Obama works the crowd at USC
The President tells thousands at USC that their vote will be a choice that could move America forward or backwards
BY SAM RICHARD
President Barack Obama on Oct. 22 urged thousands at USC to vote and said they could help set the nation’s course in the upcoming midterm elections – for the next several years.
“And just like you did in 2008, you can defy the conventional wisdom,” Obama said in front of what the university says was about 37,500 people. “The conventional wisdom that says young people are apathetic; the conventional wisdom that says you can’t beat the cynicism in politics; that you can’t overcome the special interests; that all that matters is all the big money and the negative TV ads. You have a chance to say, ‘Yes, we can.’ “
Voters could help Democrats keep majority control of the House of Representatives and Senate or hand them to Republicans. Or the GOP could seize control of the House while the Senate remains a democratic stronghold.
Other high-profile Democrats and speakers urged attendees at the “Moving America Forward” rally to vote.
Obama told attendees that this election will be tough because the nation has gone through an “incredibly difficult time.”
Job growth was more sluggish between 2001 and 2009 than any time since World War II, and the middle class has been hurting for most of the last decade, the President said.
He spoke about more of America’s problems during that period: Jobs shipped overseas; parents unable to send their children to college; Americans working a couple of jobs to make ends meet.
In the six months before he took office, there was a loss of 4 million U.S. jobs, Obama recalled, adding hundreds of thousands more were lost before and after he was sworn in.
He said 8 million jobs were lost before his economic policies had a chance to be put into place.
Republican leaders in Washington created and left him with a mess, the President also said, later characterizing them as people who sat on the sidelines, said no to everything, and pointed fingers of blame at him.
He accused Republicans of figuring out that perhaps Americans would forget they caused a mess and “ride anger” all the way to election time.
“But, Los Angeles, as I look out on this crowd, this tells me you haven’t forgotten,” he said, drawing cheers from the crowd. “Their whole campaign strategy is amnesia.
“And so you need to remember that this election is a choice between the policies that got us into this mess and the policies that are leading us out of this mess, a choice between the past and the future, a choice between hope and fear, a choice between moving forward and going backwards, and I don’t know about you, but I want to move forward, Trojans.”
His speech, given in support of California Sen. Barbara Boxer, was part of his efforts to help Democrats for the midterm elections on Nov. 2.
Many politicians showed up at the event, including Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, California Assembly Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass and L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks Sr., among others.
Speakers on stage included Boxer, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris – who is vying to become the next state attorney general – and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, as well as L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The attendees packed USC’s Alumni Park on a sunny Friday afternoon, cheering several times after Obama’s remarks with “Yes, we can!” and “USA!” and holding up signs that read “Vote 2010.”
Somewhere at the event was USC political science professor Ange-Marie Hancock, an expert in African-American politics and the 2010 midterm elections.
“I thought Obama’s speech was spot on in terms of what he needed to do at this particular point in time,” said Hancock, who spoke to the L.A. Sentinel in a separate interview days after the rally.
“What’s critical in the last two weeks before any election is getting your base fired up and ready to vote, and I think both the rally and the speech that he gave to donors were absolutely effective in doing so.”
Turnout during midterm elections is a theme Obama wanted to hit very hard because, although they are not less important, voters generally tend to treat them as less important than electing a president, said Hancock.
Traditionally, underrepresented voters – including Blacks, Latinos and voters who have registered for the first time – tend to turn out less in following elections, she later added.
“The Obama campaign was able to register an amazing number of new voters, whether they were young voters, whether they were African-American, Latino voters, and they were able to turn them out in ’08,” the professor said. “But of course getting them to come back and getting to the regular, familiar pattern of voting is a more daunting kind of proposition.”
Hancock added that lower voter turnout usually tends to favor those who are traditionally in power, which are incumbents, but it also tends to favor Republicans.
“So we kind of have two dueling forces going on in this particular election,” she said. “So we’re not sure quite how that’s going to benefit.”
At the rally, Obama told the audience that if they don’t vote, they will give the Republicans “the keys back” and see them cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, as well as give tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas.
It’s possible Republicans could take over the House, but it may be harder to do so in the Senate, according to Hancock.
It’s harder for the GOP to take over the Senate because those races tend to be less competitive, and over the course of time, tend to be less volatile, she added. So there’s lower turnover than there is in the House.
Republican National Committee spokesperson Doug Heye also characterized the battle to take over the Senate as more difficult.
“It looks to be a steeper hill to climb, but it’s definitely a hill that we can climb,” Heye told the L.A. Sentinel in a recent interview.
The election is “definitely significant” and comes down to whether voters are happy with the policies Obama put forth, he said.
Heye said he believes Republicans can take over the House because voters are not happy both with the agenda that they’ve seen from the president but also with how that agenda has been carried through.
They didn’t like the stimulus or health care bills, he said.
“When the President was sworn in on January 20th of 2009, the Republican Party was considered dead,” he said, later adding his party is in a real position of strength.
Heye said the first thing Republicans will do is stop spending. That, he says has been out of control and has added to the debt and deficit. Then they will make sure that there are policies which will create jobs.
They want to make sure taxes aren’t raised on any Americans, he said.
The Republicans need 39 seats to take over the House.
He criticized the president, saying Obama talks about bi-partisanship and cooperation, and goes on the campaign trail and does nothing but attack Republicans.
He also responded to Obama’s statement that the Republican campaign committee chairman promised the same agenda of cutting taxes for millionaires and billionaires, and cutting rules for special interests, and cutting middle-class families loose to fend for themselves:
“We want to do everything we can to help families,” he said. “We want to make sure taxes are low for all families.”
After the rally, Delmi Ayala, a staff member at USC, said she “loved” Obama’s speech.
“I really loved the story about the car in the ditch,” she said, referring to the President’s example of Republicans driving a car into a deep ditch, not doing anything to get it out, and watching Democrats do all the hard work to do so. “I liked the way it sounded. We’re taking charge now.”