COLUMBIA — A dozen anti-Barack Obama detractors were outnumbered by the scores of supporters who turned out to see the candidate Thursday, but the protesters were a steady presence throughout the night.
The protesters began to gather in Speakers Circle east of the Mel Carnahan Quadrangle before 7:30 p.m., when the line of supporters began to file past them. The dissidents held signs that criticized Obama.
Matthew Schultz, an MU freshman, bore a flag of the Soviet Union that read "Obama = Socialism."
Others held signs labeled "No redistribution of wealth" and the less political "Obama roots for Kansas." As boos from Obama supporters and taunts of "Yeah, socialism!" rained in, Dave Zobrist, a junior at MU from Franklin County, held a simple sign displaying his pick for president: Republican candidate John McCain.
"I don't dislike Obama," Zobrist said. "I dislike his policies." For him, tax issues are of utmost importance in this election. Zobrist, who said his parents own a Pepsi distributing business, commented, "I know Obama will raise our taxes if he wins, for the rich and the poor."
Earlier this week, The Associated Press reported a poll conducted by Research 2000 between Oct. 20 and Oct. 23 that showed Obama narrowly leading McCain in Missouri, 48 percent to 47 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Schultz said he doesn't put much stock in the polling numbers.
"What's going to happen is going to happen," he said. "I can't really stop people. I can only voice my opinion."
Russ Duker, a member of the Boone County Republican Central Committee, laughed Wednesday when asked if he planned to attend Obama's "Change We Need" rally.
Duker said he was "considering going to Cuba" during Obama's visit to Columbia, "where it's less socialist."
Duker referenced a 2001 recording of Obama in which, Duker said, Obama advocated rewriting the U.S. Constitution in order to redistribute wealth in the nation.
"The Constitution's done well not just for our country but for nations around the world," said Duker, who owns MasterTech Plumbing in Columbia.
"People just manage their own affairs better than the government does ... The government can't balance their own books. How are they going to balance the books for everyone else?" he said.
Jonathan Ratliff, Mizzou College Republicans chair, said before Obama's address that, for him, Thursday night would be no different than other Thursdays leading up to the November election.
"What we're planning on doing is making calls and going door-to-door just like always," said Ratliff, a sophomore from the Branson area who is studying political science, business, communications and architecture.
He compared his organization's approach to what he sees as differences between a Republican and Democratic mantra. "Republicans — we're going to go out. We're going to work hard. We're going to make a difference," Ratliff said.
"They're going to do what Democrats do: Watch the show. Watch TV. Watch a celebrity." Despite the disproportionate number of Democratic supporters at Thursday's event, Ratliff said many college-age voters have "decided that Barack Obama is not their candidate."
According to him, membership in Mizzou College Republicans jumped from 192 last year to 1,804 currently, making MU's the second-largest chapter in the nation. "There are conservatives all over the place," Ratliff said. "They are the silent majority."
Ratliff said he would continue to campaign for McCain in the four days leading up to the presidential election and, he said, regardless of the result, he is heartened by the political interest of both Republicans and Democrats in mid-Missouri.
"We're both very politically active," he said. "We're both Americans, and we both want what's best for the country. We (just) might have different ideologies for how to get that."