Earlier today, President Barack Obama visited downtown Charlottesville, Virginia as he continues his campaign for re-election. In 2008, Charlottesville proved to be one of Obama’s most favorable cities in Virginia, as he garnered 78.35% of the vote.
Prior to Obama’s speech, the Jefferson Area Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity held an “Oust Obama” rally at Lee Park, which began at noon, three or four blocks from the Pavilion where Obama’s event was slated to be later in the day. Featured speakers at this meeting included: former Republican Party of Virginia Chairperson Kate Obenshain, Delegate Rob Bell of Albemarle County, and E.W. Jackson, a former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. The crowd at this event was estimated to be approximately 160 people, most came from either Charlottesville or the surrounding Albemarle County, but there was also a sizable contingent from Augusta County, Staunton, and Waynesboro as well.
Attendance to Barack Obama’s speech was far more tightly regulated that the relatively informal tea party event. Each person had to have a ticket, which meant filling out a form that requested a name, address, phone number, and email address. Once the gates opened at 1:00 PM, the line quickly grew to stretch from one end of the downtown mall to the other, a distance of about a half a mile. As warned, the attendees had to path through “airport style security” which included emptying pockets and passing through a metal detector. Fortunately, neither full body scans nor removing shoes was required. However, as no outside beverages were allowed, many people simply threw their trash on the ground as opposed to finding a proper trashcan.
Although it was difficult to gauge a specific number, attendance had to have been in the thousands. People were packed as tightly as sardines within. A vast majority of the area was standing room only; ticket holders gathered both inside the structure and on the grassy slopes around.
After a bit of live music and some brief introductions from some of the local Obama field staff, the politicians spoke. First up was Tom Perriello, the former member of the House of Representatives for the Charlottesville area until he lost his re-election bid in 2010. Next was former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine who is looking to claim a seat in the U.S. Senate in November. He made a handful of jabs against George Allen, his Republican opponent.
Around 3:30 PM or so, Barack Obama took the stage for about a half an hour. He spent quite a bit of time reminding folks of the November election, as well as his accomplishments and plans for the future. He spoke on an abundance of topics that would please the mostly liberal audience such as: Obamacare, his support for abortion, and his desire to increase fuel efficiency of automobiles. One surprise, however, had to be his call to begin the complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan beginning in about a month’s time.
Although it was not difficult to leave the downtown area via car, the Charlottesville police did close off traffic in or out of Route 29, one of the busiest arteries of the city, for over an hour until the presidential motorcade had passed by. One does have to wonder how many thousands of citizens had their schedules disrupted by this unexpected delay.
Even though WSLS 10 reports that enthusiasm for Barack Obama has waned from its high water mark four years ago, today’s event in the liberal bastion of Charlottesville showed that there are still a vast number of people in Virginia who are willing to wait for hours on a fairly hot summer day and in a packed crowd to hear him speak.
Statistics show that Virginia will be one of the most important battlegrounds in the November 6th race for the President. Whether Barack Obama carries the Old Dominion, as he did four years ago, remains to be seen. However, as we draw nearer to the election, Virginians should expect more visits from Obama and Mitt Romney as well as counterbalancing gatherings of their detractors.