Senator Barack Obama made his first presidential campaign foray into Boston yesterday, meeting with key supporters and a flock of fund-raisers who are planning a huge event next month at Boston University's Agganis Arena.
The Illinois Democrat attended a breakfast meeting in Cambridge with about two-dozen venture capitalists, hosted by Daniel Nova of Highland Capital Partners. Later, Obama spoke to about 150 members of his New England steering committee at the University of Massachusetts Club in downtown Boston. The events were closed to the news media.
Some who attended said they were reminded of President Kennedy.
"It's more than the magic" when he speaks, said Maureen Shay-Palmer, a veterans activist from Marblehead who emerged from the UMass Club with an Obama 2008 button pinned to her jacket. "No, he's not just a handsome fresh face. He's got the goods. He knows what he's talking about."
"When President Barack Obama takes office in 2008, the whole world will take a different attitude," said her husband, Nigel Palmer.
Recalling a part of Obama's speech that impressed him, Palmer paraphrased.
"He said, 'When I'm elected, the world will breathe a sigh of relief, not because I am a black man with a different name, but because of my foreign policy. It's the right time for change.' It's like JFK. It had that same feeling."
Alan Solomont, who is chairing Obama's regional fund-raising effort, said the events drew a "broad-based and diverse" crowd, a mix of veteran party activists and fund-raisers "and a lot of new people who haven't done this before."
The group has already raised at least $500,000 for Obama's campaign and expects to raise more than that at the BU event on April 20, said Solomont, a prolific fund-raiser who was a key figure in Senator John F. Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004. Solomont said the event will include students who contribute $23, young professionals who give $230, and major donors who will be asked to contribute $2,300, the maximum.
Among those attending the UMass Club event were several heavy hitters from the campaigns of Kerry, Governor Deval Patrick, and former attorney general Thomas F. Reilly. They included investment manager Scott Nathan; publishing executive Michael Perik; attorneys Barry White, William Cowan, Cheryl Cronin, Michael Thornton, and Geoff Lewis; insurance executive Philip Edmundson; political economist Barry Bluestone; and banker Bernie Fulp and his wife, insurance executive Carol Fulp.
After speaking for about 40 minutes to his invited guests about his presidential aspirations and making a change in America, Obama took many questions from the crowd.
Obama downplayed criticism that he does not have enough experience or that he is not tough enough to handle more seasoned legislators by saying that he knew no one when he went to Chicago more than 20 years ago and now he is a senator running for president.
"He had to be tough, because that is not an easy thing to do," Palmer said.
Obama's appearance left many in the crowd invigorated.
"I feel like there is hope now," said Lenore Lobel, 58, a retired lawyer and volunteer worker from Weston.
Philip Johnston, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said he has not made a decision about whom to endorse but he has met with Obama and that he, like Bill Clinton, will be very successful raising money in Massachusetts.
"I think he will tap into substantial, progressive, political energy here," Johnston predicted.