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Columbia Missourian

Crowd lines up early, enjoys Biden remarks

By Amanda Woytus, Molly Harbarger
September 9, 2008 | 7:26 p.m. CDT
Vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden waits to address the crowd at the Activities and Recreation Center on Tuesday. "There's too much anxiety, there's too much lack of sense of what is going to happen," Biden told the crowd. "I understand, Barack understands, but unfortunately, John McCain doesn't understand."

COLUMBIA — As early as 6 a.m. on Tuesday, people began to line up outside the doors of Columbia's Activity and Recreation Center to see Sen. Joe Biden speak, even though the doors weren't scheduled to open until 7:30 a.m. and Biden was not scheduled to speak until 9:30 a.m.

Thanks to the chilly September morning, many people accepted Lakota Coffee Company's special "Biden Blend" to warm up while waiting. Lakota Coffee employees handed out the coffee for free to people standing in line. The coffee shop isn't partisan, Lakota employee Nick Pretnar said.


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"We would do it for the Republicans, too. We would make a 'Sarah Palin' blend."

Organizers of the event ran out of tickets on Monday, but that didn't deter some people from trying to get in. Don Johnson, a Democratic Party volunteer, said people were still calling the party offices and begging for tickets as late as Tuesday morning.

Not everyone was there to see Biden, though. A member of the non-profit organization Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, for example, handed out fliers for an upcoming event. A petitioner from Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Central Missouri was asking for signatures, and others handed out literature on November ballot issues.

While people staved off the cold and waited for the speech to begin, volunteers directed the line and prepared people for the security check by telling them to remove all metal objects from their pockets.

Johnson, who has worked in Democratic campaigns for many years and donates at least 30 hours a week to this campaign, considers the Barack Obama-Biden campaign to be the best he has ever seen."They're the first to understand the data, to collect the data, and know how to connect it to the people," Johnson said of the "well-oiled machine."People will be amazed with voter turnout," said Johnson, arguing that the Democrats' strategy of reaching out to small towns will pay off.

Waiting on Biden

Les Spencer and Tony Viessman, who didn't even have tickets to watch Biden speak, came from Rolla to show their support by holding a banner and passing out bumper stickers and business cards covered with the phrase "Redneck for Obama." Although not affiliated with any organization, the two travel to campaign events, some of them far away, such as the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The pair greeted Obama with their sign when he came to Rolla to speak on July 31. They left a little early so they could greet him the same day in Union, and said Obama recognized them from his bus.

"He ran over to us," Spencer said. "Tony was the first to shake his hand, and then I was the second to shake his hand."

Spencer and Viessman planned to do the same for Biden at his next stop on Tuesday in St. Louis. Spencer originally wanted Biden to get the presidential nomination, but he said he supports Obama fully.

"I think they can bring the free world together," Spencer said.

The audience was diverse in age, race and political interests. Dave Dowdy of Moberly took off work to see Biden speak. He's "more of a Biden fan" than he is a fan of Obama, and said he likes Biden's stances on issues, his foreign policy experience and his toughness.

Pete Koenig, a young man in a Slipknot sweatshirt, is excited that Biden is the vice presidential candidate, especially because of his foreign policy experience in the Middle East.

Koenig said he is very active in politics. He said that "out of the people zeroed in on as possible running mates for Obama, Biden is the strongest and most outspoken."

Two MU political science students, Paul Daniels and Lauren Vlasak, skipped class with their professor's permission to come to hear Biden's address.

"My political science professor told me to come, and I'll be late for work," Vlasak said.

Among the issues that Daniels and Vlasak wanted to hear Biden address were the economy, health care and services for seniors.

"I'd really like to hear more talk about rising grocery prices," Daniels said.

Robert Mitchell, who was waiting for a friend outside the ARC, wanted to hear something different from Biden. He said he knows what the candidates stand for in terms of health care, the economy and the war. Mitchell wanted to see how Biden would tackle some of the issues the Republicans have raised, mainly regarding taxes.

The enthusiasm didn't wane once everyone was inside. The speakers stood in the gymnasium of the ARC, surrounded on all sides by the audience. Above them, windows revealed people taking part in an exercise class in another area of the building.

State Rep. Judy Baker, a Democratic candidate for the 9th Congressional District, started off the event and received the first of several standing ovations from the audience, the last of which came at the end of Biden's speech.

Reaction from participants

"Wow," said Julie D'Auteuil, who works for MU Residential Life, of the vice presidential candidate. "That's an excellent wow."

D'Auteuil said she thinks that Biden is honest and has the capacity to move mountains, and that he relates to people in a very down-to-earth way. She said she was inspired to work for the campaign after hearing Biden speak and encourages MU students to register to vote.

"Everything they've experienced up to this point can be better," she said, referring to the Bush administration.

Clenora Hudson-Weems, a professor of English at MU, was the first in the audience to ask Biden a question in the town hall-style address. Hudson-Weems said she is passionate about issues facing people with mental and physical disabilities in the United States and asked Biden what he would do for them. Biden said the government needs to take responsibility and provide more health care to people with disabilities. Hudson-Weems was satisfied by the response.

"Barack Obama and Joe Biden's whole program is one of equality and egalitarianism," she said.

To Hudson-Weems, people with disabilities would benefit from "total equity on all fronts," and she thinks Biden believes that, too.

"He's made a commitment and spoke that commitment out. When you say you'll put your money where your mouth is, I like that," she said.

Tyler Sangermano, an MU student and founder of One Mizzou, an anti-poverty MU student organization, asked Biden about his views on poverty issues in the last audience question of the event. But she didn't quite remember everything he said.

"I was in a daze that he was answering my question," she said. "But, luckily, I have it on tape."

Missourian reporter Catherine Martin contributed to this report.