Monday, November 1, 2010

Barack and Joe Walk Into a Room: Notes From the Sunday Rally

Posted By on Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 10:46 AM

Thats President Obama, in case you cant see.
  • That's President Obama, in case you can't see.

They’re wailing at the President, and not in a good way. Three guys up in the middle section of the Wolstein Center: white, mid to late 20s, angry. The President’s only about a minute into his remarks and things are getting awkward here, a mid-air collision between Obama’s cool campaign delivery and these three guys screaming at the top of their lungs.

The shouting’s so loud you can’t make out what their saying, just one constant raw screech. Pretty soon the event’s security team is hauling the guys out and the crowd is answering with a thunderous “Yes We Can” straight out of '08.

It was all over quickly, just a blip in the program and Obama moved on. But the brief disturbance was also a crystallized form of the very anti-Dem antipathy Sunday’s event in downtown Cleveland was staged to counter. Otherwise, the Halloween rally was politics as usual: The PA played Jackie Wilson’s “You Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher)” not once, not twice, but three times; pumpkin cheesecake was on the menu in the press room; Common rhymed “Obama” with “Obama” on more than one occasion; and a guy wearing a Joe Biden costume took the stage and asked the party faithful to turn out on Tuesday.

Recent polls put Strickland within a percentage wiggle of Republican challenger John Kasich, so any momentum may tip the entire election. The fact that the party hauled in the big guns proves how harmful a Republican in the governor’s mansion could be to the Democrat’s national platform.

8,000 was the attendance stat quickly circulated to reporters post-event; the Cleveland State's Wolstein Center can hold around 14,000, so the bowl was not packed to the brim. Inside, most of the attendees sat in the stands while a sizable number filled the standing room before the podium. The crowd was an even mix of black and white, young and old.

Common what?
  • Common what?

In case you missed it, “Moving America Forward” is the Dems’ umbrella slogan for the ’10 standoff. It was plastered about the Wolstein Center. No campaign signs or bunting for the actual candidates though. But whoever was handing out Ed FitzGerald stickers deserves a hearty pat on the back, or at least a cush $60,000 job in the new county government. Everywhere you looked, attendees were stickered with FitzGerald flair, although there was not a single mention of the local party in the program — not a shout out to Jimmy, no thank you to Bill, no, Frank this was fun we’ll have to do it again sometime soon. This, of course, was not a surprise.

The program was a slow creep up the party totem poll. Scene camped out up from near the podium for the first wave of speakers. It was mostly breakfast cereal stump speeches — open the box and serve anytime, anyplace. There were a few exceptions, Dennis Kucinich for one. If this whole politics thing gets old, Dennis could easily land a future gig as a hype guy for the WWE; the minute he landed on the stage Cleveland’s congressman worked the crowd into a tizzy with a “Are we moving forward?” call-and-response mantra. And then, as quick as he came, Kucinich darted off the stage, a hit-in and quick-it artist in action.

Betty Sutton opened her six minutes with a memorable clunker of a shout out: “Where are you at organized labor?” to which the crowd kind of audibly shrugged. Sen. Sherrod Brown was a snooze outside of his call for members of the crowd to get five friends to the polls. By far the best speaker in the early run was Lt. Gov. candidate Yvette McGee Brown. She’s got game in front of a crowd, a veritable jukebox of choice quotes. “''Yes we can' didn’t mean 22 months,” she quipped, before tongue lashing the Republican agenda.

Fisher’s stage time was good but weird, mainly because he kept saying the “future of the planet” depended on this election, specifically on the Ohio turnout, specifically on Cuyahoga County, specifically on the people in this room. All that specificity got strange, but Fisher can give a speech and it worked even with the heavy-handed world-historical overtones.

There was a break after the Senate candidate’s speech so Scene strolled around. The media turnout was considerable and the floor was buzzing. Campaign staffers flitted about. Every other hand gripped a Blackberry. News cameras were set up on a raised platform opposite the stage. Behind the grating there were tables for reporters, the front rows reserved for the NATIONAL PRESS CORP. Scene didn’t notice the sign and took a breather in one of these spots before noticing event organizers evil-eyeing our way. Most of the national media seemed to split their time between chowing down on that pumpkin cheesecake in the filing room and jamming pencils into their eyes to kill the boredom.

Fair and balanced.
  • Fair and balanced.

Common was next on stage. Scene grabbed a spot on the platform near the soundboard. The hip-hopper and his band ran through a handful of songs and the crowd was receptive, a lot of middle agers getting down, toeing bath water, shaking it under the speed limit. But the musical act was there to prime the pump for the real draw.

“Hello Cleveland,” the governor opened with. “You are beautiful. You are Ohio.”

Outside of that awkward come-on, Strickland handled the podium well, hammering home the need for the flock to show up on Election Day. He kept it brief, hit his campaign points, and opened the door for Vice President Biden, who strode out to Springsteen’s “The Rising” while the crowd lost it head.

The Obama-Biden combo still carries rockstar status with the base, the Jagger-Richards for your left leaners. Despite sagging approval ratings and a mainstream media narrative that they’re losing their grip, get the Prez and VP in a room with nearly 10,000 believers and the atmosphere is undeniably charged. Biden was in top form, trumpeting his working class background and relating it to the people of Northeast Ohio. He blasted Republicans, reminding voters that the GOP agenda is what led to the economic downturn in the first place.

The president’s remarks were also pointed, focusing again how a Republican government was to blame for the current mess. He had some pretty good lines, particularly about how the GOP has been sitting on the sidelines “drinking Slurpees” while the Democrats tried and get the economy back in motion. “We can’t give them the keys back. They don’t know how to drive.” He liked the car analogy, telling the room that when you want to move forward, you put it in “D”; when you move back, you go to “R”. Coincidence?

“Cleveland, I need you to keep fighting, I need you to keep believing,” he concluded to the crowd. “If you are willing to step up to the plate, Ted will win. Lee will win.”

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