Surrounded by a crowd of students and Murray supporters in Husky Stadium on Thursday, senior Kristin Gaerlan and junior Dusty Henry shook U.S. President Barack Obama’s hand.
Henry said he was awestruck.
“Afterwards it was like … we just shook the president’s hand,” Henry said, his eyes wide.
The duo watched the president make an abbreviated speech to the overflow crowd of 3,000 people in Husky Stadium before making his main speech to the 10,000 people inside University of Washington’s Hec Edmondson Pavilion. Obama’s appearance was part of a political campaign event sponsored by Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), who is up for re-election this week.
Speakers urged students not only to vote on Tuesday, but also to encourage their friends and families to become educated and vote as well.
The audience in the pavilion wore Murray T-shirts and carried posters with slogans such as, “Students Love Murray.” Before the event began, “the wave” circled the pavilion and chants calling for Murray’s re-election broke out multiple times. At the first sign of someone taking the stage, the crowd erupted in cheers.
“Politics has always been about the spectacle,” said Reed Davis, professor of political science at Seattle Pacific, “and there’s always that dimension to politics that tends to overwhelm critical independent judgment.”
Spectacles like the Murray rally are held to “juice up” supporters, Davis said. Yet, he said he thinks even firing up student support will not help the Murray campaign.
“Students are impossible,” Davis said. “Every new candidate thinks they’ve discovered the great untapped market of student labor.”
For some reason, he explained, students still do not vote.
“I think it’s a really, really good way to incorporate the younger generations,” Gaerlan said of the rally. “But at the same time, it kind of takes away some of the seriousness of it, a little bit.”
When Murray and Obama took the stage in the pavilion, the crowd roared for over two minutes.
“I think we have a good crowd here, Mr. President,” Murray said.
In a conference call with college reporters last week, Murray told The Falcon she believes the country has a responsibility to provide education to its citizens, and that concerns over cut funding for her children’s school program got her into politics.
“I never thought politics was important until it impacted me,” she said. “Then I realized that, by opting out … I was letting someone else make the decisions about my future.”
A similar message of involvement permeated her speech on Thursday.
“This election is about pushing forward,” Murray told the crowd in the pavilion. “It’s about building an America that works for each and every one of you.”
The president took the podium for about 35 minutes, supporting Murray and the Democratic Party. Obama explained that the chairman of the Republican campaign committee said if the Republicans take the house, they would pursue the same political agenda as they did before he took office, and cut spending for education.
“The other side might think it’s a good idea to cut education by 20 percent, but you know what? China’s not cutting education by 20 percent,” he said.
“They’re not cutting for second place. And the United States of America doesn’t play for second place,” he said as the crowd roared in the pavilion.
Obama waved alongside Murray and shook hands with those in the front of the crowd for nearly five minutes, and then the two disappeared behind black curtains.
“It was cool, in a way, that it gets people excited about (the election), even if they’re not really that informed about what’s going on,” Henry said. “The fact that it is becoming a spectacle makes people go to things like this, and then they end up probably getting something out of it.”
While Murray has flown in political supporters such as Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the president and First Lady Michelle Obama, Republican challenger Dino Rossi’s campaign strategy has been quite different, focusing on visiting small towns and connecting personally with voters.
“It’s clear that Senator Murray is bringing in her D.C. friends to defend the indefensible, which is her 18-year record of taxing, spending and growing government,” Rossi told KING 5 News the morning of the rally. “So what we’re doing is what we’ve done since we got in the race in May. We’ve put enough miles on the car since we started in May to go to New York and back six times. I’m going from little town to little town, earning every single vote.”
Robert Mak, a reporter for KING 5 news, said Rossi might succeed more with independent voters by not bringing in celebrities.
Rossi’s campaign did not respond to interview requests from The Falcon.
“Personally, I’m more drawn to Dino Rossi’s kind of more grassroots campaign,” said junior Heidi McElrath. “I definitely understand that he is trying to get more connected with voters and with people and understanding, and I think that’s really important.”
McElrath is from California and cannot vote in the Seattle election, but she did attend the rally to see Obama’s speech.
“I just think it’s really important, as students, to be involved and aware of politics in general,” she said. “And I think that you should never pass up an opportunity to see a sitting president speak.”
While Gaerlan said she is “indifferent” about the election, she said it is important for students to educate themselves and vote for what candidates stand for.
“Be educated,” he said. “As cool as seeing Obama is … I wouldn’t say that would make me vote for Murray. Go home and do your research. Make sure you’re making an informed decision, not just letting something really cool sway you one way.”
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Title: Close election; Obama visits Seattle | Author: Danielle Knight | Section: News | Published Date: 2010-10-27 | Internal ID: 7264