Neither a hot sun beating down upon them nor an hours-long wait in line deterred thousands from turning out last Thursday as President Obama brought his relection campaign to a packed BankUnited Center on the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables.
With 26 days left to go until Election Day, the president was in town to bring his message to an audience of mostly UM students, many of whom had waited as long as three hours in a line circling around to the rear of the arena before doors opened.
The crowds stretched from Walsh Avenue in front of the building, to perpendicular Merrick Drive, to Dickenson Drive, running behind the complex. One report said the line extended all the way to the University Center and Richter Library.
“We’ve got some work to do, Miami,” the president told his audience shortly after entering the BankUnited to a tumultuous welcome and walking out onto a raised stage in center court.
“We’ve got an election to win. In just over two weeks, on October 27, you get to start voting early. And everything that we fought for in 2008 is on the line in 2012. So I’m going to need you fired up. I need you ready to go. I need your help to finish what we started.”
Obama was preceded on stage by remarks from Congresswoman and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Sen. Bill Nelson.
Alleging that Mitt Romney has proposed a $5 trillion tax cut “that favors the wealthiest Americans,” Obama drew boos at the mention of his opponent.
“Don’t boo – vote,” the president interjected, deploying an oft-used phrase in his stump speech.
He attacked Romney for “trying to go through an extreme makeover.”
“After running for more than a year in which he called himself ‘severely conservative,’ Mitt Romney is trying to convince you that he was severely kidding.”
At one point, the president was interrupted by someone who cried out, “I love you, Barack!”
“I love you back,” Obama shot back, rousing the audience to boisterous applause and cheers.
The crowd’s reaction crested particularly when Obama touched upon tuition costs.
“I refuse to ask middle-class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut. I refuse to pay for that tax cut by asking students at ‘The U’ to pay more for college or kicking children out of Head Start programs, or eliminating health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor or elderly or disabled. That won’t help us grow.”
Rally organizers had distributed 15,000 tickets, beginning three days earlier. Coral Gables Fire Chief Robert Lowman told the Miami Hurricane student paper that the BankUnited was filled to capacity with a crowd of 9,200.
The paper reported that overflow crowds were diverted to the school’s nearby fieldhouse to watch a live stream of the event and that that, too, reached its capacity, with some having to be turned away from there. Obama, shortly after concluding his half-hour remarks at the BankUnited rally, briefly visited the fieldhouse to speak to those gathered there.
It seemed as if most of the university, emptied of its classrooms, was at the rally. Many students were said to be skipping class for the chance to see the president.
Bottled water was distributed throughout the afternoon to those waiting in lines that snaked slowly, then at times quickly, around the BankUnited vicinity. Twelve people were reported to have been treated for heat-related causes.
Vendors, hawking Obama campaign buttons, T-shirts, and other memorabilia, were set up along the route, eliciting comments and chuckles – and occasional purchases – from those waiting for the chance to get inside and hear the president.
“Dyslexics for AMABO,” read one set of buttons. Another featured Sesame Street character Big Bird. “Keep your Mitts off me,” it warned.
One man, carrying a boom box playing a reggae song extolling Obama, was hawking CDs, but to little response.
One young woman in line sported a T-shirt declaring her political proclivities – and more: “Democrats are sexier…Who ever heard of a nice piece of elephant?”