Obama sets Pavilion attendance record
Whether Barack Obama (D) ultimately becomes President of the United States, the senator from Illinois has already made history in Charlottesville. At his Monday night rally at the Charlottesville Pavilion, he pushed attendance at that two-year-old venue to beyond its capacity. "We estimate it was a total of just over 5,000 people," says Pavilion manager Kirby Hutto. "That's way beyond anything we've ever done. I'm surprised we could fit everyone in here."
Before presidential hopeful ever spoke a word, former state senator Tom Michie said that in all his years in Charlottesville politics, he can only recall one instance of political fervor equal to this one. "The last time I can remember something like this was in 1960, Lyndon Johnson made a whistle stop at the train station and we had a mob this big," he says.
For all the anticipation buzzing through the attendees, and the more than $250,000 they had plunked down to see the Chicagoan, Obama did not disappoint. After a $2,300-per-person pre-rally event at downtown sushi restaurant Ten, and an introduction from Gov. Tim Kaine, he took the stage to U2's "City of Blinding Lights." For 50 minutes, the audience listened in rapt attention, staying pindrop quiet until exploding in tempestuous applause on cue.
After some opening jabs at President Bush, Obama got an equally big ovation for a thinly-veiled swipe at Democratic front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY, who raised $200,000 at a Paramount Theater event in September). "There are those who say, 'Elect me, because I know how to play the game better,'" Obama intoned, "Understand, we don't need someone who knows how to play the game better. We need someone who's going to put an end to the game playing, because the stakes are too high."
The first-term senator directly addressed his lack of experience in high elective office. "There are a couple of guys named Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who had long resumÃ©s," he said. "A long resumÃ© says nothing about your character. A long resumÃ© says nothing about your judgment. And the next president is going to be all about judgment and character."
After discussing what he hoped to accomplish on a host of domestic issues like healthcare (during which he shared a poignant anecdote about how an insurance company tried to get out of covering his own mother's cancer treatment), energy, and the environment, Obama's focus turned to foreign policy. "I will stand up, even when its not popular," he said, and then proved it minutes later by telling the audience, "We will go after Al Qaeda. We will take out those who will kill us," and got nary a clap from the apparently dovish crowd. But, in the next moment, he had his cheering section back when he spoke of foreign aid proposals, ending the genocide in Darfur, closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, and emphasizing, "We are not a nation who ships people off in the middle of the night to secret prisons to be tortured. That's not America," to one of the evening's loudest ovations.
As Obama exited to the tune of Dave Matthews Band's "Ants Marching," attendees seemed to believe they had gotten their money's worth. "I've never come to a political rally before," said baby boomer Jamie Endahl of Albemarle. "He's an amazing speaker. He's almost apolitical. He's got a different kind of rhetoric, and I think people are ready to hear it."
Just how ready remains to be seen, but Americans will begin to get a sense of it when the Iowa Democratic Caucus– the first of the nation's nominating contests– happens on January 3.