Obama's unity events hit suburbs

By Emily Krone
Daily Herald Staff
Published6/29/2008 12:01 AM

They wore red nametags if they were new and blue if they were veterans of the campaign, but the message repeated over and over at the Barack Obama Unite for Change barbecue in Palatine Saturday was "we're all in this together."

More than 100 friends, neighbors and total strangers from the Northwest suburbs mingled at the unity event, one of an estimated 4000 such gatherings held throughout the country Saturday.


It was meant to kickoff the general election when the Democratic U.S. senator will face fellow Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

But aside from the political signs and over-sized Obama poster, it was easy to mistake the event for a Fourth of July family gathering. Kids, parents and grandparents ate brats and burgers and watermelon. They played ultimate Frisbee and chatted by the grill. There was even a keg.

The event was held at the Palatine home of Northwest suburban organizer Matt Flamm, who welcomed "Republicans, independents and people on the fence" and noted that the crowd included supporters of former Democratic candidates Hilary Clinton, Chris Dodd and John Edwards.

Flamm estimated that about half of the 120 people who signed up for the event were new faces.

Indeed, the crowd was a fairly even mix of people sporting red and blue nametags.

Many of the newcomers wearing red said they were Obama supporters from the start, but had not yet officially participated in the campaign.

"We're getting engaged," said Ken Covington, who came with his wife and daughter and said he's supported Obama since the day he announced his candidacy.

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The Inverness resident said he had gone to the Obama Web site and entered his ZIP code to find the unity event closest to his home. He also sent the link to friends and family in other states, encouraging them to get involved where they live.

Ann Marie Fitzgerald of Arlington Heights also was wearing a red nametag but said she's been "backing up Obama since day one … . Now I'm ready to go out and volunteer."

During his welcome speech to guests, Flamm encouraged everyone at the barbecue to participate in canvassing efforts across the Midwest. Organizers from the Northwest Suburbs for Obama group say they plan to travel to Wisconsin every weekend between now and the election.

Ann Gaul of Hoffman Estates was among the former Clinton supporters who attended Saturday's barbecue.

She said she admired Clinton's policy plans on key issues, but added that "Barack inspired in me the same feelings as in 1959 and 1960 when I campaigned for John Kennedy."

She said she's eager now to support Obama because of the "understanding that the country is starting to grasp that same sense of hope and promise … .He's a very inclusive candidate."

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