Video: Obama speaks at the Dean Dome
Audio Slideshow: Late night Obama rally brings out thousands
APRIL 29, 5:24 a.m. -- Barack Obama brought a Carolina blue tie and the support of a Tar Heel hoops legend with him to the Smith Center on Monday night for one of his campaign's largest indoor rallies to date.
The event, which sought to drum up votes and volunteers in advance of North Carolina's May 6 primary, drew 18,000 people, many dancing, waving signs and chanting.
Though the crowd was overflowing with exuberance, Sam Perkins, a member of UNC's 1982 National Championship squad and a former NBA player, tried to concentrate their energy.
"I didn't come here to talk about jump shots or talk about the past or how to dunk; I'm here to talk about another mission," he said, adding that he'd traded in his basketball uniform for a uniform of hope.
The message of urgency was a theme for the night with Obama, campaign members and U.S. Reps. David Price and Mel Watt stressing the importance of the state primary. Early voting ends Saturday.
"For the first time in a generation, North Carolina has a primary that's going to shape the presidency," said John Gilbert, a regional campaign director.
Obama used the event to reinforce the message of change he's highlighted through 15 months of campaigning, earning applause for issues widely supported among UNC students like Darfur relief and affordable college tuition but eliciting silence and then a correction when he mispronounced Chancellor James Moeser's name.
Obama, with a double-digit lead in the poll, made almost no direct mention of his rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
"I don't think you need somebody who's going to play the game better," he said.
"I think you need somebody who's going to end the game playing."
Obama stressed his distance from lobbyists, PAC money and Washington politicking in general, but was more specific in his criticisms of the likely Republican nomineee, Sen. John McCain.
"John McCain seems to think he's running for a third Bush term," he said.
He was also scathing in his criticism McCain's proposal for gas tax relief.
"Is that the best you can do?" Obama said. "You have been in Congress 25 years. . That's just politics of the moment, politics to get you through the next election. We need better leadership than that."
Obama, who has hailed his campaign as being about "building each other up, not tearing each other down," continually used "we" and "together" in his delivery, stressing the need to avoid distractions like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and American flag pin controversies.
"When you are worried about winning, you forget about what the campaign is about. . It's about you," he told the audience. "For the next eight days, for the next eight months and for the next eight years I am going to be thinking about you."