Los Angeles – In the latest appearance of his week-long midterms blitz, Obama slammed Republicans, saying “their whole strategy is amnesia.” Obama was speaking at the biggest political events of the campaign, rallying nearly 37,000 at the University of Southern California in south-central Los Angeles Friday afternoon.
It was the president’s first political visit to the nation’s second largest city in a long 19 months. But he came with a specific mission: to buoy a Democratic congressional campaign threatened by a possible Republican tsunami in November. In short, the Democrats have called in the heavy artillery in what should be a locked-down blue state.
Against U-2 soundtrack and a loud ovation, a jacket-less and emotionally-charged Obama took the stage and rolled out his signature line from the apex of his 2008 campaign: “I’m fired up!”
“We need all of you fired up, we all need you ready to go,” he said, challenging the crowd to “defy the conventional wisdom” that apathy has set in among the young. “You will have the chance to say ‘Yes, we can!” Obama cried, reprising the slogan he rode to victory two years ago.
Denouncing the bleak economic situation he inherited coming into office, Obama tried to reassure crowd that while there still might be tough times ahead, his policies are slowly turning things around. He admitted that his hopes for bipartisan efforts to confront the economic downturn were met with Republican intransigence.
“The Republican leaders in Washington made a different calculation… they looked at the mess they left me and said this a really big mess,” said an impassioned Obama. “So maybe if we just sit on the sidelines and point our finger at Obama you would forget they made the mess in the first place.”
Obama argued, in short, that the coming election is a choice between the past and the future rather than a referendum on his first two years in office.
There was also a smattering of celebrities on the dais, including an exuberant Jamie Foxx who led the crowd in a chant of “Vote! Democrat!”
Obama supporters and Democratic activists waited for hours and withstood long lines under tight security to attend the USC rally. Even credentialed media had to wait for more than 90 minutes to get into the site, given the crush of the crowd.
As Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The U.S.A” blared on the speakers, Aubrey Relf, a 32-year-old doctoral student at USC, told the media she was heartened by the buzz of the event. "People came here at 5 o'clock in the morning," she said.
It wasn’t just USC students who attended the rally, but also delegations and groups from local churches and schools. There was also a strong turn-out of African-Americans, a key Democratic constituency.
Students and youth are obviously targeted constituencies but so are Latinos. No accident, then, that the rally itself was kicked off by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who took the podium and praised the diversity of the City of Angeles. “This is the city who doesn’t care who your Daddy is,” he said. “Or in the light of the recent court ruling, if you have two Daddies.” That last reference was to the recent judicial flip-flopping over enforcement of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell military policy – a policy which the Obama administration has vowed to repeal on his watch but whose Justice Department is nonetheless defending.
Villaraigosa also vigorously encouraged Democrats in the crowd to go out and vote November 2. Local Democrats, led by organized labor, have been running a robust GOTV program for the last few weeks.
California state assembly speaker John Perez, a cousin of the mayor, also addressed the crowd and poo-poohed the supposed “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats. “All their money,” he said, referring to Republican funding, “cannot match the enthusiasm of Democrats.” Former local union leader and current Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis, also spoke to the crowd.
San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris, Democratic candidate for California Attorney General made a direct plea to the you the vote, telling the rally this a “netroots campaign… this is a generation that understands the future will be decided in a few days.”
On Thursday, Obama campaigned with Washington state’s Patty Murray, another Democratic senator facing a stiff challenge. And he attended a private fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer immediately before his appearance at USC.
Boxer appeared before the crowd and opened with the line, “We will win!” Boxer said she doesn’t “sugarcoat it and these are difficult times” but that “the other side wants to take us back…to the Bush policies.”
It’s emblematic of the Democratic dilemma that Obama decided to come to what is considered a bright-blue California to help support Boxer. The veteran incumbent, liberal Democratic stalwart is running only a few points ahead of her GOP challenger, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Most pollsters give Boxer a slight edge but it’s noteworthy that she needs Obama’s support at all in these closing days of the campaign. In Nevada, where Obama will be ending his midterm tour tomorrow, Senate Majority Leader Reid is in a considerably weaker position and is running neck and neck with ultra-conservative challenger Sharron Angle.
Just a week ago, former President Clinton appeared crosstown before a UCLA crowd of 6,000 to lend support to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown. Though his billionaire opponent, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, has spent a record $140 million on her campaign, she continues to fall farther behind Brown in state wide polling.
Brown also got a warm reception at the USC rally, speaking shortly before Obama. “We are the positive change for everybody,” Brown told the crowd. ‘We don’t scapegoat anybody here in California.”
While some conservative Democrats have been running away from the Obama administration, the president still has great appeal and popularity in California, said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.
“His job ratings here in California are higher than they are in other parts of the country, and therefore he’s probably not as much a liability—or he’s a greater benefit—to Democratic candidates running here than he would be in other states,” DiCamillo told USC Annenberg Digital News  earlier this week. “The use of Obama is to both shore up Boxer’s support among registered Democrats and also to reach out to non-partisans who may be undecided.”
Tonight Obama heads for San Francisco and then Las Vegas to bolster Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid.