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Obama and Clinton speeches in Grand Forks were -- Worth the wait

Grand Forks, N.D. - Melissa Taylor waited 11 hours to hear a speech from presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Arriving at the Alerus Center at 6:45 a.m., the East Grand Forks, Minn., woman wanted to be sure she had the best seat possible when Obama spoke.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Taylor, 32, said Friday morning. "(There's a) 50 percent chance we'll see the next president today."

An estimated 15,000 people had similar thoughts as they packed into the Alerus Center to hear what the Illinois senator had to say.

Obama was the keynote speaker for the opening day of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL state convention.

After waiting in long lines outside, some fans then sat in the stands for as long as five hours waiting for him to speak. Most of the crowd remained for candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton's speech more than two hours later.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., joked the attendance was typical for a state convention.

"Sometimes we have a few more. Sometimes we have a few less," he quipped.

Obama also took note of the large audience.

"Uff-da. What a crowd," he said.

"I didn't know there were this many Democrats in North Dakota," Clinton said during her turn on the stage.

Security was tight for the day's events, with long lines waiting to get through metal detectors. North Dakota Democratic-NPL Executive Director Jamie Selzler said those waiting at shuttle bus stops around 4:45 p.m. didn't get in to the speech, due to the building reaching capacity.

"That's why we encouraged people to get here as early as possible," he said. "At some point, they shut off the shuttle buses."

Selzler didn't know how many people were affected.

For those who were in the Alerus, keeping up with the rumor mill provided some entertainment during the day. Early on, some people were convinced that Oprah Winfrey would attend the convention. She didn't.

Plenty of young people filled the audience, however, including 9-year-old Jacob Tupa of Larimore. He was near the front of the line Friday morning after begging his parents to let him attend Obama's speech.

"I just really wanted to see him because I thought it would be really fun," he said.

T.J. Weisenberger, 24, of Fargo arrived in Grand Forks by 8:30 a.m. and got one of the front-row stadium seats in the crowd.

"We need change, and that's his major thing," Weisenberger said. "He's the first politician that I've ever legitimately liked. I think he's real."

Meanwhile, Virginia Tupa of Grand Forks wore a large Clinton button and carried a Clinton sign in her front-row stadium seat.

"I think she's the best person to run our country for the next eight years," she said.

Marcia Ahmann, 29, of Fargo wore a Clinton T-shirt to show her support. She said she likes that Clinton is goal-oriented and has detailed plans.

The crowd gave several roars of approval throughout the Obama and Clinton speeches. To keep themselves entertained before Clinton arrived, many started doing the wave.

She arrived on the stage with the theme song from "Rocky" playing and cheers of approval.

"It is exciting to be a North Dakota Democrat right now," Clinton said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560