Editor’s Note: Bobby Scott is the congressmen for the 3rd District of Virginia. This article has been since corrected.
The mood was electric among the approximate 7,000-person crowd Thursday evening at the Richmond Convention Center.
As the election day for the Virginia Gubernatioral race gets closer, the polls are getting tighter and powerful alliances are being secured. On Oct. 5, President Trump endorsed the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie. On Thursday evening, former President Barack Obama arrived in Richmond for a free campaign rally endorsing the Democratic ticket, specifically gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam.
Although the event started at 6 p.m., attendees lined up outside the convention center as early as 1 p.m. Vendors stood with them and attempted to sell Obama and Northam-related merchandise.
The event was standing room only, although there were seated locations for those with handicaps or VIP tickets.
The diverse crowd was from all walks of life: different faith, ages, races, socioeconomic status and sexuality. Standing there together, they were all reduced to the same thing -- supporters of the Democratic ticket.
Among them was Susie Richardson of Glen Allen, who had brought her son.
“I want to show my son the political process and how it works,” Richardson said. “Health care and gun control are major issues in my household and I hope the Northam campaign will say they’ve had enough and encourage the state and national governments to finally act.”
Richmond native Kenney Brown is an Air Force veteran who came to the rally hoping to also hear them talk about healthcare issues in Virginia.
“I have healthcare for life due to my veteran status,” Brown said. “But my family, my kids, they are struggling. I’m looking forward to the end of Trump’s presidency and for prepping the ground for somebody else.”
The rally began with a convocation by Pastor Michael Jones.
“This is the season where hate shall be put down,” Jones announced to the crowd. “This is not the time to sit down or sit back.”
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The entire crowd then stood for the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, before Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney gave his opening remarks. His words targeted President Trump’s administration, where Stoney accused Trump of not knowing how to do his job and of being an ally of the National Rifle Association.
In succession were other prominent Virginia democrats, such as current congressman Donald McEachin, congressman Bobby Scott, Lt. Gov. candidate Justin Fairfax, Attorney General candidate Mark Herring, and current Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
All spoke briefly about their party’s values and how those values were the change that Virginia needed.
Governor candidate Ralph Northam then came to the stage, mainly speaking about resisting Trump’s policies and making arguments that Gillespie was nothing more than Trump’s “lobbyist.”
The talking points that got the loudest response were his statements on healthcare, where he proposed Medicaid expansion in the state of Virginia and protection of women’s healthcare rights.
“There is no excuse for a group of legislators, most of them men, to tell women what they should or shouldn’t do,” Northam said.
After all the candidates and prominent politicians gave their speeches, the keynote speaker of the evening arrived. President Barack Obama did not get much out other than a greeting before he was overwhelmed by cheers and applause. After the crowd regained its control, he continued speaking for 25 minutes.
Obama’s rhetoric included mentions of Northam’s veteran status and medical expertise, calling out the current political system, and most importantly, getting those in the crowd to volunteer and vote.
“The most important office is office of citizen,” Obama said. “I don’t want to hear folks complaining about how things are and not do anything about it. Don’t boo, vote.”
Gasps erupted through the crowd as Obama delivered an anecdote about being distantly related to Jefferson Davis, a currently controversial historical figure in Richmond. He also pulled on other hot topics in Virginia, such as the Charlottesville demonstrations and Trump’s accusations that Northam has been complicit in gang violence in Northern Virginia.
In the last minutes of his speech, Obama warned about fear mongering in campaigns and again pressed the urgency of the election and the need to vote.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” Obama warned. “You can’t sit this one out.”
The warnings of the dangers of fear mongering in Obama’s speech resonated with Dan Mahoney, a University of Richmond sophomore who was in attendance.
“It frustrates me to see politicians divide people to conquer them during elections,” Mahoney said. “I hate seeing people vote out of fear instead of hope. It was nice to see all the frustration and disappointment in the political process being turned into excitement and faith at the rally.”
At around 8:30 p.m., the rally ended and the crowd dispersed into the streets. Ambulances were parked outside to handle event-goers who had fainted and police cordoned off traffic to allow pedestrians to go to their vehicles safely.
It was a night without incident, the best case scenario for the first responders assigned to the event and for everyone else involved. It was a night, that for many, generated hope.
Contact news writer Julia Raimondi at Julia.Raimondi@richmond.edu.
Editor's note: Dan Mahoney is a news writer for The Collegian.
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