First-timers, man in elephant costume among crowd-goers


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Originally Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2012, 7:37 pm
Last Updated: Oct. 24, 2012, 8:03 pm
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By Sarah Hayden, shayden@qconline.com

With a red barn and colorful oak trees as background, President Barack Obama had a fine Iowa October setting for Wednesday's campaign rally at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport.

As helicopters circled the air, a line of several thousand people wound through the muddy fairgrounds, waiting to clear the security checkpoint. Canvassers worked to sign up campaign volunteers while souvenir vendors hawked buttons and T-shirts.

People started lining up at 6 a.m., Obama volunteer Sandy Kaminsky said.

Among those waiting was Ronesha Marshall, who came with her dental assistants class from Scott Community College.

"I've already voted," she said. "I'm excited to see him today."

A handful of protesters stood outside the fairground gates, holding signs reading, "Are you really better off than you were four years ago?"

Inside, a man wearing an elephant costume appeared to be representing the Republican party, until he held up a sign that said, "Mr. President, tell USDA to confiscate beaten circus elephants."

PETA representative Hayden Hamilton was with the man in costume. She said they have been following the president on his campaign stops the past seven weeks. "The USDA has done nothing to help elephants," she said.

Inside the gates, the event began with a speech from Cathy Lafrenz, asking people to join the Obama volunteer movement.

Ms. Lafrenz owns a flower farm in Donahue, Iowa, called Miss Effie's. She was asked Saturday to prepare a speech, and the approved version wasn't returned until 9:45 Tuesday night.

"I am thrilled, honored and scared to death to be selected," she said. "I couldn't sleep last night."

Ms. Lafrenz came to the attention of the Obama campaign when she gave a speech at a local women's event titled, "How Michelle Obama made me hip and cool," in reference to the urban gardening trend.

Patti Mirocha waited patiently in the crowd. It was her first time seeing the president in person. She took her grandchildren to the airport in August to see Air Force One take off after the president's visit.

"I'm here to support the president," she said. "We need to take care of the middle class."

Cassandra Bridges was chosen to introduce President Obama. The 24-year-old Army combat veteran served one year in Afghanistan and now works as a campaign volunteer.

"I have the classic Obama story," she said. "I come from a middle-class background; I am a veteran, a student and female. I represent everything Obama stands for."

And then the moment everyone had been waiting for -- President Obama took the stage.

He rallied the crowd by asking, "Are you fired up? Are you ready to go?"

An enthusiastic crowd, estimated at 3,500 by the Davenport fire marshal, broke into applause often, holding up four fingers while chanting, "Four more years!"

After his brief speech, the president stepped into the crowd to shake hands, as Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care of our Own" played.

Anne Stoefen and her family were among the lucky few within reach of the president. As he shook their hands, she said he asked her children their names and ages. Twins Joie and Jackson, 11, are fifth-graders at Edward White Elementary School in Eldridge.

"It was amazing to shake his hand," Joie said.

Ms. Stoefen, 36, suffers from a cardiac condition. She had a heart attack at age 33 and lives off disability payments. Obamacare is something she feels strongly about.

"I'm very nervous about something happening if we were to lose our insurance," she said.

It wasn't the first time the Stoefen family has had access to the president. They were chosen to be part of the inaugural train ride from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in 2009 after Obama was elected. Ms. Stoefen carries a photo of her on the train with Michelle Obama.

Ms. Stoefen had another reason for attending the rally: Her husband is an undecided voter.

"I like Obama's willingness to speak to people," he said.

When asked what he found appealing about Republican candidate Mitt Romney, he was hesitant to answer.

Back outside the venue, a lone Romney supporter continued to hold up a sign, waiting for Obama's motorcade to drive by.

Laura Moyer endured taunts and comments from others waiting on the curb with her, telling her to go away.

"There's no reason you can't be nice, just because you have different views," she said. "We are all human."




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