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Harrisonburg: Obama rallies Valley Dems


Story by Chris Graham
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One news organization estimated that there were 28,000 people all told in and around the Convocation Center on the campus of James Madison University for the Tuesday campaign rally featuring Democratic Party presidential nominee Barack Obama.

I don’t know that I could dispute the figure, based on the queue, or should I say, the queues, outside the Convo early Tuesday afternoon that easily dwarfed the arena’s 7,200-person capacity.

“This is one more indication that in one week we are going to get this country back on the right track,” U.S. Senate candidate Mark Warner told the lucky relative few who found their way inside for the rally, the first visit for a presidential candidate to Harrisonburg since either Richard Nixon in 1968, if you account for the fact that Nixon wasn’t yet the Republican Party nominee by the time of his ’68 visit, or Stephen Douglas, who was his party’s nominee when he stopped in The Friendly City in 1860 – yes, I’m meaning that Stephen Douglas, who lost to a guy named Abe Lincoln back in history class.

And speaking of history class, that’s also the last time Virginia gave its electoral votes to a Democrat, more definitively in 1964. But Obama appears to be on track to update the history books in six days, holding a solid lead in several statewide polls ranging from seven to as much as 11 points with less than a week ’til the votes start getting counted. Obama is also on pace to make some history in the Shenandoah Valley, where Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 could barely get into the low 30s, but Obama is more than holding his own at this late stage in the 2008 race.

“He’s doing much better in the state than anyone had anticipated. The VCU poll had him up statewide 11 points, and he’s even out here. That’s unheard of,” James Madison University political-science professor Bob Roberts told me ahead of the Obama rally, hitting the nail on the head as to why Obama was spending valuable time in Harrisonburg and the Valley so close to the eve of the election. Obama has made Virginia a top priority, as Roberts noted, and the campaign of Republican John McCain, perhaps taking the state for granted, based on recent history, has not.

“The Obama campaign put a lot of money in Virginia to register new voters and get new voters out to the polls. They thought they could get a lot of new voters registered. What Virginia had was a fairly low percentage of its voting-age citizens registered. They looked at that and said, If we can register those new voters, we can win the state. But that takes money, and they had unlimited amounts of money,” Roberts said.

And unlimited amounts of enthusiasm among those new voters that Roberts alluded to. JMU Democrats president David McKinney is one of those new voters who is participating in his first presidential election this fall. I asked McKinney what he thinks is motivating new voters to get involved in the ’08 election. “More young people are going to vote in this election than ever before,” McKinney told me. “People understand that the outcome of this election is going to affect things for years down the road. The mistakes of the Bush administration over the past eight years have really put us in a bad place, and we need a president who’s going to turn things around and get America on the right track. And I think Barack Obama is that choice,” McKinney said.

Obama, for his part, made what his campaign is calling his “closing statement” to Valley voters at the Convocation Center, hitting hardest on issues surrounding the struggling U.S. economy. Obama’s economic plan is aimed at rebuilding the foundation of the American economic system by providing tax cuts to middle-class families to serve as a stimulus to economic activity both of a short-term and long-term nature. The Obama plan stands in stark contrast to the McCain embrace of the failed trickle-down economics of Ronald Reagan and most recently George W. Bush that key on tax cuts for the superwealthy as a means of spurring economic growth.

“After 21 months and three debates, John McCain has still not been able to tell any of you, the American people, a single major thing he’d do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy,” Obama said. “Now, John McCain’s been saying lately that we can’t spend the next four years waiting for our luck to change. He’s right. But you understand that the biggest risk that we can take is embracing the same old tired Bush-McCain policies that have failed us for the last eight years,” Obama said.

“It’s not change when John McCain wants to give a $700,000 tax cut to the average Fortune 500 CEO. It’s not change when John McCain wants to give $200 billion to the biggest corporations, or $4 billion to the oil companies, or $300 billion to the same Wall Street banks that got us into this mess in the first place. It’s not change when he comes up with a tax plan that doesn’t give a penny of tax relief to more than 100 million middle-class families. That’s not change,” Obama said.

Obama then turned his focus to health care, seizing upon the fact that the McCain health-care plan would for the first time in U.S. history tax health insurance to provide monies for tax credits that would pay for less than half the average American family’s health-care costs. “The truth is, John McCain’s health-care plan is radical, it is unaffordable, it’s not the change we need right now,” Obama said.

“We have tried it John McCain’s way,” Obama said. “It’s not as if he’s come up with a bunch of new ideas. We’ve seen how it works. We’ve seen what happens over the last eight years, because his way is George Bush’s way. And over the last eight years, it just has not worked. Those are just the facts. And I don’t think anybody can dispute that.

“And deep down, even Sen. McCain knows that. Which is why his campaign said, and I quote, If we keep on talking about the economy, we’re going to lose. That’s why I keep talking about the economy,” Obama said.

And even with a solid lead in the polls in Virginia and nationally, Obama vowed to continue taking that message to the voters. “Don’t believe for a second that this election is over. Don’t think for a minute that power concedes anything. We’re going to have to work like our future depends on it in this last week, because it does,” Obama said.



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