Obama time: Prez gives Perriello re-election push
They waited for hours. By 4pm–- an hour before the gates to the Pavilion opened–- the line of people waiting to see President Barack Obama stretched to the Omni on the other end of the Downtown Mall, soon to wrap around to Water Street.
More than two hours after the gates to the Pavilion opened, at 7:40pm, a roar went up from the crowd as Congressman Tom Perriello came on the stage to introduce the man he hoped would inspire voters to say "yes we can" in the hotly contested 5th District Congressional race.
"I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd stop by to make sure you go vote Tuesday for the best representative Charlottesville has ever had," said Obama to the enthusiastic crowd.
The President acknowledged that he and Perriello, who is seen as one of the most vulnerable congressman in this year's midterm elections and has trailed his Republican opponent, state Senator Robert Hurt, didn't always see eye to eye.
"There are times when I know his first allegiance isn't to the party," said Obama. "It's to his district and to the people of Virginia."
Unlike some Democratic candidates who've tried to distance themselves from Obama's policies, Perriello has not backed off from controversial measures he's supported, such as healthcare reform, and he embraced a visit from the man whose own approval ratings have dipped.
"Let's face it, in this day and age, political courage is hard to come by," said the President.
"Tom Perriello went to Washington to do what's hard, to do what's right," said Obama. "When somebody like that has your back, do you have his back?"
Apparently this crowd did, and responded to Obama with, "Yes we can, yes we can."
No one speaks to an audience in Charlottesville without invoking Thomas Jefferson, and Obama was no exception. He reminded the crowd of the "son of Virginia" who declared that all men are created equal in the Declaration of Independence, and compared the situation of the founding fathers under actual attack with this country's current economic woes.
"What if they'd said, 'Oh, this is too hard'"? Obama asked.
Obama closed his speech at 8:20pm by picking up on a theme from his 2008 campaign. "I need you guys to keep on fighting," he said. "Tom needs you to keep on believing."
Before the event, Fire Chief Charles Werner estimated that 6,000 people could squeeze into the Pavilion, an even larger crowd than when then-Senator Barack Obama was here on the exact day–- October 29–- three years ago. But after the event, Werner said in an email that the Secret Service put the crowd at 9,000, with another 3,000 in an overflow area.
Among those in the primo standing room at the front were Pavilion boss Coran Capshaw, elected Dem officials like Mayor Dave Norris and state Senator Creigh Deeds, and Perriello donors, including former congressional spouse Susan Payne and Hook co-owner Ted Weschler, who shook Obama's hand, as did Weschler's daughter, Lizzie.
On Market Street as the crowd exited into the evening where temperatures dipped into the 40s, one woman seemed still warmed by the presidential proximity and exclaimed, "I shook his hand!"
Updated October 30 with Weschler's correct relationship with the Hook.