Obama’s star appeal

In Nevada, a state of mostly desert, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is quickly nurturing a grass-roots campaign, with a rally on Thursday showing such efforts are generating enthusiasm.

More than 3,500 people filled a Reno park to hear the 45-year-old senator from Illinois. At a press conference after the rally, he talked about the importance of attracting ordinary voters back into the political process.

"My campaign is bringing in new people. It is galvanizing people," Obama said.

One of those people is Barb Mucutt, 53, of Reno who has been on board for two months, working in the first campaign of her life.

"This is the first candidate in a long time I actually want to vote for," she said as she helped with crowd control. "It's my gut instinct that he cares about the welfare of the American citizens."

Nevada has taken on greater importance in the 2008 presidential race than in past years as it is holding its Democratic Caucus in January, sandwiched between the Iowa and New Hampshire races — the traditional start of the race.

The Reno audience, with a mix of men and women, ages and ethnicities, were enthusiastic with Obama's vision for universal health care by the end of his first term, changes in education and bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Helping spread the word is his army of volunteers. More than 5,000 have signed up in Nevada to try to make Obama the Democratic candidate for president in the November 2008 election.

"One of the things that is unique about this campaign is we really encourage groups to do their own projects. A Southern Nevada group has made its own literature," said David Cohen, the campaign's deputy director for Nevada.

"It's a movement of people looking to change America and people will do this in all kinds of ways and we encourage that."

Groups are scattered throughout Nevada — ranging from people uniting based on geography, ethnicity and professions to high school and college students.

Brent Busboom, 37, took the day off work as a Reno high school English teacher to volunteer. He spent nearly 40 hours making signs and telephone calls for Obama.

Across the United States, Obama's volunteers will descend upon neighborhoods on June 9 to knock on doors to talk about this man who jokes about getting his odd name from his Kenyan father and his accent from his mother who hails from Kansas.

"I'm heavily involved in the grass-roots movement. I have never seen a campaign hit the ground so early," said Francesca Loftis of Placerville, California, before heading to the rally.

"The last time I felt this passionate about a candidate was JFK," Loftis said of the late John F. Kennedy, who was elected president in 1960.