Fundraising Success Adds to Interest in Obama

Propelled by news of his fundraising success, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) made four campaign stops Thursday in Iowa. He has raised $25 million in the first three months of the year to fund his bid for the White House. That's only $1 million less than his main rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY).

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Barack Obama was campaigning in Iowa yesterday riding a new high. His campaign announced this week that he raised $25 million in the first three months of this year. That means he's very close to Hillary Clinton.

NPR's David Greene followed Obama to Iowa to see what kind of reception he's getting now.

DAVID GREENE: Obamarama. That was the giant headline plastered across the paper in Mason City, Iowa, yesterday morning. Barack Obama was getting ready to speak at a community college in town, but apparently not everyone was feeling the Obamarama.

Good morning. Are you here for the Obama event?

Mr. TODD HEAMSTRA(ph): No, I'm not. Wastewater conference.

GREENE: Todd Heamstra said he didn't even know Obama was in town.

What do you know about him?

Mr. HEAMSTRA: I know he's running for president. And he's a congressman out of Chicago somewhere. That's it.

GREEN: Heamstra made his way into the wastewater conference. And next door...

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): Thank you. Thank you everybody. Thank you so much. Thank you very much...

GREENE: Out came the Illinois senator.

Sen. OBAMA: For those of you who don't know me, I'm Barack Obama. I'm running for president.

GREENE: Sure, his $25 million in campaign contributions has made him appear a more venerable candidate. But he wasn't about to gloat about big-time political contributions. If anything, perhaps he felt new pressure to address some of the questions facing his candidacy.

Why, for one, has he not come out with a specific plan to expand health care coverage when some of his opponents have?

Sen. OBAMA: I can come up with the best health care plan in the world. But if I haven't built a constituency for it and we haven't elected members of Congress who are accountable, we will not get it passed.

GREENE: Obama says he's traveling the country getting input before he lays out a health care plan in a detailed speech. But when he gave his audience a chance to speak up, Terry Ellsberg(ph) of the American Cancer Society was ready to put a little pressure on him.

Ms. TERRY ELLSBERG (American Cancer Society): I appreciate that you're doing this and you're having the input, but I really want to hear from you about what are your thoughts? What do we need to do as a country?

GREENE: She got Obama to go into a few more specifics about his thinking. He said, if it were up to him, he'd take ambitious steps toward universal coverage. But he said he's been forced to consider less ambitious ideas such as subsidies to the uninsured so they can afford an insurance plan like the one that covers federal employees.

Sen. OBAMA: The question I think that I'm wrestling with is whether how much confidence or trust do I have in the political process moving more boldly than that.

GREENE: I caught Terry Ellsberg after the event. She said she's patient, but...

Ms. ELLSBERG: Health care is a tremendous issue for us. So I know at the American Cancer Society we're certainly going to be looking for some answers in the very near future. And I think other people will also.

GREENE: Later in the day, Obama held rallies in some of the small towns that dot northern Iowa. Outside the opera house in Fort Dodge, the t-shirts and buttons were selling.

Unidentified Man #1: You have a good evening, too.

Unidentified Man #2: Obama campaign buttons for...

Unidentified Man #1: Show your support for our next president. Guaranteed good for at least six more years.

Unidentified Man #2: A lot of good for...

GREENE: And inside, Obama said he knows people question his experience in Washington. But he said too many ignore other experience he has, like as a community organizer.

Sen. OBAMA: Or they discount, I guess, my experience as a constitutional law professor. But you know what? I think it's pretty good experience because I ought to be a president who actually respects the Constitution.

GREENE: When health care came up again, the senator went through some ways to squeeze savings out of the government's insurance programs.

Sen. OBAMA: If we went back to the obesity and overweight rates that existed in 1980, the Medicare system would save a trillion dollars, a trillion with a T.

GREENE: Outside, Chuck Powell(ph), retired from the food service industry and at age 66 a little husky, said Obama had him until the very end.

Mr. CHUCK POWELL: The very last point that he made was obese people are a cause of a trillion dollars and our reason for high medical costs.

GREENE: You didn't like that?

Mr. POWELL: I didn't like that. And you can tell why.

GREENE: But he said Obama came across as sincere.

Mr. POWELL: I'm very impressed and I'm sure he's going to make it a good race.

GREENE: Powell, though, said he's a Republican and will likely vote that way. He just came to get a look at Obama since he's been making all the headlines.

David Greene, NPR News, Algona, Iowa.

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