By Rosiland Jordan
I look at my press credentials from the five political rallies where President Barack Obama spoke in recent weeks, and their simple design gives no hint of the energy surging through the crowds who waited to see him.
It's a warm and sunny day along the shores of Lake Mendota, where the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus sits. Students crisscross the campus in their red and white t-shirts, eager to see the man they helped send to the White House two years ago – and just as eager to see the roots-rock singer and guitarist Ben Harper, a longtime Obama supporter who will perform at the rally.
The stage sits in the heart of campus, on Library Mall – an American flag suspended from the library, and cardboard letters reading “Moving America Forward” hang from another. People wander in and out, anxious for the rally to begin.
During the security sweep, students mutter about the size of the security perimeter, while Madison police pretend not to hear their complaints. Soon enough, these students and other local residents will have to go through the security checkpoints run by the Secret Service – there is no challenging the process if you want to enter.
Photos and autographs
Ben Harper finishes his sound check, and wanders into the pit where rallygoers will gather. Almost immediately, fans swarm him around him, asking for photos and autographs. He obliges every person – and, I think, it’s something the president - surrounded by constant security - could never do these days, even among his biggest fans.
After the obligatory singing of the national anthem and the pledge to the flag, a surprise campaigner bounds on stage: Democratic Senator Russ Feingold, in the toughest re-election bid of his career. He wasn’t supposed to be at this rally, said aides – there were "votes in Washington". But lo, there Feingold is, calling the President, "My president!" and urging the crowd to vote the Democratic slate on November 2nd. He gets an appreciative roar from the attendees.
And finally, it's time for the President to greet Madison – an estimated 26,000 in attendance, according to local police.
Obama will give this speech so many times during September and October that some might wonder why the teleprompters are needed. But for this Madison rally, the words are new, the anecdotes are cutting, the digs at Republicans sure to draw laughter, especially the story about the economy being driven into a ditch, and Republicans sipping a popular beverage while Democrats try to pull the economy out.
The president finishes with a call to action – to vote, to get neighbours to vote, to make phone calls in the final days of the campaign. He shakes as many hands as he can before aides and security hustle him off to his motorcade.
Attendees tell reporters they're motivated to keep the Congress in Democratic hands – but at the end of September, it seems too early to predict whether their enthusiasm will survive the final weeks of campaigning.
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