NASHUA, N.H. (AP) - A woman's tearful plea to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to end the Iraq war momentarily caught him off guard Friday at a New Hampshire town hall meeting.
The Illinois senator vowed to end the conflict if elected. Obama fielded questions about health care, gun control and energy during a midday appearance before some 200 people at a Nashua, N.H., senior center. The residents politely applauded, and then Jean Serino of Hudson, N.H., told the candidate her nephew was heading to Iraq to serve.
"I can't breathe," she said, her voice breaking with sobs. "I want to know, when am I going to able to breathe? Are you going to get us the hell out of there? Promise us you will get us out of there. That's the most important thing."
The crowd's applause as she finished gave Obama time to compose an answer.
"I can only imagine how you feel, as a father and as a parent," he said. "I don't go to a single town-hall meeting where I don't meet a mother or father who either is seeing a loved one go over there or has already lost someone, or has a loved one who has come back injured.
"So I make a solemn pledge to you, as president we will be out of Iraq," the Illinois senator said to loud applause.
Democratic presidential contenders have repeatedly faced questions from voters about the four-year-old war during stops in
New Hampshire. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has dealt with pointed questions about why she won't apologize for her 2002 vote authorizing President Bush to use military force to out Saddam Hussein.
A recent poll showed that ending the war is the top priority for New Hampshire voters when considering presidential candidates. Obama reiterated his plan to remove troops by March 31, 2008, similar to a plan passed by Congress that President Bush has vowed to veto.
Democrats don't have enough votes to override the veto. Without mentioning them by name, Obama criticized New Hampshire Sens. Judd Gregg and John Sununu, both Republicans who voted against the troop withdrawal deadline.
"There are two New Hampshire senators who have not made a commitment," he said, "and the power is in their hands." Earlier in the day, Obama issued a call to save future generations from global catastrophe as he offered an energy proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars.
Obama says the fuel used to power automobiles should contain less of the carbon that contributes to global warming, by an amount equal to taking 32 million cars off the road by 2020. That would represent a 10 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles.
Obama also reiterated his criticism of the system for background checks for gun purchases after the massacre at Virginia Tech. "We're still selling handguns to crazy people," Obama said. "We're supposed to have a system that these people are screened out. What's clear is the background check system in this case failed entirely."
Seung-Hui Cho, the gunman who shot 32 people at Virginia Tech Monday before killing himself, had a history of mental health problems but still was able to buy two guns that he used in the rampage.