BRIDGEPORT—In Connecticut to rally the Democratic base in a city that could make or break U.S. Rep. Jim Himes‘ re-election, President Barack Obama‘s speech Saturday was interrupted by protestors interested in increasing funding to fight global AIDS.
The group of young people off to Obama’s right chanted while holding up a large banner that read, “Keep the Promise on Global AIDS.” The rest of the crowd seemed shocked by the challenge to Obama, but the protestors have become a familiar sight. The same group interrupted his speech earlier in the day in Philadelphia.
“It will be our party, not the opposing party, that will do more to fund research and remedies,” Obama told the protestors as the crowd again erupted into “Yes we can! Yes we can!“ Attendees near the group took away the banner.
Reminiscent of 2008, the “Yes we can!” chant became a familiar refrain Saturday. It filled Harbor Yard Arena as Obama strode to the podium, waving and smiling to the crowd. Like the Democrats who spoke before him, he implored everyone to vote on Tuesday to ensure Democratic victory in Connecticut.
But most of his speech focused on shoring up America’s economy. “There’s no reason that China should have faster railroads than us. The U.S. was the first country to build a transcontinental railroad.”
He also stressed that the clean energy technologies of the future, such as wind turbines and solar panels, should not be manufactured in China, “but right here in the United States.”
Obama’s upcoming trip to India next week represents an opportunity to expand U.S. exports, which he said is very important in reducing unemployment in the U.S. Probably as a response to ongoing criticism that he is not a “business-friendly” president, Obama said, “I believe in the free-enterprise system and entrepreneurship, but I also believe in a lean and efficient government that rewards hard work and responsibility.”
Criticized for not bringing the change he promised on the campaign trail to Washington, Obama criticized the Republicans, saying that he needs to see “some willingness on the other side” to work together towards remedying the “worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression.” Without mentioning him by name, he noted that the House Republican leader’s priority is “not to create jobs, but to ensure that I’m a one-term president.”
Obama ended by reminding the audience that, while difficult, change is possible. “The history of our country began with 13 colonies repelling British rule, then onward to the fight to dissolve slavery, the achievements realized as a result of the women’s suffrage and workers’ rights movements and the victory over fascism. Success isn’t guaranteed, but if the preceding generations are a lesson in history, they pushed forward in the face of uncertainty.”
If exciting the base was the goal of Obama’s visit at least three residents who attended the event got the message.
Denise Anderson, a Bridgeport resident who noted she’s a former commissioner of the city’s Health Department, said that President Obama’s visit means “the dream has come true… that people can come together, regardless of race to mend their differences.
Brenda Young, a long-time Bridgeport resident said that she was very excited about President Obama’s speech. “The most meaningful part of the speech for me was his insistence on working together to bring about change.” And Linda Chaco, who grew up in Bridgeport and voted independent for a long time, said, “I’ll be canvassing long hours on behalf of Democrats over the next three days.”
Obama’s visit was an effort to excite the Democratic base in a city that’s critical to Himes’ re-election campaign. In 2008 when Himes defeated former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays Bridgeport was the only city he won with more than 20 percent of the vote. He pulled off slim victories in Stamford, Norwalk, and Shelton, but the rest of the district went to Shays.
This year Himes faces a challenge from Shelton state Sen. Dan Debicella, who had a slight lead over the freshman Congressman in one of the latest polls.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal, who is facing a challenge from former wrestling executive Linda McMahon, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Malloy were also in attendance and spoke briefly at Saturday’s rally.
Former President Bill Clinton will visit West Hartford and Norwalk Sunday to continue rallying Democrats against a Republican base energized by the Tea Party movement.