From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
AUSTIN, Texas -- In the shadow of the state capitol that provided the United States with one of the most conservative presidents in recent history, Obama last night railed against the charge that being "liberal" was a bad thing.
"Oh, he's liberal," he said. "He's liberal. Let me tell you something. There's nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics that is common sense. There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure [our soldiers] are treated properly when they come home."
Continuing on his riff: "There's nothing liberal about wanting to make sure that everybody has healthcare, but we are spending more on healthcare in this country than any other advanced country. We got more uninsured. There's nothing liberal about saying that doesn't make sense, and we should so something smarter with our health care system. Don't let them run that okie doke on you!"
Nearly 20,000 people came to see Obama speak at a chilly outdoor rally with the backdrop of the state capitol, bare trees and a plump moon rising in the night sky.
Obama told the crowd that he loved Austin and reminded them that he came here soon after he announced for the presidency. And his love may be for good reason. His chances in Texas appear to be looking brighter, per a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that shows him pulling even with Clinton.
Going on the offense against McCain and Clinton, Obama reprised his argument about negotiating with foreign dictators in what appeared to be an unnamed allusion to his statement in Thursday's Democratic debate that he would meet with Raul Castro without preconditions, something which McCain hammered him for Friday morning.
"I have said earlier in this campaign I would meet not just with leaders we liked," Obama said, "but leaders we didn't. Not just our friends but with our enemies, and I was told by Washington, 'Oh you can't do that! You can't do that. That would be naïve, that would be irresponsible.' John McCain's been repeating this line over the last couple days, and I have to remind John McCain and Hillary Clinton of what John F. Kennedy said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate."
He also told the crowd that McCain was "lassoed" to the policies of George W. Bush. Explaining why he was "tough enough" to run against McCain, he delivered his winning line of the night.
"I wouldn't be here if I wasn't tough," Obama said. "Nobody gave me…Listen I'm a black guy named Barack Obama running for president. You can't tell me I ain't tough. Shoot!"
The crowd screamed loudly while Obama went on the attack against McCain, and he shouted out to them, "Settle down Austin!"
If the argument that a cult of personality has developed around Obama's campaign, tonight's event in Austin was a case in point. People in the crowd held up large cardboard signs with his face painted on them. The shops along the streets had posters with Obama's face and the word "HOPE" on them.
Obama acknowledged the criticism of the enthusiasm that's risen in recent weeks. "And ya know what? Well they make fun of you all too by the way," Obama said. "They make fun of you guys. They say, 'All these people who are following Obama they're delusional. They just like pretty words, they don't really understand what's going on.' Lets get real."
He started his remarks with an acknowledgment and moment of silence for the officer who was killed yesterday in Clinton's motorcade. Telling the crowd that he had taken a picture with the motorcycle detail that had also protected him just a day earlier.
Tonight's event wrapped up a three-day visit to Texas. Obama heads to Ohio tomorrow to try and close the lead Clinton enjoys there.