BOSTON – Punahou School graduate Barack Obama stole not only the spotlight at the Democratic National Convention but also the heart of Hawai'i delegates July 27 as he delivered an explosive keynote speech supporting the presidential candidacy of Sen. John Kerry.
Obama,who was born in Hawai`i,is the son of a Kenyan immigrant and a Kansas woman. He graduated from Punahou in 1979 and is now a law professor and Illinois state senator. He unexpectedly won the Democratic primary for an open U.S. Senate seat. During the convention week,he had no opponent,after Republican Jack Ryan pulled out of the contest after his former wife accused him of taking her to sex parties. Alan Keyes,a Maryland resident and former presidential contender,has since been chosen as the Republican candidate.
“Tonight is a particular honor for me,because,let's face it,my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely,” Obama joked at the beginning of a speech that saluted Kerry and focused on the need to help poor families and unite all Americans. “There's not a liberal America and a conservative America,there's the United States of America.”
Rachel Shackelford,a Dennis Kucinich delegate from Palolo Valley,said Obama was very charismatic. She lifted her Obama sign but refused to display Kerry's during his speech.
“I think he has up-scaled everyone else here,” said the 29-year-old oceanographer at the University of Hawaii's Undersea Research Laboratory. “He's very genuine and it shows that he's thinking about what he's saying.”
About cheering at a convention that officially stamps Kerry as the Democratic presidential candidate,Shackelford said,“It's frustrating,but I'm optimistic.”
Obama's speech also impressed U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie,D-Hawai`i,and Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris.
“He's the son of my friend,” Abercrombie said minutes before rushing to his seat to greet Obama's arrival at the podium of the FleetCenter with a blue-and-white sign displaying his name.
“Hawai`i can be proud for playing a role in educating him,” said Harris. “We were very proud. It was one of the most articulate speeches that I've ever heard.”
Abercrombie,who boldly supported former Vermont governor Howard Dean for president,said now he just wants someone other than President Bush in the White House.
“George Bush is the best advertisement we have,” Abercrombie said.
“We are solidifying the party,” he added. “There's absolute unity across the board to defeat Bush.” Abercrombie said Dean “has been the stronger supporter on the road” for the ticket of Kerry and Sen. John Edwards,D-N.C.
Harris,who spent six days here,said he's been “working behind the scenes” in “the most important election in my life.”
Harris said even in Hawai`i – a solid Democratic state whose party has carried 11 presidential races since 1959,losing only in 1972 to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in 1984 – people should not take their votes for granted.
“This is our chance to regain the American dream,” he said. “I think we have learned that every vote counts,even if every vote doesn't count.”
While Abercrombie defended attacks on Kerry's stand on the Iraq war,saying it's hard to devise a clear plan to solve a conflict that evolves by the hour,Harris said Bush's presidency has been “the worst three-and-a-half year period in our nations' history.”
Elaine Gima,62,who hand-paints silk clothing in Kula,Maui,said she “had never been involved in politics.”
That changed,however,when Bush took office,she said.
“I got very worried after Bush got in. I was concerned with the environment,the Patriot Act and the war,” explained Gima,who got to the FleetCenter at 4 p.m. and planned to sit through all speakers.