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Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., greets well-wishers before a fundraiser in Huntsville on Monday.
AP photo by Eric Schultz
Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., greets well-wishers before a fundraiser in Huntsville on Monday.

Obama visits Bama, champions change

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

BIRMINGHAM — Sen. Barack Obama kicked off his Democratic presidential campaign in Alabama with appeals to both high-dollar donors and average voters on Monday, making a string of fundraising stops where ticket prices ranged from the cost of a nice meal to the price of a used car.

For $25, hundreds of supporters had a chance to hear the Illinois freshman speak in a hotel ballroom in Birmingham.

"People want something to be for, not just to be against," Obama said to cheers. Dozens of people held up cell phones to take pictures as Obama embraced NBA great and Alabama native Charles Barkley before his talk.

The ballroom, with a capacity of 2,500 people, was three-quarters full, but the campaign did not immediately release how many people paid to get in.

For $2,300, backers got to chat with Obama at smaller receptions in both Huntsville and Birmingham. Organizers also planned a pair of $1,000-a-person fundraisers for the in-between crowd.

The campaign declined to release its expected haul, but Dem-ocratic fundraiser Yolanda Mc-Lain said she hoped the tally for the Huntsville events would be around $75,000. Backers cheered Obama as he entered a club where the events were held.

"We had to keep moving our goal up," said McLain. "We've had people from all over north Alabama calling wanting to attend."

The crowd in Birmingham was split down the middle between white and black, young and old.

"This is proof people are ready for change," said Pride Forney, who brought her 12-year-old son to hear Obama. "I don't know if all the people here are for Senator Obama, but it's obvious people are ready to move on."

Introduced by Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., Obama said big crowds aren't showing up at campaign stops just to see him.

"The reason people have been coming out is because they feel deep in their gut that something's got to change," he said. "There's a sense of urgency."

Friends Bernice Jenkins and Tamika Turner, both 27-year-old black women from Birmingham, said they came to see Obama mainly out of curiosity. Turner is excited by the idea of a black man being a front-runner in the Democratic race against a woman, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"When I was growing up politicians were always white men in suits," she said. "Having a black man and a woman has got me paying attention."

One of Obama's biggest ovations came when he called for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq and "treating them right" when they arrive home.

The Alabama GOP issued a sarcastic "welcome" to Obama, casting him as a rookie liberal whose beliefs are out of step with Alabama, which last voted Democratic in a presidential election in 1976, when former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter was on the ballot.

"Whether he's raising our taxes, cutting funds for our troops, or disputing a ban on partial birth abortion, Barack Obama is clearly out of touch with the mainstream values here in Alabama," said Mike Hubbard, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.

Making a Southern swing before more campaigning in Iowa, where the nation's first caucuses are in January, Obama arrived in Huntsville before going to Birmingham, where HealthSouth Corp. CEO Jay Grinney planned to host private fundraising events at his home in Mountain Brook.

Obama last visited the state in March, when he and Clinton visited Selma for the anniversary of the "Bloody Sunday" civil rights march in 1965.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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