By Rachael Dickson
Fredericksburg, Virginia-Thousands of Sen. Barack Obama’s supporters cheered him on tonight as he spoke through the pouring rain at University of Mary Washington.
According to UMW student Peter Ceo, a College Democrats member, people started arriving at the event at 10 a.m., nine hours before the Democratic presidential nominee and his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, arrived.
“The line was well over half a mile long this morning,” Ceo said.
According to The Washington Post, Jay Snipes, chief of the University of Mary Washington police force, estimated that 12,000 people were at the rally and another 14,000 were unable to get in after the United States Secret Service stopped allowing people in around 5 p.m.
The large, diverse and fiercely loyal crowd withstood the afternoon’s high heat and humidity, which left many dehydrated. Though event volunteers passed out water bottles to the densely packed crowd, at least two attendees were observed taken away by emergency medical staff.
Later, when the sky opened up and it began to pour, the audience shielded itself with trash bags, jackets, Obama/Biden signs, blankets and whatever came to hand. Much of the press members took shelter, wrapping expensive cameras in ponchos as they retreated to a tent reserved for the traveling press or ducked under the risers.
Obama’s supporters took the opportunity to dance and sing in the rain to the music pumping out over the loud speakers, a mix of classics such as Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and newer songs such as “Move Along” by the All-American Rejects.
The sun came out and dried out the crowd in time for a few preliminary speakers to give abbreviated speeches before Biden and Obama arrived. Fredericksburg’s state Sen. Edward Houck jazzed up the audience by leading cheers commenting on last night’s first presidential debate.
“Who won the debate last night?” Houck said, smiling at the crowd’s roaring answer of “Obama.” “The difference between Obama and McCain could not have been more obvious.”
He also commented on the importance of registering to vote, saying, “All across America we have the opportunity to reach out and touch the future.”
Raucous cheers greeted Biden and Obama as they walked out on the stage. Biden began the program to cheers of “Joe! Joe!” by talking about the differences between Obama and McCain at the debate.
“Last night McCain’s silence was definite,” Biden said. “You did not hear him say the words middle-class or working class once.”
Biden also criticized McCain’s foreign policy positions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We need more than a brave soldier,” Biden said. “We need a wise leader. And that’s Barack Obama.”
Obama cracked a joke to begin his speech.
“I know some of you got a little damp, and I’m deeply sorry,” he said. “Those of you wearing that special outfit, I would like to cover everyone’s dry cleaning bills tonight, but I can’t cause I got to use it on the campaign. So consider it one more modest effort to help the campaign.”
Later on in his speech, as another deluge of rain began, Obama took off his jacket after joking about his own dry-cleaning bills and then proceeded to continue speaking to the crowd for another ten minutes, without cover.
Obama also spoke on the debate, calling McCain “out-of-touch” and saying ““On issue after issue, you heard John McCain make the case for more of the same.”
He also joked about McCain’s use of “change” in recent political advertising by saying “Change is more than a slogan.”
Obama referred to McCain’s lack of mention of the words “middle-class” or “working-class” by saying “In 90 minutes, John McCain had a lot to say about me, but he had nothing to say to you…We need a president who will change the economy so it finally works for your family.”
Obama spoke of the American dream to succeed as well, saying, “In America, our destiny isn’t written for us, it’s written by us.”
After talking for almost half an hour, Obama said good night to the crowd, leaving the stage with Biden. The crowd dispersed quickly, eager to get to their dry cars and dry-cleaning bills.
You can see Rachael Dickson’s photos of the event on the Mason Votes Flickr stream.