Photo above and below: President Obama at Henry Wise High School in Upper Marlboro. Photos by Alexis Webb
By Alexis Webb
President Obama made a rare campaign stop in Maryland Sunday afternoon to rally support for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown and to encourage early voting.
Marylanders fought heavy traffic, stood in line for hours, and were screened through airport like security before participating in the rally.
Despite the president’s record low approval levels, thousands of Maryland residents filled the gymnasium of the Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro.
Most rally participants welcomed the president waving neon blue Brown-Ulman posters waving in the air, but a number of rally goers also left the speech halfway through Obama’s presentation for unknown reasons. (For UPATE, See editor’s note below)
Obama was also stopped mid-speech by a heckler whom the president believed had said “something about immigration reform.” The crowd booed the man that made the comments.
Firing up the crowd
“It’s important to have the president here and I think it’s going to get people fired up,” said Jennifer Stapleton, Maryland chapter leader for Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense, an organization created to advocate for child safety against gun violence.
Brown’s stance on gun reform and his support of last year’s “Firearm Safety Act” requiring fingerprinting for handgun purchases has been a difference he’s played up against Republican opponent Larry Hogan Jr.
“We have endorsed Lt. Gov. Brown as Maryland’s next Governor,” said Stapleton.
President Obama strongly endorsed Brown’s campaign. “Anthony Brown has a new vision, a vision deeply rooted in the American dream… Opportunity for every American is what Anthony Brown believes in,” said Obama, who attended Harvard Law School at the same time as Brown.
“Education that helps more young people… If you elect Anthony Brown he will provide high quality pre-k to every Maryland resident,” said the president, touting a key plank in Brown’s platform.
“Our students need an earlier start to education if they wish to succeed,” said Jason Fair, a Maryland teacher.
Hoping to turnout the black vote
Brown, who is campaigning to become Maryland’s first African American governor, was greeted with enthusiasm by the heavily African American crowd, a part of the electorate he needs to win. In a Washington Post poll taken in early October, Brown had the support of 77% of likely African American voters, but 10% were still undecided.
Brown urged the crowd to go to the polls. “We don’t have to revisit the struggles and the suffering of the 1950s and the ’60s and generations of history in this country to exercise that most important and fundamental right to vote,” Brown said.
“You’ve got to vote,” President Obama told rally participants. “No excuses,”
“Nothing will change unless you get out and vote,” said Obama. Democrats are worried about poor turnout in the general election after record low turnout of voters in the June primary.
The rally energized many who attended.
“I think Obama endorsing him is going to give him a great leg up,” said Teddy Cormartie, a blind man at the rally. “It seems like the disability services in Maryland are a lot better than D.C. or Virginia, and I support that.”
”Clearly Obama sold the message,” Matthew Vaughn-Smith, a teacher at Bollman Bridge Elementary School in Jessup. “It’s a clear choice. Anthony Brown is a champion of the middle class. He understands the importance of early education. The rally reminded us Americans what’s going well. I think he really energized the base. I’m excited to go out and vote.”
“I think it was very powerful,” Sen. Verna Jones–Rodwell of Baltimore said.
UPDATE: Why did they walk out?
Some reports are making a big deal about the number of people who appeared to leave the rally for Anthony Brown as President Obama was speaking. The Republican Governors Association put out a press release about it, saying:
“Obama might still have the celebrity in blue states for photo opportunities, but when it comes to hearing the message that his policies and legacy on the ballot, even blue state residents are tired of the same old talking points on his failed agenda.”
According to our reporter on the scene, Alexis Webb, it was not clear why a number of people on the crowded gym floor seemed to leave, but it was not an organized departure. They just seemed to drift off.
Webb said it was hot and crowded on the floor, and she noticed some of the people left to go up in the bleachers where they could get a better view.
Simply walking out doesn’t make a lot of sense, since many people had waited two hours to go through security and then waited another hour for the speeches from various Maryland politicians to begin. It wasn’t until after 5 p.m. that the president actually appeared on stage — four hours or more after many of those attending the rally had arrived at the school or the satellite parking lots.
Leaving early to get to their cars didn’t make a lot of sense, since most had to take a bus to get to the satellite lots.
If anyone who was actually at the event has a better explanation of what went on and why the people left, we’d like to hear from you. Write to Len@MarylandReporter.com, @lenlazarick or call 410-312-9840.