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Clinton, Obama stir N.D. Democrats

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Democratic convention
Delegates to the N.D. Democratic convention listen to a speech by presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Friday, April 4th in Grand Forks, N.D.
MPR Photo/Than Tibbetts

About 17,000 people jammed an arena in Grand Forks, N.D., to hear Sen. Barack Obama speak. Most of the crowd stayed a couple of hours longer to listen to Sen. Hillary Clinton. 

Sen. Obama mentioned Clinton only briefly, saying some Democrats don't believe they can win in North Dakota, comments attributed to his opponent. 

Obama spent most of his half hour speech targeting President Bush and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain.  

The last Democrat to carry North Dakota in a presidential race was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Obama said he can win the state's three electoral votes. 

"We have to be the party that rallies not just Democrats, but Independents and yes, Republicans to a common purpose. I don't want to just be the president of red states or blue states. I want to be the president of the United States. That's how we'll change this country," Obama told the crowd.

Sen. Barack Obama
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama speaks at the North Dakota Democratic convention in Grand Forks, N.D., on Friday, April 4th.
MPR Photo/Than Tibbetts

Obama offered few specifics, in contrast with Clinton, who spoke for nearly an hour and talked at length about healthcare, education, agriculture and national security.  Clinton said she's the candidate of specifics, not speeches. 

"It will not be enough to say it's our turn, we're going to bring people together -- we're going to make you feel good. We have to go toe to toe with Sen. McCain on national security and the economy," Clinton said.

Chuck Long, a North Dakota state convention delegate, said Barack Obama has him more fired up than any candidate in years. 

"It means being more willing to step-out -- more willing to take and voice, more willing to get involved in the campaign.  But it also means just getting more involved in the community, helping people in the community," Long said.

Long said his enthusiasm is fueled by the possibility that Obama is the candidate who could win North Dakota. 

Sen. Hillary Clinton
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks in Grand Forks, N.D., on Friday, April 4th.
MPR Photo/Than Tibbetts

Many of the people who spent hours waiting to see Obama and Clinton came out of curiosity. 

The candidates spoke at the North Dakota state Democratic convention, but that didn't stop some Minnesotans from taking in the spectacle.  

Megan Russillo and her husband Rob drove 80 miles from Plummer, Minnesota. She said it was a rare opportunity to hear presidential candidates in person. 

"I wanted to see him face to face, more one on one instead of just on TV. I guess it just seems more real, more like a human contact," Russillo said.

Russillo and her husband both said they're leaning toward voting for Obama. 

Deb Frey
Fargo, N.D,. resident and Sen. Hillary Clinton supporter Deb Frey said she felt like a minority in a mainly Obama crowd at the state's Democratic convention Friday. Both Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama spoke at the convention.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Deb Frey held a large sign for Hillary Clinton.  Frey is a retired school teacher from Fargo, N.D.,  who is a diehard Clinton supporter, but said if Barak Obama wins the party nomination, she will throw her support to him. 

"Oh, I'll definitely vote for Obama, absolutely," Frey said. "But I love Hillary. She's brilliant. She's at the perfect age in life. She's so knowledgeable, so savvy."

Many people walked out of the arena carrying both Obama and Clinton signs, perhaps an indication of the challenge Democrats face in choosing a presidential candidate.