It was around 4:30 this afternoon and the president had just left the building and now four women were dancing to the blaring rock music.
Charise Council, Florence Nabeta, Foulata Ocama and Leah Slyvie were into it, dancing, smiling, looking at a picture on a cell phone one had take of President Obama at the big Mark Dayton rally at the dumpy old fieldhouse on the University of Minnesota campus.
The four women had arrived on campus at 9:30 this morning. They’d been directed all over the place, walking here, there, everywhere. They’d stood in a line that had snaked around the campus, between buildings, across the Washington Av. foot bridge. They’d finally made it into the fieldhouse about 12:30 and then, they’d stood, waiting some more.
They’d listened to the speeches of several pols, including Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar. (Franken, it should be noted, is getting better and better at these stump speeches. He yells, he makes people laugh and at the same time fires ‘em up. Which was the point of this rally.)
President Obama finally arrived at around 3:30, some six hours after the women had arrived on campus.
Was it worth the wait?
“Oh my, yes,’’ said Nabeta.
And Ocama and Slyvie shook their heads in enthusiastic agreement.
Council grabbed my arm.
“Worth it?’’ she asked. “Look at this. (She was holding up her cell phone, with a blurry picture of the president.) “How many people have a picture like this?’’
A long wait
Council did agree that there had been times when the wait had seemed painfully long.
“But it’s like going to church on Sunday morning,’’ she said. “Sometimes you’re there and you’re almost falling asleep and you wonder, ‘Maybe I should have stayed home.’ And then the choir starts singing and you can just feel it. You say, ‘Oh, thank God I’m here.’’’
Yes, the president can still send shivers up and down the spines of his believers.
The University announced that there were 11,000 of those believers at three different locations. There were 6,500 who saw him in the flesh in the fieldhouse. There were a few thousand more people in the women’s sports pavilion watching a piped-in president and a few thousand more in the football stadium watching the rally on the Jumbotron.
A digression here about Gopher football: Some young men who live near campus came up with a good way to make a few bucks on the president’s visit. They created a t-shirt that read on the front: “Obama for Coach.’’ On the back it read: “Better than Brewster.’’
They must have sold — at $15 a pop — dozens of the shirts because they could be seen everywhere at this rally.
The president was introduced by the man who is expected to be the big beneficiary of the rally. Dayton, as most know by now, isn’t an orator.
“You don’t have to be a great speaker to do the right things,’’ said Ocama.
Anyway, he got through his portion of the program pretty well. He even set off some loud cheers of approval when he spoke of how the Republican Party and its support groups will spend more than $1 million in negative television ads “trying to destroy my reputation and distort my record’’ in these final days of the campaign.
“They may have a million dollars,’’ he said, “but they don’t have you.’’
He pointed to the crowd. And the people responded with cheers and by waving their Dayton for governor signs.
The president has been going around the country trying to shore up Democratic hopes. Much of his speech today was aimed at the national agenda and was filled with lines he’s used from coast to coast.
“I don’t re-argue the past,’’ said Obama, after talking about the economic “mess’’ he’d inherited from former President George W. Bush. “I just don’t want to re-live it.’’
He talked about how his victory and inauguration of 2008 had been such a joyful rush for so many.
“Beyonce was singing, Bono, too,’’ he said, smiling. “It was fun.’’
But he recalled that even in the midst of the celebration of ’08 he’d reminded people that change would be hard.
“Power concedes nothing without a fight,’’ he said. The fight for change, he said, has just begun.
So there was much of the standard stump stuff in the president’s speech.
But he also never forgot that he was in Minnesota to promote Dayton. He did so with gusto.
“I served with Mark in the U.S. Senate,’’ Obama said. “I know the man. I know the kind of leader he will be.’’
Obama even showed some sophistication about the state’s budget woes and the positions of Dayton’s two opponents, noting that Dayton would balance the budget without hurting the middle class and without taking money away from public education.
Obama had the crowd cheering for Dayton like he’s never been cheered for before.
At one point, Obama seemed touched by the response of the crowd.
‘Yes you can’
Obama had challenged the crowd to “defy the conventional wisdom’’ by electing Dayton and Democratic congressional candidates.
“It was the same way in 2008. They said you can’t elect a skinny guy with a funny name to be president of the United States and you said, ‘Yes we can,’’’ Obama said.
With that, the crowd started chanting “Yes we can! Yes we can!’’
That’s when the President smiled and seemed to soak it up.
It should be noted that this wasn’t the first huge rally of the year in Minnesota.
Months ago, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin attracted a crowd estimated to be upwards of 10,000 people to the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The crowds were as different as the messages they heard, starting with the fact that today’s crowd was far more diverse and, on average, considerably younger.
Even the invocations were different. At the Bachmann-Palin rally there had been a prayer filled with praise of the Lord and liberty.
The invocation today was offered by Peg Chemberlin, the executive director of the Minnesota Council of Churches. The prayer was all about the “diversity’’ of people and religions in the country.
The special sections set aside for supporters were different, too. At the Palin-Bachmann event, many of the special guests were wearing suits and dresses.
Today’s special section was filled with guys wearing union shirts and young people wearing blue jeans.
Parts of the special sections, by the way, weren’t really so special in the fieldhouse. The speaker system seemed to have dead zones, which made it difficult for some to hear, though that didn’t seem to dampen enthusiasm. The thousands outside the special areas had no difficulty hearing.
Not all that came to this event were either fans of the president or Dayton.
Outside the fieldhouse there was a group of young Tom Emmer supporters carrying signs that had such messages as: “Want a Job When You Graduate? Vote Emmer.’’
And there was at least one Tea Party fellow riding around on a bicycle that had a little yellow flag with the message: “Don’t tread on me.’’
We talked, briefly, after the event.
“Did you hear the president?’’ I asked.
“I wouldn’t go in if it was free,’’ he said.
“It was,’’ I said.
“I wouldn’t go in to hear him if they paid me,’’ he said.
“Can I get your name?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t give you my name,’’ he said, “but here, read this.’’
He reached into a pocket of his cargo pants that was filled with rumpled literature.
“I’ll read it if you give me your name,’’ I said.
“OK then,’’ he said, at which point he got on his bike and rode away.
But there were far more people like the four dancing women than the Tea Party fellow. Even after a day of long lines and long waits, they came out of the fieldhouse talking excitedly.
It remains to be seen if that excitement lasts until Nov. 2.