NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, November 7th, 2016

President Obama, Chelsea Clinton lead huge rally for Hillary in Ann Arbor on election’s eve

Edi­tor’s Note: Matt Vil­leneuve is a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan who has interned with the Nation­al Park Ser­vice and The White House. He holds a Mas­ter’s Degree in Social Sciences/U.S. His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go and a B.A. in His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon. The team at NPI is delight­ed to wel­come him to the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate and thanks him for rep­re­sent­ing us as our cor­re­spon­dent in Ann Arbor, cov­er­ing today’s get out the vote events.

On the eve of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, two kinds of fog greet­ed Pres­i­dent Oba­ma in Michi­gan today. The first kind was the fog that deposits dew on the grass, leaves car win­dows opaque,  and sends your hands search­ing for pock­ets in the ear­ly morn­ing air. The sec­ond is of the elec­toral kind.

After FBI Direc­tor James Comey hand­ed Repub­li­cans a gift in the form of a let­ter reveal­ing the Bureau was review­ing emails from a com­put­er shared by Antho­ny Wein­er and Clin­ton advis­er Huma Abe­din, the Clin­ton cam­paign found their com­fort­able lead here in Michi­gan dwin­dling.

The clar­i­ty of Octo­ber 21st — when Clin­ton was up 11.6 points over Trump — has large­ly dis­ap­peared. Michi­gan has sup­port­ed the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee for Pres­i­dent for many cycles now, but Hillary For Amer­i­ca is not tak­ing the state for grant­ed.

Only one day before the elec­tion, Michi­gan has sud­den­ly become a bat­tle­ground state again, with Clin­ton up over Trump by only 4.7 points. At this eleventh hour of the cam­paign, the Clin­ton camp has ordered a full-court press on Michi­gan.

With Hillary in Grand Rapids and for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton in the state cap­i­tal of Lans­ing, it was up to Chelsea and Barack to make the case to Ann Arbor and the thou­sands of mil­len­ni­al vot­ers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan.

Waiting for Obama

Ral­ly atten­dees (Pho­to: Matt Villeneuve/NPI)

If there is any­thing that this son of Wash­ing­ton knows, it’s the capac­i­ty of fog — and rain — in spoil­ing a good day’s weath­er. Quite less famil­iar to me, how­ev­er, is the feel­ing of being in a bat­tle­ground state on the eve of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

While the TV spots, bill­boards, and radio ads exist here in Michi­gan in a quan­ti­ty unknown back home, the oth­er­wise per­ni­cious bom­bard­ment of cam­paign noise has one perk: the atten­tion of the prin­ci­pals.

So it was that, with an HFA press cre­den­tial in hand, I made my way into Ray Fish­er sta­di­um on the cam­pus of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan to observe what it was like to be at a cam­paign ral­ly with the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States in a bat­tle­ground state just twen­ty-four hours pri­or to the last day of this unprece­dent­ed elec­tion.

I was not alone. The cam­paign had released tick­ets for more than 4,000 atten­dees, and the line start­ed form­ing at the first base line before around 7 AM.

Out­side the sta­di­um, a long line snaked down past the rail­road tracks. A band of #NoDAPL pro­tes­tors chant­ed and banged on drums to the nods of affir­ma­tion by the crowd. Inside, the field had been tak­en over by the typ­i­cal­ly ral­ly para­pher­na­lia: sec­tions of fenc­ing, secu­ri­ty check­points, and ris­ers for the press.

The speak­ing podi­um bear­ing the seal of the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States was sit­u­at­ed on the third-base line — a fit­ting place usu­al­ly reserved for the likes of Kyle Sea­ger, now the stage was a new “hot cor­ner” for these Demo­c­ra­t­ic speak­ers. The sta­di­um was at full capac­i­ty for Oba­ma’s sched­uled noon­time speech by 10 AM.

A packed house for President Obama

Panora­ma of Ray Fish­er Sta­di­um (Pho­to: Nicole Navar­ro)

Once inside, the assem­bled gath­er­ing had near­ly two hours to wait for POTUS — the press’ often-used nick­name for the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States — to arrive.

It was a typ­i­cal Ann Arbor crowd and a mot­ley crew mar­shaled to sup­port Hillary: among the crowd could be seen vet­er­ans of the Kore­an War ball­caps, a cow­boy hat, a USS New Jer­sey jack­et  (a long­time mem­ber of the Bre­mer­ton moth­ball fleet), head­scarves, a Nez Perce vest, and a Clin­ton cam­paign hood­ie sport­ing the slo­gan “Michi­gan Hus­tles Hard­er” com­plete with a pun­ny hash­tag, #MIshecan.

Rally attendees

The crowd at the ral­ly with Pres­i­dent Oba­ma (Pho­to: Matt Villeneuve/NPI)

Around me in the press area were a fac­ul­ty mem­ber who teach­es jour­nal­ism, a free­lance pho­tog­ra­ph­er for Politi­co, a reporter for Reuters bang­ing away on his lap­top, and high school jour­nal­ism stu­dent there cov­er­ing the event for his school news­pa­per. A near­by TV cor­re­spon­dent who spoke into a micro­phone for his own news­cast set the nar­ra­tive for the whole press corps:

The prob­lem here for Hillary is that her poll num­bers have real­ly slipped… Clin­ton was up as high as eleven points in this state, though her lead is now only around five…

Though the crowd had assem­bled for the com­mon attrac­tion of the Pres­i­dent in Ann Arbor, it also be proved to be a cap­tive audi­ence for oth­er speak­ers.

While Oba­ma was the main course, the ral­ly audi­ence was treat­ed to a series of appe­tiz­ers: local rep­re­sen­ta­tives, can­di­dates for the UMich board of regents, and Michi­gan sen­a­tors. Deb­bie Din­gle, rep­re­sent­ing the 12th Dis­trict of Michi­gan in which Ann Arbor resides, kicked the day off by set­ting the stakes.

“I am pleased that Pres­i­dent Oba­ma is here in Michi­gan to fin­ish the cam­paign,” she said. “I’m not old, I’m sea­soned. We hear every year that this is the most impor­tant elec­tion of our life­times, but this year it real­ly is, and let us nev­er see one like it ever again.” The crowd agreed.

Wider view of the rally

A packed Ray Fish­er Sta­di­um (Pho­to: Matt Villeneuve/NPI)

Lar­ry Deitch, run­ning for re-elec­tion to the UMich Board of Regents implored atten­dees to “join hands in a coali­tion of decen­cy to reject fear and big­otry,” and his col­league Denise Illitch announced: “I agree the with the First Lady and I quote her when I say edu­ca­tion is the most impor­tant ele­ment for free­dom and equal­i­ty.”

In addi­tion to the kind of sol­i­dar­i­ty talk found in many  polit­i­cal ral­lies in safe­ly blue states like Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon, uni­fy­ing all of these speech­es was the added rhetoric of elec­toral lever­age. Here the crowd was exhort­ed not just to sup­port Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates in down bal­lot races, but to get out the vote for Hillary.

Solomon Rajput, a Clin­ton cam­paign field orga­niz­er, gushed with great sin­cer­i­ty and eager­ness about the home­li­ness of his fam­i­ly: a moth­er who left lov­ing notes in his lunch box and a father that always tried to pay the bill at din­ner for guests.

His fam­i­ly was the same as many oth­ers in the crowd, he insist­ed, save for one thing: “In Don­ald Trump’s Amer­i­ca, my Mus­lim fam­i­ly would not be wel­come here.” Solomon laid out the obvi­ous cal­cu­lus: “There’s a rea­son Trump and Pence are here in Michi­gan. A day before the elec­tion. It’s because Michi­gan mat­ters!”

His voice cracked in excite­ment as he spoke. “The eyes of the world [are] on Michi­gan. Let’s show them what we got!”

Con­gress­woman Bren­da Lawrence of Michi­gan’s 14th Dis­trict had a sim­i­lar mes­sage for poten­tial bat­tle­ground vot­ers. Her refrain was “I still believe” — and she charged the crowd with keep­ing faith that if Amer­i­ca was a place where it was pos­si­ble to elect a black man to the Oval Office, it could elect a woman as Pres­i­dent.

“I still believe,” she repeat­ed, “And as a woman and an African-Amer­i­can, I have a lot to lose!” The crowd cheered.

Then Lawrence per­haps best epit­o­mized the rather priv­i­leged posi­tion of a bat­tle­ground state when she said, “When God made the world, on the sev­enth day, he rest­ed and put his hand down on the earth and made Michi­gan.” (Michi­gan is often referred to as The Mit­ten due to its geog­ra­phy.)

I had to laugh. If the eyes of the world, the hand of God, and Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma were in your state in the same twen­ty-four hour peri­od, you sure couldn’t argue that your vote didn’t mat­ter.

Michi­gan’s U.S. Sen­a­tor Gary Peters gave the most fiery speech of them all. “Who would’ve thought that Michi­gan would decide the elec­tion?” he began.

“The entire coun­try will be watch­ing the State of Michi­gan and they will see not only did we win for Clin­ton, but we won big.”

After Peters left the stage, music played while the crowd wait­ed for the president’s arrival. The sky was clear­ing and the sun was com­ing out. At one point, a cheer from the crowd went up to her­ald the arrival of the pres­i­dent, but it was pre­ma­ture.

“False alarm,” the word went around. “It’s just Har­baugh.” A series of foot­ball chants fol­lowed for Ann Arbor’s sec­ond largest celebri­ty of the day.

Final­ly, just past noon, the pres­i­den­tial motor­cade arrived and Chelsea Clin­ton took the stage to intro­duce the Pres­i­dent. She described how it was up to vot­ers to decide “if Stronger Togeth­er is just a cam­paign slo­gan or an ethos of our val­ues.”

Chelsea Clinton speaking

Chelsea Clin­ton intro­duces Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma (Pho­to: Matt Villeneuve/NPI)

She described her moth­er with great pride and enu­mer­at­ed all the pro­gres­sive caus­es for which she stood. “If you want to pro­tect the progress of Pres­i­dent Oba­ma, progress that he’s not giv­en enough cred­it for, then you’ve got to vote,” she insist­ed. With great acclaim, POTUS then took the stage.

The Pres­i­den­t’s remarks were part stump-speech, part char­ac­ter ref­er­ence for Hillary. “I’m feel­ing sen­ti­men­tal. This will be my last day of cam­paign­ing for a while,” Oba­ma said. He began with grat­i­tude: “I want to say thank you to so many grass­roots orga­niz­ers who pick up phones, hit the streets — you are the best orga­niz­ers on the plan­et, and I am here today because of you.”

President Obama speaks in Ann Arbor

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma address­es a big crowd in Ann Arbor, urg­ing sup­port for Hillary Clin­ton (Pho­to: Matt Villeneuve/NPI)

“Think about where we were eight years ago… I just real­ize some of you were ten.” The pres­i­dent then went on to men­tion by name a range of Dis­ney Chan­nel shows, each title met with great laugh­ter from the audi­ence, clear­ly a form of mil­len­ni­al pan­der­ing. Nev­er­the­less, it brought out many smiles.

The Pres­i­dent then chron­i­cled all of the pro­gres­sive caus­es that had been cham­pi­oned by the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty over the last two terms. The list should by now be long and famil­iar: the Recov­ery Act, the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act, the Paris cli­mate accord, the death of Osama bin Laden, mar­riage equal­i­ty, and so on.

How­ev­er, among all the applause and cel­e­bra­tion, the Pres­i­dent offered a warn­ing: “All that progress goes down the drain if we don’t vote.”

Tak­ing a dig at Don­ald Trump in ways the name at the top of the tick­et can­not, the Pres­i­dent spent a good por­tion of his speech on the attack.

“I’ve seen what makes Amer­i­ca great,” the Pres­i­dent said. “Don­ald Trump is tem­pera­men­tal­ly unfit to be Com­man­der-in-Chief. Did you hear this week­end that his cam­paign took away his Twit­ter account? Can you imag­ine him with the nuclear codes?” This was an effec­tive laugh line, but Oba­ma lobbed his sharpest barb of crit­i­cism against Don­ald Trump on the ques­tion of the fate of work­ing-class peo­ple.

“Do not be bam­boo­zled. In his sev­en­ty years on this earth, the Don­ald has nev­er shown respect for work­ing peo­ple. It isn’t clear he even knows work­ing peo­ple save for those who clean his hotels and mow the lawns of his golf cours­es.”

The Pres­i­dent then seemed to address the dif­fi­cul­ty that both he and Hillary Clin­ton face in get­ting the sup­port of most­ly white work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties, some of which are largest in places like Michi­gan.

“Don­ald Trump said, ‘Let them go bank­rupt,’ ” the Pres­i­dent remind­ed the audi­ence, ref­er­enc­ing the coun­try’s biggest automak­ers, which were res­cued by his admin­is­tra­tion. “To every autowork­er on the line, bar­keep­er, or small busi­ness own­er, I think I’ve earned some cred­i­bil­i­ty here.”

He added, “Don­ald Trump is unique­ly unqual­i­fied for this office… but the good news is, Michi­gan, is that you are unique­ly qual­i­fied to make sure he doesn’t!”

Oba­ma end­ed his speech like so many oth­ers he’s giv­en — by call­ing to mind our finest tra­di­tion­al val­ues and high­est demo­c­ra­t­ic ideals. Oba­ma urged all present to shake off the cyn­i­cism of this entire cam­paign cycle, sat­u­rat­ed by what the Pres­i­dent decried as “a dust cloud of non­sense.”

He then returned to mak­ing the case that Hillary Clin­ton is a true pro­gres­sive.

Estab­lish­ing her pro­gres­sive bona fides, he implored his Ann Arbor audi­ence: “What­ev­er cred­i­bil­i­ty I’ve earned over eight years as your pres­i­dent… trust me on this one.” As the crowd cheered, the Pres­i­dent leaned into the con­clu­sion of one of his last stump speech­es while in office. “The most impor­tant office in the democ­ra­cy is that of cit­i­zen,” he stat­ed. “The most pow­er­ful word in our democ­ra­cy is ‘we.’ We shall over­come. Yes we can. I nev­er said, ‘Yes I can,’ I said ‘Yes we can.’”

Chan­nel­ing the spir­it of 2008, the Pres­i­dent con­clud­ed his final cam­paign speech by ask­ing the crowd to “do what you did for me, for Hillary. Fin­ish what we start­ed.”

President Obama waves to the crowd in Ann Arbor

Pres­i­dent Oba­ma waves to the crowd in Ann Arbor (Pho­to: Matt Villeneuve/NPI)

By the time the pres­i­dent left the stage, the music returned, and the cheer­ing reached its fever pitch, the sun was high in the sky.

At half past noon, it was by then quite hot. Not only had the fog been lift­ed Ann Arbor, but the star pow­er of both the Pres­i­dent and the sun itself had Ann Arbor, if not Michi­gan, fired up and ready to go.

The Michi­gan polls close at 8 PM East­ern Time tomor­row.

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One Comment

  1. Miss you, Oba­ma. Thank you for all you done.

    # by Amy :: November 7th, 2016 at 11:11 PM