Sen. Barack Obama rocked an overflow crowd at KeyArena on Friday in one of the biggest political rallies the state has ever seen. So many people showed...

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Sen. Barack Obama rocked an overflow crowd at KeyArena on Friday in one of the biggest political rallies the state has ever seen. So many people showed up to catch a glimpse of Obama, police had to help keep the peace after thousands were shut out.

“I’m fired up. I’m ready to go,” Obama said as he took the stage to a deafening roar from the crowd of more than18,000 inside the arena.

Obama’s appearance highlighted a remarkable day that saw all three of the top presidential candidates campaigning in Washington on the eve of the state’s precinct caucuses. Obama’s Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, made appearances in Tacoma and Spokane on Friday after speaking in Seattle on Thursday.

Republican Sen. John McCain, who has his party’s nomination all but wrapped up, met supporters at Seattle’s Westin Hotel.

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KeyArena was filled to capacity hours before Obama took the stage. Some 3,000 people listened from an overflow area outside.

It was the latest in a string of huge rallies for Obama. In the week leading up to Super Tuesday, he drew monstrous crowds at most stops — including 14,000 in Boise, Idaho.

Clinton drew a capacity crowd of 5,000 on Thursday for a rally at Pier 30 on Seattle’s waterfront, and 6,000 at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma on Friday.

If the crowds are any indication of what’s to come in today’s Democratic precinct caucuses, turnout should easily shatter the record 100,000 who showed up in 2004.

“We’ve got people coming out of the woodwork,” said state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz. “The energy in this state is the highest I’ve ever known it to be.”

The crowd at KeyArena was overwhelmingly young, including many who looked at least a few years shy of voting age. Obama urged everyone to caucus for him today.

“You have to take us over the finish line,” Obama said. “I cannot bring about change by myself.”

The crowd responded by breaking into Obama’s popular campaign chant, “Yes we can, yes we can.”

Cori Christiansen, 51, of Olympia, and her son Evan Laurie, 20, sat outside the arena and ate sandwiches after hearing Obama.

“It was absolutely amazing,” Christiansen said. “He is the next president. The energy was just electric.”

Courtney Carson, 18, of Renton, described Obama’s speech as “breathtaking.”

“I’m inspired so much,” said Carson, who attended the rally with her friend Erica Carraway, also 18.

“I think it was my calling to turn 18 during this election, not only as an African American but as a young person as well,” Carraway said.

Spreading messages

Obama’s 50-minute speech was largely a cut-and-paste of talks he has been giving for months, including at his appearance in December at the Showbox SoDo in Seattle.

As president, Obama said, he would tell the world that “America is back, and we are ready to lead.” He rattled off a litany of problems he aims to take on — everything from terrorism and the war in Iraq to global warming and genocide in Darfur.

The dueling rallies by Clinton and Obama have given voters a chance to hear first-hand the back-and-forth that has become the crux of their campaigns.

Obama spent much of his speech on his usual themes of hope and unity.

“I believe in my gut if we could just join together, across racial divisions, across gender divisions, young, old, rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight … then there is no problem we could not solve,” he said.

During her rally Thursday, Clinton took a swipe at Obama’s campaign, saying she, too, wanted to unify the country, “but not just for the sake of saying we’re unified.” She said her experience and expertise offer a more realistic chance for getting things done.

Obama shot back Friday, cracking jokes about those who have painted him as a “hopemonger.”

“They criticize me for being inspiring. The implication is that somehow I’m not a realist. The notion is that my head is in the clouds somewhere. That, in the words of Senator Clinton, I’m giving false hope and I need a reality check,” Obama said.

“I know how hard it is going to be to bring about change in America,” he said.

Witnessing history

Lines started forming at KeyArena before 6 a.m. for the 11 a.m. rally, and the crowd snaked through Seattle Center before the doors opened.

William Spiritdancer, of Seattle’s Central District, pulled his four children — ages 7 to 14 — out of school to see Obama speak. The teachers were OK with it and wished they could attend, too, he said.

“It could be history in the making,” Spiritdancer said. “He’s inspiring. That’s what’s needed. You have to inspire people to something higher.”

Once the arena was filled, officials closed the entrances, turning away thousands who remained outside.

Kathryn Hughes, a senior at Gig Harbor High School, got inside while her friend Hunter Burton, also a Gig Harbor senior, was outside, pressed against a KeyArena glass door.

Burton said he was “furious beyond words. Democracy should not be limited by a stadium’s capacity.”

About 12:45 p.m., Obama was entering KeyArena on the southeast side of the building when he stopped, grabbed a bullhorn and addressed supporters outside in a makeshift speech that lasted three or four minutes.

Gregoire endorsement

Obama was introduced at KeyArena by Gov. Christine Gregoire, who had been struggling for weeks over whether to back Clinton or Obama.

“I’ve done some soul-searching, I’ve done a lot of debating, and I’ve come here today to announce my endorsement for Barack Obama,” said Gregoire, speaking to perhaps the biggest crowd of her career.

Gregoire’s endorsement means Obama picks up one more of Washington’s 17 “superdelegates,” the party leaders and prominent elected officials who are automatic delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

Superdelegates make up about 20 percent of the total that decides the nomination and are free to back whomever they want. There is growing speculation that, with the race so close, the decision could come down to the superdelegates.

“I haven’t done the math, but obviously this thing is tight,” Obama said at a news conference before the rally.

As of Friday, Clinton had commitments from six of Washington’s superdelegates; Obama had three. Most counts show her leading among superdelegates by a wide margin nationwide.

Obama wouldn’t say whether he thought superdelegates should be bound to support the candidate who wins the most votes in their states or congressional districts. But he said it will be problematic if the will of party insiders trumps “the judgment of the voters.”

He added that superdelegates should weigh heavily which candidate “will be in the strongest position to defeat John McCain in November and … make sure that we are broadening the base, bringing people who historically have not gotten involved in our politics to vote.”

Seattle Times staff reporters

Stuart Eskenazi, Jennifer Sullivan

and Christina Siderius contributed

to this story.

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