Line for Obama rally exceeds a mile

Lines, lines and lines
St. Paul police are estimating the lines for the Obama rally tonight at the Xcel Center. The line winded its way through downtown St. Paul for more than 1.5 miles. The line here crosses 5th and Wabasha.
MPR Photo/Bob Collins

Many of the thousands who arrived several hours early for Sen. Barack Obama's appearance in downtown St. Paul said the wait was a small price to pay in exchange for watching history unfold.

The Associated Press is reporting that Obama has sealed the Democratic presidential nomination today, taking him one step closer to becoming the nation's first African-American president.

Passing time
Fifth grader Jamier Sumrall (right) worked on her math skills by trying to compute delegate counts with her mother. "I asked my teacher Miss Smith if I could skip school to come here. She said it was okay because she was skipping school too." Smurall was just one of thousands of people standing in line for the rally.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

For the Minnesotans supporting the Illinois senator, they wanted to honor him with a massive, Midwestern-style party to celebrate the milestone.

"It's part of history, it's so exciting, and we just want to be part of it," said Kristen Johnson of Inver Grove Heights, who came with her daughter and a friend.

Johnson, a longtime DFLer, wasn't pleased when the Republicans first announced they would be hosting their convention in St. Paul this year. But she said the Obama appearance, on such a historic night, was redemption.

Xcel Center crowds
In spite of rain, large crowds began to form early at the Xcel Center where Barack Obama is scheduled to speak tonight.
Photo submitted Julie Sandberg

"It's sort of an in-your-face demonstration of how this huge cross-section of the Midwest is coming out in support of him," she said. "I think he can go up against the Republican candidate and be successful, and I think we're showing that here."

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People hoped to hear Obama speak about all sorts of issues, ranging from college tuition to the war on Iraq. But most of all, they said they just wanted to see him on the night he was declared the Democratic nominee.

Debra and Leo Rojas of Plymouth, sporting matching Obama sweatshirts, remarked on the youth of the crowd. They represent a politcally energized younger generation, said Debra Rojas, calling it "a good change for America."

Obama rally peddler
Clifford Dodd of St. Cloud shows off a shirt he's selling bearing Obama's face and the words: Change is coming. Large crowds began to form early outside of the Xcel Center as Obama supporters gathered to hear the presidential nominee speak tonight.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

But she also appreciates Obama's message of unity. And she's excited that a non-white candidate has a real shot at becoming president.

Rojas is Native American, and her husband is originally from Venezuela.

"It is time for us minorities to stand up and support another minority running for president. That's a big history-making thing," she said. "I think the whole world is looking at America now and saying, 'Wow, that is not the America we're used to. We're used to the other kind of America."

Jessie Watkins
Jessie Watkins of Washington D.C. is part of a traveling circuit of pro-Obama merchandise following his campaign as it cris-crosses the nation.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Peddlers from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. were hawking their T-shirts and buttons along the sidewalks fronting the Xcel. Anthony Brown, a self-declared spoken-word poet who goes by Tony B. Conscious, entertained crowds with a bullhorn and rhymes.

"Coined the Obama hip-hop hype man, I'm from L.A., but I've been to every state, trying to make Obama great, in 2008, all about love, not hate …" he preached.

Brown and others are part of a traveling circuit of street vendors who support the Illinois senator's bid for the presidency. City officials expect many more hawkers -- who lean toward the political right -- to apply for permits before the RNC in early September.