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Hecklers fail to rattle Obama rally

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By Rosiland Jordan

"Cleveland rocks..."

...At least, that was president Barack Obama's goal on Sunday, when he and his vice-president, Joe Biden, headlined a Democratic rally in Ohio's second-largest city: to get the crowd fired up enough to head down the street from the arena and to cast a ballot in this year's midterm elections.

The crowd was perhaps one of the smallest of Obama's campaign season – about 8,000, according to Democratic party officials – but it was an exuberant crowd, and the president appeared to be feasting on its energy in the Wolstein Center.

Certainly when a small group of hecklers started screaming from the back of the arena, the crowd instantly broke out into chants of "Yes We Can!" But then, as security escorted the young men out of their seats, Obama chimed in: "I can’t hear you. Did you say, yes, we can?" With that, the crowd's chants grew even louder.

What was noticeable about this rally was the lack of visible signage or t-shirts or banners in support of the Ohio Democrats up for reelection on Tuesday: governor Ted Strickland, his running mate Yvette Brown, congressman and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, and Senate candidate Lee Fisher.

Appeal to youth

With all the local television stations in attendance, it would have seemed logical for these candidates to have outfitted their supporters in bright t-shirts, hoisting signs with "Ted" or "Lee". (In other words, free campaign advertising in what analysts are calling one of the most expensive election seasons ever.)

What was everywhere: "Vote 2010" and "Moving America Forward" signs with the familiar Obama "sunrise" logo – and the familiar soundtrack of Obama speeches – U2, the Staple Singers, Earth Wind and Fire, and Brooks & Dunn.

There was a distinct appeal to young voters at this rally, with the progressive hip-hop superstar Common bringing rally attendees to their feet. A local high school marching band earned the honour of saying it performed at a presidential event.

Outside the arena though, the city was deserted. Perhaps it was the early autumn chill blowing in from Lake Erie; perhaps it was the fact that it was both Halloween and a day for professional American football on the television.

But there was nothing to indicate that for a couple of hours, the president of the United States had come to town to fire up his Democratic base. Perhaps Cleveland is saving its biggest show of election year energy for Tuesday, November 2.

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