Obama's Local Tour -- Wows North Philly on First Stop

In the case of Barack Obama, absence has certainly made the Philly heart grow stronger.

The Democratic presidential candidate was greeted by exuberant supporters today during his first visit to Philadelphia in months.

“I know these are difficult times. I know folks are worried,” he told the crowd at his first stop at Broad and Jefferson streets at 8:30 a.m. “But I also know now is not the time for fear, now’s not the time for panic. We’ve always seen that mountaintop from the deepest valley. We can do it again."

More than 15,000 people packed the Progress Plaza in North Philly. Demetrius Robinson, 38, a single dad from Camden, NJ, said he brought his four-year-old son and 19-month-old daughter to see Obama.

“I think it’s important at their ages to see the first president that looks like their father,” he said.

Obama will hit four Philly neighborhoods during the whirlwind tour to shore up his Democratic base. Last night he held two big-ticket fundraisers that brought in more than $5 million.

Boosted by tough economic news, Obama is currently leading in state and national polls. But the race has taken a nasty turn in the past week, as Republican John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin amped up their character attacks on Obama, in particular slamming his relationship with Chicago education advocate Bill Ayers, a former member of the violent 1960s radical group the Weathermen.

McCain approach has pumped up his supporters, who have grown increasingly rowdy and negative at his rallies. At a town hall meeting in Minneapolis yesterday, McCain himself seemed to try to calm the crowd who encouraged him to fight harder and said they were scared of an Obama presidency. McCain told them Obama was a “decent person,” a statement which drew a chorus of boos.

Obama said yesterday that he wanted to acknowledge that McCain tired to “tone down the rhetoric.” But he still criticized the tenor of the campaign.

“The last few days we’ve seen a barrage of nasty insinuation and attack. I’m sure we’ll see many more over the next 24 days,” he said. “They can try to change the subject, but they cannot do what they want to do because the American people understand what’s going on. It’s not going to work this time.”