Spending a birthday with the President and 15,000 others

3:41 PM, Sep 13, 2009   |    comments
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Minneapolis, MN -- Saturday, September 12.

I've lived here 11 years and still haven't been able to see a Timberwolves game in the Target Center.  But, I've now seen President  Barack Obama here twice. This time it's happening on my birthday, which -- until a few days ago -- I thought I'd actually have off for the first time in a long time.

But this is what I signed up for when I picked this profession long, long ago.

The first time was in the winter of 2008 when then-Senator Barack Obama of Illinois was in the fight of his life with Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary battle.  Now, as the chief executive, he's locked in a much tougher struggle over reforming health care cost and coverage.

I've been here since 7:30 a.m. The president took the stage shortly before 1pm.  I did ad-libbed live reports for the Saturday morning show at 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., but most of the time has been spent in hold mode.  Media had to be in the building by 10:30am. Our equipment had to be in by 6:30am.

That's part of the security routine we've come to expect with presidential speeches and major candidate appearances. Another routine aspect of the political beat is hearing the same stump speech over and over again.

Today, so far, is no exception.  The speech President Obama is giving at the Target Center, at least so far -- ten minutes in -- is basically the same one he gave to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night. It's an abridged version, and it's more conversational, but the core is the same.

The feeling is different, though.  The President's clearly energized by a mostly sympathetic crowd that is erupting into chants of "Yes we can!" at regular intervals.  Obama also wished the Gophers well in their inaugural game at the new T.C.F. Stadium on campus, happening later today.

This festival motif is all about building momentum, and not with the faithful gathered here in the arena. It's about creating media images of a leader who hasn't lost his base, despite a rough August when coverage was dominated by angry outbursts at townhall meetings on health.

Outraged, whether heartfelt or manufactured, is easy to cover. People are scared. People are angry. Simple. Commercial television, with its time constraints, loves simple.  Cable networks, with too much time to fill, love controversies.

They also like to frame everything in simple terms.  "Make or break?" is the banner headline for much of the cable coverage of Obama's current quest to sell the loosely defined plan to the public and Congress.

He doesn't see it that way, apparently.  Obama told the crowd today that any change is hard, and nothing as huge as health care reform will be accomplished without a huge fight. He predicted those who stand to profit most from the status quo will try "to bring Obama down."

He left by telling the crowd that he's "fired up" and "ready to go."  The battle is just beginning here in Minneapolis today, and he's asking for help.

Ultimately it will be decided by 535 people in Washington, 435 members of the House and 100 in the Senate.  Both Obama and his adversaries are banking on the notion those 535 people listen to voters.

One of those lawmakers, Senator Amy Klobuchar, talked to us after the rally ended. She flew in from Washington with Obama on Air Force One this morning, and spent 20 minutes one on one with him. She said she reminded him that cost and affordability are really huge issues in Minnesota, even more than access because nearly 92 percent of the people here have insurance.

"Most people in our state like their doctors and they just want to make sure what we do doesn't hurt their ability to see their doctors but also makes things less expensive, especially for those small business owners who've been pushed to the limit."

One of the uninsured, Sandy'Ci Moua told me that she's really more worried about her father's health coverage as he reaches retirement age.  She had to go on medical assistance during her college days, because she couldn't afford the university's student plan.

Now she's working part-time, hoping to get on some place as full-time with benefits.  Sandy'Ci is keenly interested, in other words, in finding affordable coverage.

"I really liked that he talked about us having conversations with our neighbors and making sure that we're not getting misinformation," she told me.

View John's 10pm Report on Obama rally


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