MADISON -- With polls showing Wisconsin Senate candidates Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson in a statistical dead heat, Obama swept into Madison, Wisconsin for an early morning rally on his final day of campaigning. The Obama campaign hopes to lock up the state and give a boost to Baldwin, as the candidates addressed a wildly enthusiastic crowd against a backdrop of blue skies and a white State Capitol building, that looks a heck of a lot like the U.S. Capitol. On the plane with Obama, one of his most effective bridges to those few remaining undecided voters, Bruce Springsteen.
The morning started at 6:30 a.m. with kids on scooters sprung from school and headed to the Ancora coffee shop to get in position early. As Obama says, he does well with that demographic.
Madisonians on the Southside could tell which hotel President Obama was staying in by the giant salt trucks blocking the entrance to the Sheraton. Mayor Paul Soglin used city and county trucks as rock solid barriers. Key streets around the Capitol were blocked by salt and gravel trucks. The impromptu barricades not only acted as barriers, they made effective use of Wisconsin's beleaguered road crews, the guys who plow all night with a six pack of Mountain Dew so folks can get to work in the morning. The guys who took a major pay cut and lost their collective bargaining rights when Gov. Scott Walker's SB 10 became law.
Never has Madison seen so much security for one event. The Secret Service presence was massive, swat teams were positioned on roof tops and around corners. As the motorcade arrived and for long afterwards, a military helicopter circled the crowd. The stage was set on MLK Drive, much too small a location, but a safe spot between office buildings which normally house city and county workers. A team of 24 firefighters and EMTs stood by, including Joe Conway, the head of Madison's IAFF, who's bagpipers played such an important role in the Wisconsin Uprising.
But the extra security went unnoticed by the crowd who came to see the president and "The Boss." The warmup act included Dave Boetcher, an veteran of the Gulf War, who led the crowd in the pledge and Darcy Haber, a local mom and realtor, who asked the crowd for another couple hours of work before election day. Congressional candidate Mark Pocan acknowledged how close the races were, but predicted that tomorrow WI would not be a red state or a blue state, but a "vibrant shade of indigo blue." If elected as expected, Pocan will make history as the first openly gay man to be elected to Congress who was also legally married to his partner. Pocan asked the crowd:
Do you want a government that decides which gender should make more money or who gets full access to comprehensive health care? Or do you want a government that values your sister, your mother and your grandmother with equal pay for equal work and comprehensive health care access for everyone? Should the government tell you who you can love and who's family is real and matters? Or do you believe that two people who love and care for each other should be granted full marriage equality, regardless of sexual orientation?
Tammy Baldwin's race could decide the fate of the U.S. Senate. She has seen many close races in Wisconsin and whose race is in a statistical tie, was not taking anything for granted reminding the crowd that "you have the right to vote. As long as you are in line when the polls close -- you can vote -- stay in line!" If Baldwin wins, she will be the first female candidate Wisconsin has ever sent to the U.S. Senate; she will also be the first openly gay woman in the Senate. She will keep democratic control of a seat that has not gone Republican since Joe McCarthy. She will join U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, in one of the most ideologically bizarre "odd couples" to come out of this state.
Her core message was in keeping with her entire campaign where she has used her strong record on fighting "free trade" deals that ship jobs overseas, and her record of fighting to expand health care for working families to her advantage. "Mitt Romney, Tommy Thompson say we should give Bush-era policies another shot," she said. "They want us to believe we can grow our economy from the top down, that change happens in Washington not places like Madison." She said she and the President in contrast would fight for ordinary people, not big banks, corporations that outsource jobs or the tea party. Obama "has placed his bet on working families and he has never given up, no matter how tough things got. He stood up and I am proud to stand with him," she said.
The Obama team hopes that his headwind in recent polls, of some 8 percent, will have a downticket effect that will put her over the top.
More than any other artist, Springsteen's music has help shape a core message of the campaign -- that we are all in this together. Obama has used the new song "We Take Care of Our Own" from the album Wrecking Ball at every campaign rally for months.
Springsteen started his set in Madison with "No Surrender," "We made a promise we swore we'd always remember, no retreat, baby no surrender, Like soldiers in the winters night with a vow to defend, no retreat, no surrender." He followed with "Promised Land." He also did an amusingly rotten version of the "campaign song" he said he wrote at the request of the president, a little ditty that attempted to work the word "Obama" and the campaign slogan "Forward" into every stanza. It started with "I kissed your sister, I kissed your Mama," and went downhill from there. "Usually this time of day, I'm in my pajamas/ Let's vote for the man who got Osama/ Forward and away we go," he sang.
But the most amusing tale Springsteen told was of being awoken by Obama with some frequency at 2 a.m. He could tell it was the Obama, because he was crooning "Let's stay together, lovin' you whether, whether times are good or bad, happy or sad...;" the Al Green song Obama is apparently fond of singing to Michelle. After the first debate, according to Springsteen, Obama called again with "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," and after the second debate, "I Am Sexy and I Know It."
It wasn't all fun and games. Springsteen had a serious message for the crowd:
Today we have another battle. Now we are charged with the hard daily struggle to make those possibilities, those changes real and enduring in a world that challenges your hopefulness, a world that is often brutally resistant to change. We've lived through that struggle over these past four years when the forces of opposition have been tireless. I stood with President Obama four years ago and I'm proud to be standing with him today. Because... I'm thankful for the historic advances in healthcare. I'm thankful for a more regulated Wall Street that will begin to protect our citizens from the blind greed of those who over reach. My father worked on a Ford assembly line when I was a child and I'm thankful that we have a President that had faith in the American automobile industry and that General Motors is today making cars. What else would I write about?
Obama continued with the "We Take Care of Our Own" message with his opening remarks on Hurricane Sandy. "I had a chance to visit New Jersey. Every day I've been talking to mayors, governors, and local officials and families. And we mourn those lives that have been lost. And whenever I talk to folks in the region, I tell them the same thing that I say whenever a tragedy besets the American family, and that is, the American people come together and make a commitment that we will walk with these folks whose lives have been upended every step on the hard road ahead and the hard road to recovery. We'll -- we'll carry on. No matter how bad the storm is, we will be there, together," he said.
He touted his successes, getting the American auto industry on its feet, ending the two wars, putting some rules on Wall Street, but he also said there was more work to be done.
We've made progress these last four years, but the reason we're all gathered here is because we know we've got more work to do. We've got more work to do as long as there's a single American who wants a job, but can't find one. Our work is not yet done as long as there are families working harder and harder, but still falling behind. As long as there's a child anywhere -- in Madison, in Wisconsin, in America, who's languishing in poverty and barred from opportunity, our work is not yet done. The fight goes on.
Springsteen closed with a much older song with a similar message of caring, "Land of Hopes and Dreams":
I will provide for you
And I'll stand by your side
You'll need a good companion for
This part of the ride
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there'll be sunshine
And all this darkness past
The duo headed out for their last stops in Des Moines and Columbus as Baldwin headed upstate for a very long last day of campaigning.