WASHINGTON – The techno music was loud,boats bobbled in the river channel outside the windows and the young professionals were dressed in their best,sipping screwdrivers,beer or red wine.
Then the music changed,and to a Motown beat,the star of the party stepped on stage to the flash of photographers' cameras and dozens of camera phones.
Barack Obama had arrived to discuss his political platform before a room of 300 believers.
Wednesday night's event at H20,a club in Washington's Southwest waterfront district, wasn't widely publicized,but the news passed via e-mail and word of mouth.
Jeffrey Zeeman,31,a lawyer at Covington & Burling LLP,said he heard about it from someone at his law firm. Ericka Miller,33,a Realtor at J I L Realty,LLC,said she heard about it from a friend who e-mailed her.
Miller said she came “to hear Mr. Obama speak,but the opportunity to hear his platform. I'm confident I came for the right thing.”
The charismatic Illinois Democrat used the event to gain further support for his 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and had several talking points that either garnered uproarious approval or limp applause.
Rep. Artur Davis,D-Ala.,a friend and supporter,introduced Obama to the crowd that had been asked for voluntary donations of $50 or $100.
“We've been seeing enormous crowds,20,000 in Atlanta … 8,000 in Cleveland,” Obama said. “Not just big crowds,diverse crowds. I loved the vision of young people.”
And,indeed,the crowd was diverse,in age,race and gender.
Obama gave a brief history of his early career,making $12,000 a year working for churches in Chicago,doing community work and organizing job training sessions.
Obama said this work “confirmed for me that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when given the chance. I wanted to devote myself to something larger than myself”
He made a quick jab at President Bush's foreign policy and election but chose not to “name any names.”
Obama urged the group to choose a candidate they like so they won't have to go to the polls and vote against someone,but can vote for a candidate.
“We go to the polling booth holding our noses,” he said.
His exhibition of humor didn't last much longer,as he delved into stronger political rhetoric.
He said the United States needs to change its obsessions to things that matter,including the more than 45 million people without insurance,children who can't read and poor environmental policies. The country needs universal health care,he said,”By the end of the next president's first term.”
The country's “poor” educational system also drew his criticism.
“They don't believe in slogans like ‘No Child Left Behind' when you leave the money behind,” he said. A common criticism of the president's school policy is that it didn't provide enough money for schools to meet its strict standards.
Obama said there is a generation of young people who want to be teachers,but don't want to be “in the poor house.” Until teachers can receive better pay that will deter many becoming teachers. He said there also needs to be a change in the cost of education so graduates aren't burdened with upward of $70,000 in debt but can earn only $30,000 a year.
“We know we gotta pay teachers more,” he said.
One part of this speech that garnered less crowd reaction was his ideas on energy and fuel consumption. When Obama said the country needs to find new ways to be fuel efficient,completely reducing fuel imports,the crowd barely applauded. When he said that green technology would generate a whole new economy of jobs,the listeners were with him again.
The evening wouldn't have been complete without a mention of the Iraq war,which he said was a “bad idea” from its inception. Obama said the U.S. needs to “be as careful getting out as careless as [it was] getting in.”
He spoke of the sacred duty Americans have to treat veterans well and taxation without representation,a sensitive subject in the D.C. area,which is close to getting a voting representative in Congress for the first time.
“We can resolve these problems,they're not insoluble,” Obama said.
“I've never been involved in a campaign before this,but Barack is very special,” he said.
Zeeman said Obama has “a true passion to make the world a better place” and that “he brings a sense of hope … he transcends cynicism” and above all else he could “unite the nation.”
“I am confident about my capacity to lead this country,” Obama said as he ended his speech. He plunged into the crowd to shake hands,then ducked out a side door as the crowd cheered.
See more photos of Obama's party in this photo gallery