Animated residents, students welcome president to Athens

President Barack Obama speaks to a crowd of an estimated 14,000 people gathered on College Green during the Grassroots Event on Oct. 17. (Gwen Titley | Director of Photography)

Bringing jokes from Tuesday night’s debate, President Barack Obama hit the bricks in Athens on Wednesday. Speaking from a stage near the West Portico of the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium, Obama addressed a crowd of about 14,000 on College Green. He touched on several issues from Tuesday’s debate, including his and Romney’s tax policies, job creation, reducing the deficit and the auto bailout for Detroit carmakers.

He also spoke about the victories of his administration, including ending the Iraq war, working to bring about the death of Osama bin Laden, enacting health care reform, repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” and expanding Pell Grants for college students.

The president’s speech didn’t go without some quick digs at Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, though, as the president brought up Romney’s gaffe about being given “binders full of women” who were qualified to work for him. Obama also said that Romney’s record of closing coal mines doesn’t make him “Mr. Coal.”

But before Obama took to the stage, Democratic leaders addressed the crowd, including former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl, who was the first to take to the podium.

Wiehl encouraged attendees to vote and noted that the Nelsonville Bypass project was funded through the Obama-backed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“It makes all the sense in the world why the president would visit (Athens) today after such a great debate performance,” Wiehl said. “We represent many traits, ideals and goals that the president is fighting for to move our country forward.”

The invocation, given by Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Danielle LeShaw, was a blend of religion and politics and asked God to bless citizens with four more years of an Obama administration.

“We’re thankful for the … hope that four more years of leadership will be by a man that lifts up the fallen, that feeds the poor, that takes care of the orphaned and that sees all people as equal,” LeShaw said.

Gabrielle Giebel, a student at OU, sang the national anthem.

When Strickland took the stage, he spoke briefly about several Ohio Democratic candidates that attendees should support, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, D-30th; and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Yvette McGee Brown.

Strickland — who is the national co-chair of Obama for America — also gave his support for Obama.

“It’s as simple as this: This president has stood up for us, and now, by God, Ohioans are going to stand up for up for him,” Strickland said.

OU College Democrats President Shannon Welch, who was initially contacted by Obama’s campaign about having the president speak, introduced Obama.

Welch, a senior studying political science, was diagnosed with celiac disease when she was 18 years old and said her life would be very different without “Obamacare.”

“It means everything to me that we have a president that cares about my health care,” Welch said. “Obamacare means one thing: Obama cares.”

About 1,400 young adults in Athens County who otherwise wouldn’t have insurance are now covered through their parents’ plan, according to a release from Obama for America.

Welch introduced Obama at about 6:10 p.m., and the two hugged before he went on to joke about football playoffs and the crowd’s good looks. Then he got down to business.

Obama tailored parts of his speech toward student issues and said the entire country prospers because of entitlements such as the G.I. Bill and Pell Grants.
About 12,000 students at OU received Pell Grants in 2010, according to the release.

“I came here today, Ohio, because I want your vote. I’m not too proud to beg,” Obama said. “You’ve got to go back to your dorm and grab that guy who’s sitting there eating chips and watching SportsCenter. Tell him he’s got to vote, too.”

Obama then spoke about Tuesday’s debate, and when he mentioned Romney, the crowd began booing. Obama quickly interrupted and said, “Don’t boo; vote!”

He ended his speech the same way: with a call for votes from those in the crowd.

“If you’re willing to make some phone calls and knock on some doors, we’ll win Ohio again,” Obama said. “We’ll remind the world why the United States of America is the greatest nation on earth.”

 jj360410@ohiou.edu



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