It was 150 years ago that Stephen Douglas, Democratic Illinois senator running for president against Abe Lincoln, came to Harrisonburg. That was the last time a presidential candidate appeared in the Shenandoah Valley town—until, that is, this afternoon.
Some 28,000 people showed up to watch Barack Obama deliver another of his stump speeches at JMU’s Convocation Center. Only 8,000, however, were able to get inside to see him. Some who had been camping out since the early morning hours.
"The police wouldn’t let anyone start camping out until 2am," said campaign volunteer and JMU professor Judith Reifsteck. "They had tents set up on the soccer field." To appease the "overflow" (as some of the other 175 volunteers were calling those who didn’t make it in), Obama took a large stage set up on that same soccer field to deliver a shorter, more succinct version of what he would later deliver inside the arena.
His speech, which took only 35 minutes, reiterated points on tax reform, investment in alternative energies, as well as job creation. And, just for good measure, he threw in a joke about JMU’s mascot, the Duke Dog, not being on the ballot.
Though there were the obligatory McCain supporters—including children holding signs with "I’m voting for the chick!" displayed in prominent type—watching the speech from a campus dining hall TV screen, judging by the "Amen"s some people called out during his closing statements, Obama may just turn this state blue after all.
"The energy was unlike any I’ve felt," Alexander Nemoytin, whose cousin, Irene, recited the Pledge of Allegiance before Obama took the stage, said. "He made a call to action…to maintaining action during these last seven days." Amen.
Twenty thousand people, some who’d been waiting in line since 2am, were cut off at the Convo Center door.