Illinois U.S. Sen.-elect Barack Obama arrived at the Democrats' fund-raiser in Waikiki last night carrying his daughter, Sasha, and flanked by U.S. Sen. Neil Abercrombie and Hawaii Democratic Party Chairman Brickwood Galuteria.

Obama pushes
message of diversity

The senator-elect from Illinois
credits success to his life in Hawaii

Addressing more than 500 Hawaii Democrats last night, U.S. Sen.-elect Barack Obama said he aims to take the messages of diversity and togetherness that he learned while growing up in the islands to Washington, D.C.


Barack Obama: The former isle resident is the only African American in the U.S. Senate

"No place else, perhaps, than the state of Hawaii could have provided me with the environment, the climate, in which I could not only grow, but also get a sense of being loved," Obama said at a fund-raiser held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

"There is no doubt that that residue of Hawaii will always stay with me, that it is part of my core and that what's best in me and what's best in my message is one that is consistent with the tradition of Hawaii," Obama said.

The Hawaii-born Obama overwhelmingly defeated Republican Alan Keyes in November's election for an Illinois Senate seat. He is the only African American in the Senate, and the third since Reconstruction.

Last night's Democratic fund-raiser in Waikiki cost $100 a head. Proceeds will be divided equally between Obama's Illinois campaign coffers and the Hawaii Democratic Party.

During his speech, the 43-year-old got two standing ovations and several rounds of applause. Throughout the night, dozens circled around him to shake his hand and take pictures with him.

"Barack is a kind of special person who is of Hawaii, educated here, has in his heart the culture of Hawaii and what Hawaii is all about," U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka told attendees before Obama's speech. "He reflects Hawaii and he reflects America."

Obama, a 1979 alumnus of Punahou School, was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. He jumped onto the national stage earlier this year after delivering the keynote address at the National Democratic Convention in Boston, where he spoke of national unity.

Obama "brought the house down" at the convention, Akaka said. "I was so proud," he said. "I wasn't thinking of Illinois, I was thinking of Hawaii."

Many of Hawaii's top Democrats attended yesterday's function, including U.S. Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Ed Case, former Gov. George Ariyoshi, Senate President Robert Bunda and House Speaker Calvin Say. Mayor-elect Mufi Hannemann also made an appearance.

Many residents said they came to hear Obama after his inspirational address at the convention. "He made you feel really proud to be an American," said Gary Galiher, of Nuuanu.

Democratic Party volunteer Kristine Giannasio called Obama a "returning treasure."

"I think that he has a sense of diversity," she said. "He's a very bright, stellar, caring human being who can really help us."

Obama has been in the islands for about a week, visiting with family. His grandmother and sister live on Oahu. He said he plans to stay until after Christmas. This morning, he is expected to talk to Punahou School students. He is set to be sworn in as a senator on Jan. 4.

Earlier in the evening, Obama told reporters that he will speak with Akaka about the so-called Akaka Bill, which would give native Hawaiians federal recognition. He declined to say whether he would support it.

Obama stressed his constituency was in Illinois, but he said he would be "sympathetic to certain issues regarding the Hawaiian Islands," including helping native Hawaiians and the state's environment.

In his speech, Obama praised Hawaii's Democratic Party, calling it "one of the strongest ... in the entire country." He also spoke about the defeat for Democrats in the 2004 election, saying the party's members need to "adapt to new times."

"We cannot, will not and should not compromise those core values that make us Democrats," he added. "We continue to have to stand for those people who don't have a voice. ... There is a better day out there."

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