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As Storm Rolls Through Florida, Obama Sees Winds of Change Ahead

TAMPA -- After an overcast and rainy morning gave way to a clear and brilliant afternoon Sunday, Sen. Barack Obama told about 2,000 people here that an equally dramatic change is brewing in America.

His comments came during an outdoor event at the Cuban Club in Ybor City, which was the Illinois Democrat's first public presidential fundraiser along the Interstate 4 corridor. A $25 donation was all it took to get in, an unusually low amount for a fundraiser this early in the campaign.

Earlier in the day, Obama held a private fundraiser at the Orlando home of Ann and Bill Wallace. Kirk Wagar, Obama's Florida finance chairman, would not say how much was raised but said there were at least 100 people there.

The minimum contribution listed on the invitation was $1,000, and the suggested contribution was $2,300.

The private event drew some of Central Florida's leading Democrats, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, attorney Mark NeJame and Mears Transportation executive Roger Chapin.

At the Tampa event, people lined up more than an hour before the doors opened at about 12:45 p.m., holding signs and clutching copies of Obama's books. Several people, including Kerry Rundle, 20, of Longwood, said they just wanted to see Obama speak in person.

"I'm basically in love with Barack Obama," said Rundle, who works at Starbucks. "I really wanted to see if he is as compelling in person as he is on TV."

At about 2:20 p.m., Obama came down a long staircase on the side of the band played "Stars and Stripes Forever."

His 30-minute speech was part autobiography, part American-history lesson and part attack on President Bush. The loudest cheers came when Obama pledged to pull Americans troops out of Iraq and to provide universal health care to all Americans by the end of his first term if he is elected president.

"We have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in," Obama told the crowd.

He also said the country needs to pay teachers more, treat veterans better when they come home from Iraq and make broadband Internet accessible to all people regardless of income level.

Obama's underlying message was that while he is ready to make changes if elected, he cannot do it alone. He told the crowd that America is at a crossroads, as it was during the Boston Tea Party, the civil-rights movement and the women's suffrage movement.

"At each and every juncture in American history, ordinary folks have said, 'We don't care about the world as it is; we imagine the world as it might be,' " Obama said. "We want to write a new chapter. We want to turn the page. That is the moment that we are in right now."

Obama's visit comes just as the Florida Legislature is looking to move up the date of the state's presidential primary. Supporters say an earlier primary would mean candidates would be forced to address issues important to the state's voters and not just fill their pockets with campaign contributions.

Frank Sanchez, Obama's finance chairman for the Tampa Bay area, said the Cuban Club event, along with a private fundraiser in Tampa earlier on Sunday, brought in about $250,000.

Copyright © 2007, Orlando Sentinel

Source: Orlando Sentinel

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