President Barack Obama officially kicked off his 2012 re-election campaign on Saturday, May 5th with stops at Ohio State University in Columbus and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. It was significant that college students in swing states were targeted as young voters in closely contested states such as Ohio and Virginia could mean the difference between winning and losing.
President Obama has repeatedly made the case for upgrading America's crumbling infrastructure, including the need for improved passenger train service such as high-speed rail, so it was fitting that I took the Amtrak train down to Richmond from Alexandria in Northern Virginia to see the president speak at VCU's Stuart C. Siegel Center in central Richmond. Despite an hour-and-a-half delay heading home in the evening from Richmond's Staples Mill Road station, the train still beats traffic on Interstate 95!
Broad Street in front of Siegel Center and surrounding streets were closed off to traffic and there were the usual right-wing suspects protesting with their Ron Paul and Tea Party signs. Arriving at 12:30 p.m., a full four-and-a-half hours before Obama's speech, the line was already long. Thousands of supporters waited in the heat and humidity and a couple of elderly people passed out from heat exhaustion and had to be treated. If it weren't for the cloud cover, it could have been worse for the elderly waiting for the chance to hear President Obama speak.
The crowd was racially and ethnically diverse, reflective of the Democratic Party's efforts to reach out to minorities. There were many African-Americans who turned out for the event, which was a good sign for victory in Virginia. When First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage to introduce the president, she made an impassioned plea to the crowd to make sure their friends and family members are registered to vote. The Obama campaign knows that in addition to getting college students to the polls, it is important that the large African-American population in Virginia votes for Obama on November 6th.
Once the 8,000 plus supporters got through the airport-like security, it was a festive atmosphere inside of Siegel Center, with chants of "four more years!" and "fired up, ready to go!" and the wave even got going for a while. Many in the crowd held up blue signs with the campaign's new slogan, "Forward."
There were speeches from popular VCU Rams basketball head coach Shaka Smart, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, former Virginia Democratic Governor Tim Kaine, other dignitaries and Obama supporters.
Finally, after all the waiting, at around 5 p.m. President Obama took the stage to enthusiastic and loud cheers from the boisterous crowd. Obama reminded the crowd of the stark choice that will be made this November. Will we go back to the failed policies of the past or move forward rebuilding the nation so a confident America with a strong middle class can lead the world once again? The message was positive and inspiring and the difference with the pessimism on the Republican side was striking. Do Americans want to re-elect a leader who is working hard to restore American greatness and an economy that works for the majority of people instead of against them? Or will Americans buy into the Obama bashing and fear mongering from the GOP?
The election is going to be incredibly close. It will be tighter than 2008 and that is why in addition to the positive atmosphere celebrating Obama's many accomplishments, there was also a steady resolve and determination. The Obama campaign knows the hard work ahead. There will be setbacks. There will be progress. There will good times. There will be bad times. With more money than ever, the other side will wage a war full of lies and distortions that has never been seen before in a modern election. But the only result that matters is on November 6th.
I'm fired up and ready to go. Are you?