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Obama visits Altoona

Presidential hopeful chats with residents

March 30, 2008
By Jessica VanderKolk,
Having rolled up the sleeves of his light-blue dress shirt near the end of a busy day, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama greeted customers and ordered dinner during a surprise visit Saturday at Texas Hotdogs of Altoona on 12th Avenue.

Joined by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., Obama ordered a hot dog, fries and soda — and enough for seven of the accompanying press corps — and the two senators joined a back booth of Blair County women to hear about local needs.

Tommi Burchfield, who has three young children, talked to Obama about his own two daughters, the federal No Child Left Behind Act and the testing it requires for school children.

“I volunteer in the schools,” she said. “I see teachers having to teach to the test. It’s so discouraging.”

They also talked about jobs and how many are leaving Blair County. Burchfield told Obama people want to work and take care of their families.

“It’s not high aspirations here,” she said.

As the director of United Way of Blair County, Burchfield said she tries to tell people that everyone can make a difference.

“He said when people don’t have to worry about health care and have money at the end of the month, they can give back,” she said of Obama’s response.

The Brunhuber family of Altoona finished dinner and was waiting for Obama when he walked through the restaurant.

He signed a notebook page for Noah, 9, the same age as his daughter, Malia.

“Nine’s a really great age,” Obama told Noah. “It’s gonna be a great year.”

As Obama posed for pictures later, Noah gave him an “Obama for president” drawing from the same notebook, even using Obama’s campaign logo.

Obama said he would hang it in his bus.

“It’s definitely time for a change,” said Barb Brunhuber, who said the family supports the candidate and “his whole platform.”

Andy Brunhuber, 22, said he really believes Obama has reached out to young voters and said, “Getting out of Iraq” is an important issue for him this election.

About 100 people gathered outside the restaurant behind yellow tape guarded by the Secret Service upon seeing the behemoth buses pull up.

They cheered and held up cameras and cell phones as he came out to shake hands and sign autographs.

Roy Martin of Altoona stopped by the scene while walking home and said he hopes to see presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain stop in Altoona. Martin said he would write to encourage him to do so.

“I already voted for him, absentee,” he said. “He’s gonna be a good man. He’s a prisoner of war, and he’s for the people. He’s my man.”

Mirror Staff Writer Jessica VanderKolk is at 946-7465.

Article Photos

(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. watches Obama as he holds a copy of the Mirror before autographing it for Diane L. Hudson of Altoona, whose son may serve a third tour in Iraq.

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