dakota. We landed. We didn't write-off North Dakota."

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The crowd screamed approval and remained standing for several minutes, until Obama showed how he got his reputation for charming crowds.

"At least, feel free to have a seat, guys. That's why you got chairs." Most took him up on the offer, but several times during his 40-minute speech they rose again to their feet.

"Our nation is at war, the planet is in peril and our economy is in shambles," he said. "The problem is we have lost faith that our leaders can or will do anything about it ... People are saying they are ready for change, ready for something new."

His patented, and perhaps most negative line, in which he says "the name George W. Bush won't be on the ballot," brought standing cheers again, with bass drum roll of stomping feet. "I don't know any body who is unhappy that George Bush and my cousin, Dick Cheney, finally take that road back to Crawford in January."

A news report recently said genetic research found that the vice president and Obama shared some ancestors two or three generations ago.

Mostly, Obama stressed positive themes, promising to unite a divided electorate, offering a little olive branch even to his Democratic opponent.

"Either Sen. Clinton or I will do a far better job of leading this country than John McCain, that is something we can all agree to."

He promised to end tax breaks to the wealthy, provide education to all children from birth to a college degree, including a $4,000 yearly tuition credit for all college students, in exchange for some form of national service, to end the war in Iraq in his first year in office.

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"The other party is choosing to be the party of yesterday. That's why we need to be the party of tomorrow."

He also spoke to his conservative critics. "We know that government cannot solve all of our problems. The American people are a proudly self-sufficient people. That is part of what makes us proud to be Americans. We don't want our tax dollars wasted on programs that don't work.

"We want to try something new, we want to try something different, and turn a page and write a new chapter of American history." The crowd erupted again.

Obama, born of a Kenyan father and Kansan mother, proved he is a quick student of local color. "Uff-da, what a crowd," he said, eliciting another round of cheers.

As he does for major speeches, Obama spoke from a printed text, mostly his standard campaign material, according to his aides and national reporters covering the event. He emphasized, however, the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, April 4, 1968.

It appeared most of the 17,000 -- according to Alerus officials -- who packed the arena to hear Obama waited to hear Clinton, as well.

Sen. Byron Dorgan presented Obama with a hockey stick signed by members of UND's men's hockey team.

"Eight days from now, the North Dakota Sioux are going to win their eighth national championship in collegiate hockey and we want you, as you travel around America and they ask you where do they play national championship hockey, you can say the North Dakota Sioux."

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Obama said he would display it with honor. "But I will promise not to wield it, because my hockey game is worse than my bowling."

The Republican National Committee responded to Obama's address on behalf of Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

"It appears that all Barack Obama has to offer the voters of North Dakota is more negative rhetoric and hypocritical attacks and tonight he has shown his inexperience on a wide spectrum of issues," said Chris Taylor, an RNC spokesman. "Rather than mischaracterize John McCain's words and ideas, Obama would be better suited to explain to voters how he will raise taxes across the board, as well as clarify his ever-changing plans for Iraq."

Forum Communications writer Janell Cole contributed to this report. Stephen J. Lee is a staff writer for the Grand Forks Herald. The Herald and the Bemidji Pioneer are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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