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Fired-Up Crowd, Empty Seats Greet Obama in Ohio

Fired-Up Crowd, Empty Seats Greet Obama in Ohio

By Scott Conroy - November 5, 2012


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The optics surrounding the penultimate campaign rally of President Obama's political career here on Monday likely served as a Rorschach test for election-outcome prognosticators in this most coveted of swing states.

Those who doubt the polls showing a slight but consistent lead for Obama in the Buckeye State would point to the empty seats scattered around the upper-level of Nationwide Arena. (The facility holds 18,500 for Columbus Blue Jackets NHL games.) Four years ago, after all, Obama was easily filling venues larger than that as he rode a wave of enthusiasm to a 4.6 percent victory here over John McCain.

But those who believe the president is in good shape in Ohio might just as easily point to the crowd’s sky-high energy level, which was facilitated by warm-up performances from two of the biggest musical stars on the planet: Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z.

Among the electorate, which has been barraged for months by endless campaign ads, direct mail, and candidates’ promises, there was a palpable sense of relief that it would all be over in just hours, and many of those on hand were ready to let loose well before any of the headliners took the stage.

As a video that highlighted Obama’s 2008 run played on the big screens overhead, the crowd clapped rhythmically, reliving the major moments of that historic campaign and breaking out into sporadic chants of “Four more years!”

A woman wearing an Obama T-shirt and head-to-toe campaign pins joined several others dancing in front of their seats, arms raised jubilantly.

“It’s still exciting,” she said when asked to compare the atmosphere Monday to what it was four years ago. “He’s going to win.”

When a warm-up speaker asked everyone in the crowd to take out their cell phones and encourage one person to vote on Tuesday, the spotty connections inside the building did not dissuade Wanda Pantine, who immediately dialed her 20-year-old grandson.

“Well, just take your RV!” she shouted into the phone, not in any mood to hear excuses.

In a nearby section, Brenda Davis called her brother in Baltimore. Asked if she persuaded him to vote, Davis had a quick answer.

“He better, or I’m gonna hurt him,” she joked.

The energy level subsided a bit before Springsteen took the stage, and the audience’s cheers were respectful but a bit muted as The Boss ran through an abbreviated solo acoustic set, which included his 2012 campaign-themed song, “Forward.”

“And that is how you get to where I am today,” Springsteen joked after playing the song, which is perhaps more notable for its outlandish lyrics than its artistic merit. (Sample: “Usually this time of day I'm in my pajamas (Forward!) / Well, let's vote for the man who got Osama (Forward!)”)

But when the lights dimmed for Jay-Z, the crowd was roaring once again, and it was clear that there would be no more lulls in the evening’s program as the Brooklyn icon strutted onto the stage.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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