Wisconsin is one of the eight or nine battleground states in this Presidential election. We have certainly been getting our share of TV ads, robocalls, and candidate visits. I had the opportunity to go to a rally for President Obama last weekend. The President spoke at the BMO Harris Pavilion on the Summerfest grounds late Saturday afternoon.
To attend the rally, we first had to get our free tickets. These were made available at eight Obama for America (OFA) offices around the Milwaukee metro area on Wednesday evening. We went to the Cedarburg office, thinking, “How many people in the northern suburbs would want tickets?” Well, the line went down the block and it took us more than an hour to get our 2 tickets. That was in Cedarburg ! In deep red Ozaukee County !
Since the gates were scheduled to open at 2:30 on Saturday, we figured that arriving at 2:00 would be OK. To our shock, the entry line, 3 or 4 abreast, ultimately wrapped from the south Summerfest entrance, down the street past the north entrance, looping around Discovery World, up the lakefront past the Art Museum, and far into Veteran's Park, a distance of about 2 miles. And that was just the people who did not leave because of the crowd !
The line snaked through a gauntlet of hundreds of political button and apparel salespeople. One of my favorite items was a tee-shirt that had a picture of Redd Foxx saying “Vote for Obama, You Big Dummy !” Security was tight, with everyone passing through metal detectors and airport-class searches of our personal items on entering the grounds.
Crowd estimates were in the 15,000-18,000 range, the biggest rally of the Obama campaign. With the discouraged people who gave up on getting tickets or were deterred by the long line, we could have easily filled the Bradley Center's concert seating capacity of 20,000. By the time we entered the grounds, all seats in the pavilion were taken and thousands more of us grouped around two jumbotrons. The crowd was warmed-up by Mayor Barrett, Herb Kohl, and Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin. A local firefighter introduced the President. Before the speech, a rainbow appeared over the lake-a sight that many supporters jokingly took as an omen of an Obama victory.
The President's rousing half hour speech echoed many of the themes of his Democratic Convention address. He got the crowd going by making references to Wisconsin and Milwaukee- talking about brats, the Packers, and how close he was to his Chicago home. During the rest of the talk, he outlined accomplishments of the last four years and revealed a vision for the next four.
In discussing America's challenges, Obama said, “ There is no problem we cannot solve. No challenge that we cannot meet. We’ve got the best workers in the world, and the best businesses in the world. The best researchers and scientists. We’ve got the best universities. We have the most diverse population, full of innovators and risk-takers. There's not a country on Earth that wouldn’t trade places with the United States of America. “
In talking about America's wars, he said, “Four years ago I promised many of you that I’d end the war in Iraq -- and we did. I said we’d wind down the war in Afghanistan -- and we are. And as a new tower rises in New York, we have gone after al Qaeda and we got bin Laden.” At that point, the crowd erupted in “USA! USA! USA!” Later, referring to the Senate Republican filibuster of the Jobs for Veterans Bill, Obama said, “When our troops come home, we’ll make sure we’re serving them as well as they’ve served us -- because if you fought for this country you shouldn’t have to fight for a job when you come home. “
The President compared and contrasted the Romney/Ryan vision for America with the one advocated by Democrats. The Republican/Tea Party believes in top-down economics, where “you are on your own”. Democrats believe in bottom-up and middle-out economics, where “we are all in this together”. Whenever the crown reacted negatively to Romney's political views, Obama repeatedly said, “Don't boo, VOTE!”
In a tweak of Romney's dismissal of the 47% of Americans who don't pay federal income tax and “believe that they are victims”, Obama said, “In 2008, 47 percent of the country didn’t vote for me. But on election night I said to those Americans, I may not have won your vote, but I heard your voices, and I’ll be your President, too. And I don’t know how many folks will vote for me in Wisconsin this time around, but I want everybody in Wisconsin to know that, no matter what, I’ll be fighting for you. “
Despite the long lines, a brief rain shower, and the small number of seats, the crowd left the rally charged up for the final weeks of the campaign. It is hard to imagine Mitt Romney garnering a crowd as large and enthusiastic as the one in Milwaukee on Saturday. Yet, these were only the most ardent of Obama supporters, the ones who make the calls, knock on doors, and give money. The huge turn-out, as well as great recent poll numbers, bode well for Obama's chances in Wisconsin and for his national reelection hopes.