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Aboard the Obama express

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BY ABDON M. PALLASCH
Chicago Sun-Tmes Political Reporter
ABOARD THE GEORGIA 300 -- "Folks, this is more than an ordinary train ride -- this is a new beginning," Vice President-elect Joe Biden said as he prepared to join President-elect Barack Obama on a train ride to next week's inauguration.

"To the conductors who make our trains run and to the workers who lay down the rails; to the parents who worry about how they're going to pay the bills next month on the commute to work, and to the children who hear the whistle of the train and dream of a better life -- that's who we're fighting for. That's who needs change," Obama told the crowd of some 8,000 bundled-up Delaware residents in Wilmington who clapped in gloved hands at the Amtrak stop where Biden catches his train to work every day.

Like President Abraham Lincoln did 150 years ago, Obama is taking taking the train in from Philadelphia before his inauguration. It's a 79-yer-old Pullman car called the "Georgia 300."


Pennsylvania and Delaware residents turned out at train stations and their back yards to wave as the train rolled by. With temperatures as low as 9 degrees, people shouted "Obama", breathing steam into the air, waved American flags and signs such as "Hail to the Chief" and "Happy Birthday, Michelle." (Michelle Obama turned 45 today.)

Before he left Philadelphia, Obama told 200 supporters in a historic marble-walled room at the 30th Street station, "As I prepare to leave for Washington on a trip that you made possible, know that I will not be traveling alone."

He told the Philadelphia crowd that "It was here that a group of farmers and lawyers, merchants and soldiers, gathered to declare their independence and lay claim to a destiny that they were being denied." He told the Delaware crowd that: "It was here in Delaware where the Constitution was first ratified. It was here in Delaware where the first state joined the union."

Gov. Ed Rendell, introducing Obama, noted Pennsylvania was not just a battleground state during the revolution, but also in Obama's election.

"This was the battleground," Rendell said. "When the returns came back at 8:06 we all knew, and I bet Sen. Obama knew, that he was going to be the next president of the United States."

Rendell and the other elected officials introducing Obama noted all the Lincoln parallels.

"They're both from Illinois; he will use the Lincoln bible; He will speak at the Lincoln Memorial. I think he has a real sense of history," said Arlen Specter, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania , who was there to add a bi-partisan air to the send-off. Earlier this week it was Specter who harshly grilled Obama's choice for attorney general, Eric Holder, during his confirmation hearing.

"He's pretty much retracing the same route [as Lincoln]," Democratic Sen. Bob Casey said. Casey said he hopes Obama's inaugural speech Tuesday can help slow the economic downturn.

"Words matter -- probably more so in a time of economic crisis," Casey said. "His words throughout the campaign inspired people to believe that what was thought impossible is within the realm of possibility."

Obama will make a stop in Baltimore before arriving in Washington, D.C. tonight.

The Georgia 300 train has hosted Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. It's also the same train Obama road through Pennsylvania in his unsuccessful bid to win that state's Democratic primary election. The train has a kitchen, two living-room areas and a small bedroom.

Lincoln took over the country at a time of war. Obama faces war on two fronts and an economic crisis.

"We recognize that such enormous challenges as we face today will not be solved quickly," Obama said. "There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. We will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency."

In addition to the historic Pullman car, there are nine Amtrak cars filled with press, staff and invited guests.

Obama is traveling with his wife, Michelle, daughters Malia and Sasha, and friends Penny Pritzker and John Rogers, among others. Pritzker and Rogers are co-chairs of the Presidential Inauguration Committee.

The train slowed down through Claymont, Del., and Obama and his wife stepped out on the balcony to wave. Obama pulled the whistle at least three times.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on January 17, 2009 3:25 PM.

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