COLUMBIA — To say that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama could draw a large audience when he comes to MU on Thursday night is putting it lightly. Obama has been drawing crowds ranging from 1,000 at a small south Florida community college to 100,000 under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis on Oct. 18.
Thursday's visit will mark Obama's second to Missouri this month, and it will be part of a full day of presidential politics across the state. The Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin will stop in Cape Girardeau early Thursday morning, and Obama running mate Joe Biden will speak in Arnold. Those visits come on the heels of Republican presidential candidate John McCain's tour across the state last week.
WHAT: Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, will hold a rally called "The Change We Need."
WHEN: Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The rally begins at 9:30 p.m. Capt. Brian Weimer of MU Police advised people to arrive on campus by 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: The Mel Carnahan Quadrangle at MU. Also known as the South Quad, it is south of Conley Avenue, north of Rollins Road and immediately east of the Reynolds Alumni Center and Cornell Hall.
ARE TICKETS REQUIRED?: No. The Obama campaign recommends RSVPs just so it can know how many people to expect and to establish e-mail contacts for potential supporters, said Justin Hamilton, Missouri press secretary for the campaign. To RSVP, go to my.barackobama.com/page/s/columbiaBO.
OTHER DETAILS: Weimer would not comment on the level of security people who attend can expect, but he noted that the Obama campaign is advising people to limit personal items. Bags, umbrellas, signs and banners are prohibited.
OBAMA DRAWS CROWDS
Here's a look at some of Barack Obama's campaign stops during the past several days and estimates of the crowds he has drawn.
Oct. 17: Roanoke, Va.: 8,000
Oct. 18: St. Louis, 100,000
Oct. 18: Kansas City, 75,000
Oct. 19: Fayetteville, N.C., 50,000
Oct. 20: Orlando, Fla., 35,000
Oct. 21: Miami, Fla., 30,000
Wednesday: Richmond, Va., 20,000
Thursday: Indianapolis, 35,000
Saturday: Albuquerque, N.M.: 45,000
Sunday: Fort Collins, Colo., 50,000
Sunday: Denver, Colo., 100,000-plus
Monday: Pittsburgh, 15,000
The locations of the stops indicate the campaigns are aiming more for rallying their "intense" base supporters than for appealing to voters across party lines, said George Connor, a political scientist at Missouri State University.
"They are shooting for the intense supporters to make sure they are going to turn out," Connor said.
Support for Obama and McCain is almost evenly split among Missouri voters, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch-KMOV poll conducted Oct. 20-23. It showed Obama with the support of 48 percent of respondents and McCain with the support of 47 percent, well within the poll's margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
The Obama rally on Thursday is free and open to the public. It is scheduled to begin at 9:30 p.m., but gates will open at 7:30 p.m at the Mel Carnahan Quadrangle. Also known as the South Quad, it is south of Conley Avenue, north of Rollins Road and immediately east of the Reynolds Alumni Center and Cornell Hall.
Obama won't only be speaking about issues affecting college students but all Americans, said Justin Hamilton, Missouri press secretary for the Obama campaign.
"We need a politics not focused just on blue states or red states, but on the United States," Hamilton said. "Economy, health care, the skyrocketing costs of education — these things are important to this campaign."
Obama's visit, which was announced Monday night, mobilized local law enforcement and political activists to prepare for the event.
MU Campus Police is actively coordinating security with Obama's Secret Service detail and other local law enforcement, said Capt. Brian Weimer. He could not comment on logistics or resources.
The Obama organization contacted Caitlin Ellis, president of the College Democrats at MU, and asked if her group would host the candidate. She has since been working with Obama's campaign and MU services to plan and coordinate.
"It's really exciting, but it's a lot of work on such short notice," Ellis said. "(Hosting Obama) is something we've always been hoping for, and seeing as how Missouri is so close (in the polls) right now, we had more hope that he would come here."
Ellis said the College Democrats expect as many as 200 student volunteers to help on Thursday.
The rally already was creating a buzz around town on Tuesday, particularly on the MU campus. Dan Greenwald, an 18-year-old volunteer with the College Democrats, was looking forward to the event.
"The atmosphere will be tremendous," Greenwald said. "I will be there, of course. The election is not over until all the voters go and vote. The fact that Obama is coming shows that he cares about this part of the country, about all the students and volunteers that are ready to vote for him."
MU pre-nuclear medicine student Nicole McLean, 23, was working an Obama stand at Speaker's Circle at MU on Tuesday afternoon. She said it's exciting that Obama is coming.
"It will help with reaching new people that are still undecided," she said. "It is the first time that so many young people will vote. (The visit) might be really important at this point of the presidential race."
Jonathan Ratliff, chairman of the Mizzou College Republicans, had a different take.
"For me, Barack Obama coming to Columbia is a last-minute ditch effort to try to rally some voters," Ratliff said. "Barack Obama and his supporters know that, in Missouri, the way we vote is the way the rest of the country does. But the fact is that in the last polls, there is only a 0.6 percent margin of difference between the two candidates. Here, the Mizzou Republican chapter is the second biggest in the country. We have 1,804 members. A few liberals making a lot of noise won't change anything."
The group doesn't plan any anti-Obama demonstrations, Ratliff said.
"Instead we will make phone calls all night long to make a real difference, like a regular Thursday night," he said.
Hannah Epstein, coordinator for independent candidate Ralph Nader at MU, said she will attend the Obama rally.
"I will be walking around, holding my signs for Nader. I am really into third parties because it is the same corporations that fund Obama and McCain, and that Obama comes to Columbia won't change my mind," she said.
The advance notice of the Obama event stands in stark contrast to McCain's visit last week. Word of McCain's stop at Buckingham Smokehouse Bar-B-Q came at the last minute. McCain didn't make a public speech and instead met privately with representatives of the business community.
Bill Weismiller, an MU sophomore business major, said he plans to show up for the Obama rally early because he wants to get up close.
"You don't really get to see a presidential candidate, let alone one that is so likely to be president," he said. "Twenty years later, you can say, ‘Hey, I saw this presidential candidate or president.'"
Although crowd estimates of 20,000 to 30,000 were common in conversation, MU representatives said they had no idea how many people to expect.
The selection of the venue says a lot about the size of crowd the Obama campaign expects, Ellis said.
"It'll be standing room," she said. "I'm not sure of a definite number, but we'll probably fill (the quadrangle) to capacity."
MU has been working with the Obama campaign, too, said MU spokesman Christian Basi. Although the event is still in the planning phases, he said the Obama advanced staff personally surveyed the campus and said they wanted the senator to speak at Carnahan Quadrangle.
This is not the first time Columbia has hosted presidential politics. Biden visited in early September. The last time a Democratic presidential nominee visited Columbia was when former Gov. Michael Dukakis came only weeks before the 1988 election.
Missourian reporters Melissa Bounoua, Chad Day, Regan McTarsney, Spencer Willems, Holly Jackson, Elizabeth Lucas and Mary Elise DeCoursey contributed to this report.