By ANNIE KINNIBURGH
Despite intermittent rain, a crowd of 26,000 people came to campus Saturday to hear speeches by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his vice-presidential pick Joe Biden. The rally came one day after the first presidential debate between Obama and Republican candidate John McCain.
According to Rick Hurley, vice president for administration and finance, the crowd far exceeded expectations held by the University.
“Someone from the Obama campaign originally told us that we might see 20,000 people and I thought that was unrealistic,” he said.
Instead, over half the crowd was turned away. For the 12,000 who gained entrance to the event, the culmination of waiting in line for up to 12 hours and enduring the afternoon’s temperamental weather came at 7 p.m., when Obama and Biden took the stage in Ball Circle.
In his introduction to Obama, Biden focused on Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s judgment, calling it “dangerously wrong” and criticizing the senator from Arizona for his “out-of-touch philosophy.”
Obama, who some chided as being too deferential in Friday’s debate, attacked McCain for ignoring the middle class and supporting the Bush administration on issues such as the Iraq War and the deregulation of businesses and financial institutions.
“The truth is, through 90 minutes of debate, John McCain had a lot to say about me, but he had nothing to say about you,” Obama said to resounding cheers. “On issue after issue, from taxes to health care, to the war in Iraq, you heard him make the case for more policies like the ones that got us into this mess.”
Biden also linked McCain’s policies to those of the current Bush administration.
“He embraces and continues to defend George Bush’s failed philosophy of the past eight years,” Biden said, eliciting a strong response from the crowd.
Obama spoke critically of McCain, who he said was partly responsible, along with Bush and other Republicans, for the current financial crisis, because of McCain and the Republicans’ past support for deregulation of the nation’s financial institutions. Both candidates have supported a $700 billion bailout plan for some of those now-troubled financial institutions. Members of Congress voted down the plan in the House on Monday, and the same day the stock market fell 780 points.
“They said they wanted to let the market run free, but what they did instead was let it run wild,” Obama said.
He emphasized the need to institute a bipartisan oversight board that would hold Wall Street accountable and restore transparency and trust in the financial market.
He also attacked McCain on his plan to institute a $300 billion tax cut for corporations. Instead, using one of his signature lines, he promised not to raise taxes on yearly incomes less than $250,000.
“We need to stop giving those tax breaks to wealthy corporations and CEOs on Wall Street and start giving them to families on Main Street.”
Both Obama and Biden said that for the average American, the stock market plunge was not the beginning of financial troubles. Biden cited record unemployment, foreclosure and deficits for the working-class, while Obama mentioned decreases in wages and home values.
“Your paycheck doesn’t go as far as it used to. It has never been harder to save, it has never been harder to retire and it has never been harder to buy groceries or gasoline. If you put it on a credit card—well, they’ve probably raised your rates,” Obama said.
The speech resonated with the crowd, which punctuated Obama’s words with loud cheers.
“I have never seen such a dedicated crowd,” said junior Natalie Weiner, president of the UMW Young Democrats. “Through the heat and the rain, we had 26,000 people there just to get a chance to hear the Senator speak.”
“The crowd was exhausted by the time he finally went up to the podium, but it was really responsive,” junior Anna Snyder said. “He has an incredible speaking voice and really spoke to the crowd about the misplaced priorities of the current administration and how the middle and working class have gone unheard and unnoticed. It was a great speech overall.”
Weiner, who is also deputy state director for Virginia Students for Barack Obama, said the rally showed the dedication of Obama’s supporters. More than 100 UMW students volunteered at the rally, as well as Young Democrats from James Madison University and Christopher Newport University, she said.
“These events take a lot of effort at a grassroots level, which is how Senator Obama runs his campaign,” she said. “It was also great to see the entire Mary Washington community come together.”
She commented on the senators’ ability to take a tough stance without becoming negative.
“They were able to point out the countless times Sen. McCain has been wrong while remaining positive about Sen. Obama’s platform,” she said. “They have great chemistry together.”
Naisha Wilson, a resident of Stafford, praised Obama’s speech for its emphasis on the working class.
“Obama is always right on top of the economic advice that we need to hear as middle-class citizens,” she said. “He just knows us because he came from us. I know he will try to do everything he can to change Washington.”
As the rain continued, Obama concluded his speech with an encouraging and appropriate metaphor.
“The storm hasn’t quite passed yet,” he said. “Sometimes the skies look cloudy and it’s dark and you think the rains will never pass. But as long as we are all committed, then there’s nothing we can’t do.”