The lines began forming by 1:00 p.m. Friday afternoon for the people holding tickets to see President Barack Obama at historic Fire Station No. 1 in downtown Roanoke. The weather was threatening and some light rain fell followed by smothering humidity. That combined with over 3000 people pressing up against each other in a small section of Church Avenue between Jefferson Street and Williamson Road contributed to 20 people needing medical attention.
According to Ronnie Campbell, Roanoke Deputy Fire Marshall the official tally was 3,040 people that came for the President’s address. By 5:30 p.m. the line to get in stretched down Franklin Road around 1st Street and around the block at Valley Bank and back down Church Avenue.
Obama arrived with U.S. Senator Mark Warner and Gov. Tim Kaine who is running for U.S. Senate against Gov. George Allen. The crowd started cheering and pressing the barricade as soon as they saw the motorcade pull up behind the fire station. Mayor Bowers came out of the fire station door and pointed back towards it shaking his head “yes” and the crowd roared but the wait went on a bit longer as they listened to “The Church Sisters” play bluegrass music as part of the buildup. The crowd of supporters seemed to enjoy it all.
Obama took Virginia in 2008 and various polls show he leads his Republican opponent Mitt Romney by three to eight percentage points.
“We’re a major battleground state right now,” said political analyst Dr. Bob Denton. Compared to his 2008 visit this event is much more controlled. It prevents chances of being heckled, crowds are more friendly and it presents well for the media.
Obama has support in northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. “Now we’re beginning to see that Obama is going to take it to this area and that is showing that we are one of the top three or four battleground states,” said Denton. “Virginia’s never had that before and now joins the likes of Florida and Ohio. You can tell by the television PAC ads.” Dr. Denton said he expects the candidates to return to the area two or three more times.
The day before Obama’s arrival streets began to close at 10 a.m. Eric DiLauro owner of Table 50 restaurant on Market Street said he expected the President’s visit to bring people downtown and said that he was use to streets being closed. “It’s a city constantly under construction.” Tim Kaine visited his restaurant a month ago.
Tim Belcher from Rolling Meadows Farm was selling his produce Thursday and said he was looking for the event to drive business to his stand.
At the start of the event Councilman Sherman Lea gave the invocation. Vietnam veteran Rick O’Dell led the Pledge of Allegiance and Meg Harlow of Roanoke sang the National Anthem.
In his speech President Obama said he believes that no one who fights for this country should have to fight for a job when they come home and reminded the crowd that he has signed two new tax credits into law for businesses that hire unemployed veterans and wounded warriors.
Romney responded in a release accusing the Obama administration for delayed veteran disability claims. “The backlog for wounded warriors receiving their disability has nearly doubled, and unemployment among young returning veterans is in double digits.”
In his speech Obama called on Congress to immediately extend the middle-class tax cuts scheduled to expire at the end of the year. He said it would prevent a tax increase on the 98 percent of families who earn less than $250,000 a year and the tax cuts that benefit only high-income taxpayers would expire. “This would help cut the deficit by more than $4 trillion – including $2 trillion in deficit reduction signed into law last year ensuring that everyone pays their fair share while cutting waste,” he said.
He said he knew that the economic turnaround following the financial crisis was going to take “more than one year, or one term or one president. Priority number one is to put people back to work but also to build an economy where that work pays off. What’s missing is not big ideas … the problem right now is that we’ve got a stalemate in Washington.” He blamed the Republican Congress.
The Republican’s theory is “the economy grows from the top down … while the investors are doing well everybody does well. Tax cuts for the high end and rollback regulations. Here’s the problem we tried this in the last decade and it did not work,” said Obama.
Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte responded saying “Four years ago, President Obama promised that his plan would lead to an economic recovery. And while President Obama may think our economy is taking a “step in the right direction,” the Obama economy is on its head, especially for middle-class Americans, small businesses, and veterans. Everything that should be up—such as job growth, consumer confidence, manufacturing activity, and the number of new business start-ups—is down. Everything that should be down—such as unemployment, the national debt, the regulatory burden, and the number of Americans on food stamps and in poverty—is up.”
President Obama spoke for over 40 minutes then worked the crowd with secret service watching his and the audiences every move. He went back up on the stage then decided to work the crowd a second time. During his speech Obama solicited cheers when he said, “I’m coming back.”
The motorcade rolled down Jefferson Street on its way back to the airport. People standing on the sidewalks cheered as he waved from inside the limousine.