Friday, May 23, 2008

Senator McCain's rally

On Tuesday evening, I was presented with the opportunity to attend a John McCain rally and a VIP fundraiser. Needless to say I jumped at the chance.

Yes, this means that I took a day off school, and no I don't feel the slightest bit guilty. First of all, I teach Government. You can't get much closer to government than going to campaign event and meeting heavy-hitters in politics. Mix in the fact that many Seniors are gone on the Senior Trip (a joke that I will address later), and I didn't even blink when asked to attend the event.

I left for the four hour trip at around 9:30 in the morning. The first event I was going to attend was a nationally televised rally at the Alex Spanos Jet Center at Stockton's Airport. Spanos is a real estate developer that has a worth of about 1.1 billion dollars. He has frequently endorsed Republicans and was helping with a fundraiser that would take place this evening. In other words, he is uber-rich. I arrived at about 2 p.m., with the wind whipping like crazy across the flat expanse of the airport. The parking was easy and I had arrived just as the gates to the event were opened.

About 300 yards away from the Jet Center was the Secret Service check point. These were white and black clad officers, gun in full view, that would check bags and wave a wand around you to make sure that there was no funny stuff sneaking into the event. They were very nice and very direct. More than once an agent asked how my day was while he searched or "wanded" me. The Secret Service agents that were in suits were all business, never cracking a smile and always aware of everything. While McCain walked a rope line after the speech, the agents made sure that all hands were void of any objects (they gave us small flags upon entering the event, which had to be dropped to meet the Senator), and that people stayed behind their imaginary line. It was all business.

Upon entering the event I met my contact and was escorted up to the stage behind the microphone. This picture at left was about 90 minutes prior to the Senator's entrance to the event. Joining me on the stage were a few younger students, many veterans, and a large population of ethnic east Asians. Since all politics is perception, I understood the students and vets, but what was the point of this particular ethnic population? It's not a racist question, it's a political question. Diversity maybe? If so, where was the Hispanic representation on the stage? I'm just making an interesting observation.

We were told constantly that we were going to be on national television and that smiles and energy were very necessary. We were given small U.S. and California flags, "Vote John McCain" signs, and signs like "Farmers (heart) McCain" and "Go Mac Go!" that looked like they were made by 6th graders. Yes, I think it was intentional, part of the simple charm. Then came the practice. Dean Andal's campaign helped organize the event and he came out at around 3 p.m. and started to get the crowd prepped for McCain's arrival. Andal is running for a House seat in a very contested district that traditionally voted Republican until the 2006 congressional elections. Now he's looking to take the seat back. He seems like a very nice man, someone who was not afraid to talk to me about my teaching and coaching while not going overboard on the party line. Dean tried to work the crowd into "We want MAC!" chants, plus the always patriotic "U.S.A." chant. The crowd seemed a little subdued during practice, but full of energy when McCain arrived. The party organizers stated that about 1,200 showed up. News 10 out of Sacramento gave the number at around 500. I would say that the crowd was much closer to 1000.

Local Republican assemblymen, state senators, judges and sheriffs came forward and made a couple of speeches about local issues, and why the people should vote for John McCain. The main focus on the local positions towards McCain was his stance on taxes and the inexperience of Barack Obama. Their was also a moving story of a teacher motivated by a former student that was injured while fighting in Iraq. Mix in a little mariachi music from a local band and you had all the signs of an attempt at a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

McCain's chartered Jetblue A-320 landed right on time at around 4 p.m. and he was escorted to the Jet Center by Rolling Thunder, a non-profit group that rides around on Harleys and advocates for POWs and MIAs. With him was Pete Wilson, Steve Poizner (Insurance Commissioner), and his California campaign head honcho, Bill Jones. When he was introduced, the crowd went pretty crazy and the energy was definitely there. Occasionally he had to pause for the chants to die down. McCain was also interrupted twice by members of Code Pink, the anti-Bush yahoos who sneak into Republican functions and yell at the speakers. It hardly bothered the Senator, who simply said "Nice to see you again", and then when on with the speech. The members of Code Pink were escorted out, but not arrested.

One of McCain's criticisms is that he looks and sounds old. Yes, he walks with a limp. I don't think you can blame a man who was a POW for five years for having a limp. His speech was about 25 minutes long and was not the speech of an "old man". He did not use a teleprompter, only looking down at a couple of note cards two or three times during his speech. He focused on veterans for much of his speech, including the problems of young people not finding it important to serve in the military any more. He discussed the issues behind war wounded and demanded that all veterans receive better care and better opportunity for education. McCain then went after Obama's inexperience dealing with foreign policy, the bloated spending in government, the global threat of Islamo-facism (is that a word?), and ended with an excellent story about patriotism and his captivity in Vietnam. I was a little surprised that he failed to mention anything about the rising gas prices in the state, or any mention of major economic issues. The senator would address these later, when I would see him again.

After the speech he walked the rope line and shook hands for a good 10 minutes. He also walked up on the stage and shook hands with the people that were behind him during the speech (the photo at the top).

I walked out of the Spanos Jet Center and had no problem with traffic as I drove north on I-5, not towards home, but to my next John McCain political event.
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