Passionate Roanoke crowd greets Obama

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By Rick Howell

It was reported this past weekend that presidential campaign spending in Virginia is the third most of any state, surpassed only by the larger battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida.
Who would have thought such a thing was possible just a few election cycles ago when Virginia had spent many decades as a rubber stamp victory for any and every Republican nominee?
But things have changed; such things as demographics, population centers, and the makeup of the major political parties. Democrats have embraced diversity, while Republicans have narrowed their party membership to only those with most intense conservative views.
    All these factors had a lot to do with Obama’s historic victory here in Virginia in 2008, which was a major reason he won the general election. And he knows, as he said Friday in Roanoke, “if we win Virginia, we’re gonna win the election.”
    I was very proud to be among the slightly more than 3,000 people who squeezed into the Church Ave. location of Fire Station #1 in downtown Roanoke. If you’re familiar with that part of the city, you know it’s not a large venue. But the desire of the crowd to see the president overcame any concerns about space.
    All of us had spent about two hours the previous Wednesday standing in line somewhere to get a ticket (two Roanoke locations, and one in Blacksburg). We stood in line for hours again Friday to actually get in and hear him. We were not let down.
    Remember the stories a year or so ago about many Democrats supposedly disappointed in Obama? Well, you can throw that out the window. Four years after many people voted for the candidate they thought the most inspiring since John F. Kennedy, that feeling is still there.
    And why not? This president gets it. He understands what it’s like to struggle in this country. He’s largely kept his promises (Iraq war? Over), and has tried his best to help the middle and working classes, against a party that has always stood up for the rich.
    He has tried over and over again to work with the right-wingers in Congress. But they’d rather destroy him than help us.
    In one of his most popular lines in the Roanoke speech, he said he was not only fighting for the middle class, but “for those who are working hard trying to get into the middle class.” If you struggle to pay your bills and support your family, he’s talking about you. Plain and simple.
    He said, “We passed the health care bill because it was the right thing to do.” Yes, it was. The president reminded the crowd that, because of the health care law, insurance companies can’t drop your coverage if you get sick, and they can’t deny you coverage because of “a pre-existing condition.”
    More than 30 million people without insurance will be helped to get it, and no one – not a single person – who currently has insurance will lose it. The demonization of his health care bill by the opposition has been one of the greatest distortions of truth I’ve ever witnessed.
    The crowd that saw the president looked like America; young, old, black, white, gay and straight. That’s who we are in 2012, whether you like it or not. Notice how white and male any Republican rally generally is, and you can see their electoral difficulties up close.
    The once noble Republican Party of Lincoln and Eisenhower has vanished, and this dynamic president with the unlikely name of Barack Obama looks and sounds more like us than any person it can produce.
    In 2008, we changed the guard; this year, we’re gonna guard the change.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.