Beach balls and a crowd of young people aren't what most voters expect from a political event, but that's just what appeared at a rally for a presidential candidate who made a stop in Corpus Christi last week.
In an atmosphere that would not have been out of place for a rock concert, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, was greeted by a screaming crowd of about 6,500 people at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi.
The appearance came on the heels of a Feb. 13 appearance in Robstown by U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York. The two are in a close race for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, but a string of primary and caucus election victories has boosted Obama into the delegate count lead heading into Texas and Ohio's March 4 primary elections.
Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, has previously stated the contests in Texas and Ohio are crucial for his wife's candidacy.
At the beginning of his speech, Obama reminded voters about the importance of casting their ballots in the March 4 primary election and caucuses.
"That will give us more delegates and it will help us in the caucus," Obama said.
The subject soon shifted to Obama's plans for the country should he be elected, including his healthcare plan and ideas for helping make college education more affordable.
"All across the country, you see senior citizens who are taking half the dose, even though the doctor tells them not to," the Illinois senator said.
Part of his healthcare proposal would include lowering monthly premiums by $2,500 and giving income-related federal subsidies to those who do not qualify for Medicaid or the state's Children's Health Insurance Program. It would also allow college students to remain on their parent's health insurance until the age of 25. The current limit is 23 years old.
In terms of helping students fund their college education, Obama got cheers from an approving crowd when he said he would grant a $4,000 tuition credit annually to every college student. In return, those individuals would have to do community service, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter or spending time in the Peace Corps.
"We invest in you, you invest in America and together, we will march this country forward," Obama said to loud applause.
The Illinois senator also touched on the sluggish economy, but focused more on the wages blue-collar Americans earn as opposed to corporate executives.
"Something is wrong when you have CEOs make more in 10 minutes than the average worker makes in a year and gets a tax break," Obama said.
Closing current tax loopholes for the rich is just one way the Chicago product said he would change what the administration under President George W. Bush has done. Not charging an income tax on Social Security for senior citizens, giving tax breaks to Americans who make $75,000 or less annually and staying on top of inflation would be others.
"I won't raise minimum wage every 10 years," Obama said. "I'm going to raise minimum wage to keep pace with inflation."
Rising inflation and gas prices, coupled with stagnant wages, have led many Americans to stop spending on anything other than bills and fuel, causing there to be fears of a recession. An economic stimulus bill was signed into law Feb. 13 by President Bush that would put $152 billion back into the hands of taxpayers in hopes of avoiding a recession.
One of the more pressing issues at the rally, though, was the handling of the war in Iraq and care for veterans, particularly those in South Texas.
"We've got to treat our veterans with honor and dignity," the Illinois senator said. "They have earned it and they deserve it."
Obama said it is a shame the nearest Veteren's Affairs Hospital is in San Antonio, a nearly two-hour drive for many veterans seeking treatment.
"People shouldn't have to be driving 200 miles to get well," he said. "We need a VA hospital in (South) Texas."
With many more injured veterans coming home from the war in Iraq, Obama said bringing an end to the conflict would be a priority for his administration.
"(Soldiers) have questioned the wisdom of a war that has cost us so badly in blood and treasures," the Illinois senator said, adding that he would bring an end to the war in 2009.
"We've been governed by fear and fear is not a very good advisor," Obama said.
Throughout his nearly 45-minute speech, the Illinois senator talked about his mantra of hope and change. He ended his visit by telling his arena of supporters that changing Washington D.C. would be an uphill climb, but one he hoped to make.
"I have been fighting for change for 20 years and I know how hard change is," Obama said. "But there comes a time in every generation when that spirit of hope comes through."