Political pundits predict an enthusiasm gap will cost democrats seats in this year's election cycle. They say conservatives are motivated and progressives are not. Voter turnout will be low; Republican victories will be sweeping and brutal. Washington democrats in particular are sweating this gap—U.S. Senator Patty Murray is sweating it, too—as she fights to keep her seat in a close race against Republican (and perennial loser) Dino Rossi. But today, over 13,000 Washington residents showed their willingness to bridge the gap at an 11:00 a.m. rally for Senator Murray featuring President Barack Obama.
The first ralliers lined up at midnight with sleeping bags and chairs. They weren't allowed to lie down—that would amount to spending the night, which was illegal—so in shifts they took short naps in lawn chairs. By 7:00 a.m., the line waiting to get into UW's Hec Edmundson Pavilion wrapped around Husky Stadium. Ralliers arrived from Port Townsend, Spokane, as far away as Ritzville, WA.
"I pulled my kids from school so they could see our president," said a Ritzville woman named Sally (she asked her last name not be used because she is a "closet democrat"). "It's not often we get the chance to show our pride in our elected officials. I wanted them to feel that pride."
- Two generations of lady Witherspoon.
Most of the fans were there for Obama—they spoke of him possessively—not 'the president' but 'my president'. Democrats obviously hoped that this possessiveness, this enthusiasm, would transfer to Murray.
UW students skipped school, Boeing workers coming from their shifts lined up, nurses from the UW Medical Center joined them, and families tagged out members for bathroom breaks, all to stand in line for two to twelve hours for a chance to see "their" president.
By 10:00 a.m., when the rally began with singing by the Total Experience Gospel Choir, 10,077 packed the stadium with another 3,660 were directed into the overflow spot: Husky Stadium.
"There's not enough talk about patriotism from Democrats, but that's what I feel—a deep sense of patriotism," said Allison Hannigan, standing front-and-center in the stadium. Hannigan is a Sammamish resident who says fellow resident Sammamish resident Dino Rossi doesn't stand for what she believes in. "Murray and Obama are working for the middle class," she said. "Seeing them onstage together is like a dream."
More dreaminess after the jump.
But first came the heavy-hitting warm-up acts: King County Executive Dow Constantine, 8th District candidate (and Dave Reichert opponent) Susan DelBene, Congressmen Jay Inslee and Norm Dix, and Washington Governor Christine Gregoire.
The speakers were funny and urgent: "When everybody votes, Dems win," said Constantine. They took shots at the Republican machine. "Some republican candidates... have dabbled in witchcraft, have trouble paying taxes, need educating on the 1st Amendment," said Gregoire, lightly ridiculing Christine O'Donnell, a candidate for U.S. Senator in Delaware. Gregoire turned Murray's resume into a call and response with the crowd: "Dino wants to repeal the health care bill that Patty helped pass!" ("No!" shouted the crowd.) "He wants to repeal wall street reform!" ("No!") "Repeal student lending reform that ensures less goes to banks and more to our students!" ("No!") "He opposes a woman's right to choose!" (No!") "Patty Murray puts science over politics!" ("Yes!" cheered the crowd.)
The protesters were insignificant. A clump of five Rossi supporters in matching t-shirts sat in the nosebleed bleachers. When Senator Murray and President Obama stepped on the stage, the crowd leaned forward collectively in one magnificent, multi-tiered crush. After minutes of cheering, Senator Murray spoke. She gave her stump speech with Obama by her side, highlighting her 18-year record of pushing forward Washington progressive values: "Putting middle-class families ahead of special interests, Main Street ahead of Wall Street, the future of students ahead of profits of big banks. Putting Washington State back to work." She defined her challenger as someone who wants to "repeal, rewind, and retreat." Many of her statements were geared towards young voters—for example, her promotion of a bill that will give each student $10,000 tuition relief for college. Then she asked for their vote and their help: "You need to make sure that all the people who couldn't make it in the stadium today get out, fill out their ballots and send 'em in. Don't let it sit in your desk, backpack, or stuffed in your locker."
- He's coming right for me!
Obama addressed the supposed enthusiasm gap and blamed it squarely on Republicans. "There's no doubt this is a difficult election. For most of the last decade, middle class families saw their incomes fall."
He spoke about other hardships: the economy tanking, tax breaks for the rich, tax breaks for Wall Street, health care reform. While Democrats were trying to fix eight years of bad policy, "Republicans decided, 'We're going to sit on the sidelines and complain.' They figured all you would get angry and frustrated, they could ride that anger and frustration [in this election]. They were betting on amnesia. It's up to you, Seattle, to tell them you haven't forgotten."
Obama has a way of working a large crowd—he's a storyteller. And even if you've heard his spiel before (it isn't a new spiel), he's still captivating. His eyes are constantly scanning faces, he winks, he gestures and points while equating Republican rule to crashing a car into a ditch. Democrats then have to push it out, alone, while Republicans stand on the road and whisper to onlookers, "They aren't pushing hard enough." When the Democrats finally get the car back on the road, "We feel a tap on the shoulder," says the president. "It's the Republicans and they say, 'We want the keys back.' But they can't have the keys back. They can ride with us but they'll be riding in the back seat."
The crowd goes wild.
The president leans in close to the podium. "Let me be clear: Go right after this rally, fill [your ballot] out and mail it in. Not tomorrow or the next day. Today. We need you fired up."