Obama speaks to about 2,000 people crowded into Kids Unlimited’s gymnasium. Jim Craven 3/22/2008 - Jim Craven

Crowd finds Obama informed

An almost electric buzz coursed through the crowd Saturday as presidential hopeful Barack Obama arrived like a rock star at the town hall meeting at Kids Unlimited in Medford.

Chanting "Obama, Obama, Obama," the 2,000 people in the basketball court cheered the Illinois senator, who is running just ahead of Sen. Hillary Clinton in delegates for the Democratic nomination.

Lisa Marie Werfel, 13, of Ashland, couldn't believe she'd just touched him.

"I hope he becomes president," she said. "My friend is so jealous. She said to come back if I shook his hand and wipe it on her shoulder."

Other local residents were impressed with his speech and how carefully he responded to questions.

"I heard lots of specifics," said Central Point resident Alice Mullaly, 65.

She said Obama has been criticized for speaking in generalities, but she found he had a strong grasp of the issues and responded clearly.

Mullaly intends to see other candidates if they come to town, including Clinton, who plans a sweep through Oregon in the next few weeks, and Sen. John McCain, the apparent Republican nominee.

"It's important to see all the candidates," she said.

About 700 audience members sat in a large room outside the basketball court at the popular youth activities center, expecting to see Obama on a big-screen television only. They soon realized, however, their candidate was going to pay them a short visit.

"I just wanted to come out and say how grateful I am for your hospitality," he told them.

With every delegate needed to win, Obama referred to the upcoming primary on May 20 in Oregon and how necessary it was to secure victory.

"Oregon usually comes too late to count, but not this time," he said.

Obama appeared eager to mix with the crowd. Regarding a recent Mail Tribune story of an Ashland woman whose father helped bring Obama's father to the U.S., he said, "I'd like to talk to her. Make sure she sends us a letter or e-mail."

Medford resident Milo Salgado, 56, said Obama not only answered people's questions but looked at problems from both sides, particularly concerning environmental issues and a county timber payments program that has helped fund Jackson County's libraries, sheriff's patrols and other services.

"You can tell he's informed," he said. "He knows our area."

Salgado said Obama, unlike other politicians, has an ability to connect with the audience with intelligence while not speaking down to anyone.

"He's a small, big person," he said. "He's very elegant."

Jessica Corona, a 17-year-old Medford teenager who goes to Kids Unlimited, said it was a great experience to hear a candidate speak in Medford.

"I think he's a really good speaker," she said. "He grabs everybody's attention."

Ashland resident Hilda Baughman, 69, said she was a Clinton supporter early until she started listening to Obama's speeches.

"When I saw Obama for the first time, I couldn't believe it," she said.

If Clinton comes to town, she said, "I'll watch her on TV."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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