Obama Davenport Liveblog
At the last moment, I got some wifi and liveblogged Barack Obama's "town hall meeting without the hall" in Davenport.
11:32 and our scene is the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, just in front of the Machine Shed Restaurant with a row of flags in the background. It's a very different vibe for an Obama event. The music is leaning more country and the volume is much quieter. No signs and no hoopla at all. It seems almost too small for a nominee event, and hard to believe that the same man will be speaking in front of 75,000 people in three days.
The event is invite-only and supposed to be for undecideds, supposedly identified through phone banks.
If the crowd is any indication, the undecideds lean older and female. There's at least a few ringers salted in and amond the crowd – a legislative candidate here, a local politico there, a couple union t-shirts. The true undecideds are easiest to spot by a certain tentativeness in their movements as they're escorted to assigned seats by Obama volunteers. But once they're settled in, their faces settle into a look of “convince me,” while the political ringers wear looks of giddy anticipation.
There's a small group of Republicans with a neon green hand lettered “honk for McCain” sign. They get a handful of honks as the Secret Service high powered rifle crew seated immediately behind me (now THAT'LL make you nervous) checks them out in the biggest binoculars I've ever seen. The security mood is even more intense than a month ago – it's the first time I've ever had to do the power up the laptop drill and the first time I've seen squad cars stationed at the freeway exits.
The format is town hall, so we should get some Q and A. It's almost caucus style and caucus sized at a couple hundred. That's a couple hundred Real People, that is; the reserved space for press is as large or larger than the reserved seating for actual voters. The high-power TV lights are ready as the sun ducks behind the clouds.
What we won't get is new running mate Joe Biden; Obama is flying solo today. We also get no wi-fi in the middle of a large field. (Scratch that; literally as Obama began speaking I found a signal.)
At 11:42 a motorcade rolls up the back way, a minister leads a prayer and we get the Pledge. National press corps rushes in. The staffer doing the rap is inaudible in the cheap seats, so I risk Secret Service wrath and move up. I'm not the only one. After that flurry, another lull.
11:55 and he's here. Introducer Randy Wearman of LeClaire says he's a lifetime Republican and voter twice for Bush. The “undecided” crowd boos. “I don't believe the Rep Party represents me, my interests, or my family.” Says at one time he would have backed McCain but “there's nothing maverick” about him anymore.
Obama introduces the dignitaries, like Braley and mayor Gluba. Namedrops Jim Leach endorsement to large applause. Lane Evans gets the biggest applause of all.
"In about three days, I gotta go make a speech." Some laughs at that.
“The American people are worried, anot just about themselves but about the direction of the country as a whole. The economy is just not working for ordinary Americans.
And Washington is seemingly oblivious.” Moves from that to, with some reluctance, an issue based McCain bash. “He doesn't have much of a plan – not because he's a bad man but because he doesn't get it.”
“And I think it is time for us to try something new.” Everything is economicsl. "John McCain has no economic plan."
"If you're making so much that McCain will give you a tax cut, I want to talk to you because I'm still soliciting campaign contributions." Health care for all by end of first term.
Health care, energy, education, infrastructure. “If we're spending $10 billion a month in Iraq we can spend 10 billion on our infrastructure.” That's our segue into foreign policy. "Let's look at John McCain's judgment. McCain fell in with Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney on Iraq."
This rolls into touting his new buddy Joe Biden. Mostly biography -- as he leads into his own. "I know what you've gone through." Talks about just finishing his student loans, Michelle's dae, his single mom. May this be a preview of Michelle tonight?
12:28 and we get Q and A. First we get Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae. Barack gives us Mortgage 101. It worked for a while until they started chasing higher profits and risky loans. "Because they were quasi-governmental, people though the gov't was probably gonna guarantee it. Now, with the housing market collapsed, they're posting billions of losses. If they collapsed, the financial system would suffer a body blow that would probably be disastrous. Freddie Mac and Fannie May kind of have us in the bad."
"I'd like to be able to punish them for their bad decisions, but they're too essential." Transition needs to be carefully structured.
Question 2 (he briefly forgets his boy-girl structure) from "a child of the Depression": A new WPA? Obama: "We are not going through what we went through in the Great Depression, but we have a long term problem that the income of the average family is not going up." More biography in the answer. "Our infrastructure is going to have to be rebuilt anyway. Remember that bridge in Minnesota." Applause for high speed rail. Goes on an extended riff on the difficulties of air travel for regular folks ("This was before I had Secret Service") compared to rail. Pay for infrastructure? "We start winding down this war in Iraq and some of that money goes to us." Iraq can pay for a lot of repairs with its own oil money. And "the great thing about infrastructure is the jobs stay here. You can't build the bridge in China and ship it back here."
Question 3 is Israel and Iran. Obama says Israel is a great ally and while Iran would not likely use nukes, it would give them too much leverage. "Instead of the Bush admin. trying to talk, there was a lot of sabre rattling." Going into Iraq was "single dumbest thing" we could have done to contain Iran, because Iran will fill vacuum. Israel will not accept Iranian nukes; my plan as prez is to tighten sanctions before Israel feels it has its back to the wall.
Next question is immigration and path to citizenship. (Questioner says "as our next president - and I know you will be president" which calls "undecided" into question). Border security gets little response; employer sanctions gets applause. Sanctions have to hurt. As for people already here, "I know Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs say 'send them home' but that's just not realistic." People have put down roots and the kids are "basically American." Law enforcement can't handle 12, 13 million people. "It would cost us tens of billions of dollars, and what would the image of us look like, rounding up families?" Bottom line: registration, fines, English (that gets applause), but then "give them a chance" for a 10 year path to citizenship. Answer gets applause.
Next question is job outlook for college grads; Obama uses it as a launching pad for restating the economy rap: mortgage crisis, energy, education, etc. The notion of domestic auto production merits an applause interruption, as does reducing the dropout rate.
Last question: She's a restaurant owner of Ross's in the QC. Obama interrupts: "what's your best dish?" She says "The Magic Mountain" which gets big applause; I'm not a Quad Citian but I'm taking it's well known. After more banter, she gets to the point on small business. Her husband is undecided. Obama: "What's his number, I'll call him right now. (Laughter) No I'm not kidding, I'll answer the question then let's call." So...
Obama calls the guy. (Facing the other way, unfortunately.)
"I don't want to talk too long, it's the middle of lunch hour... I gotta have me one of those Magic Mountains."
(Update: someone else there YouTubed it.)
The questioner returns to health care costs. Obama: "We need to help small businesses get a health care plan they can afford. Fixing health care can make an enormous difference." Small biz also needs better access to credit.
Winding down at 1:03: change won't happen till we get someone serious about helping middle class. "The same people who brought you Bush are behind McCain. And they're not talking about his plans, they're talking about me." It worked for them before so I get it... "If you can't argue about big things then you make the election about small things." "The biggest risk we can take is doing the same old things." So I hope you give me a chance.. and now we're back to regular Obama music, the old Stevie Wonder standby, "Signed Sealed Delivered."