Obama-mania has hit Rolla.
People started lining up at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday to get tickets for entry into Missouri S&T’s Student Recreation Center today to view likely Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama.
The tickets, which were free from the Democratic Headquarters at 905 Pine St., weren’t distributed until 4 p.m. and at that time, an estimated 2,000 people nearly surrounded the block.
Eric Bayless, 19, was the first person in line. He arrived at 1:45 p.m. to begin his wait.
“He’s my favorite candidate,” said Bayless, a computer engineering student at S&T. “I’m really undecided about which way to go, but I feel like this is a good opportunity to learn more about him.
“This is my first election, so I want to know,” Bayless said.
“He seems very genuine. I just want to go and listen to him,” said Bayless, is from Sparta, Ill., the state from which Obama is senator.
According to S&T Student Recreation Center workers, they were instructed to set up 1,200 chairs for today’s event, which begins at 3 p.m. at 705 W. 10th St. The Student Recreation Center is attached to the Gale Bullman Multi-Purpose Building, just west of the main gymnasium. Parking is available west of the building.
Tickets were to be given away from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, but by 5 p.m., passes for the available seating had been distributed.
“We’ve had an overwhelming turnout,” said Janet McKean, President of the Phelps County Democrats. “I’m just so sorry that we had to turn away that many people. I’m guessing we had to tell about 600 people did not get tickets,” McKean said.
McKean asked people who may have obtained tickets who might not be able to attend to call the headquarters so others may use them. That phone number is 426-4258.
The response to Obama’s visit has been phenomenal.
From the front door of the Democratic Headquarters on Pine, the line went south on Pine to the corner with Ninth Street. The line made the corner, heading west on Ninth Street to Rolla Street, turned that corner and headed North on Rolla Street to 10th before making the right turn — heading east — on 10th where the last person in line was standing just 40 yards away from Bayless, first person in line.
Charay Cyrus, 19, also a student at S&T, just walked up and took the last position in line.
“I’m here just because I want to hear what he has to say,” Cyrus said. “He’s a good speaker, and I’m hoping he wins the popular vote.”
If she could ask Obama a question, Cyrus said she’d ask him about
what he could do to make education more affordable.
“I’d like to know what his plans are to help with scholarships, so a
college education is more accessible,” Cyrus said.
The line that encircled the block that contains the Democratic
Headquarters featured a spectrum of people.
The Democratic Headquarters spent $100 on bottled water, handing out to those standing in 94-degree heat.
There were mothers with children in strollers.
There were young people.
There were people under umbrellas, seeking refuge from the July sun.
The elderly were there, too.
There were mothers. Fathers.
Some had agendas, others just wanted to deliver a message, such as Charles “Kess” Boze, whose brother Ryan Boze is a soldier in Iraq.
“I’m standing in line because I want my older brother home,” Kess said. “I want to tell him to send my brother home.”
Not far from where Kess staked out his place in line, Rochelle John was hawking Obama T-shirts and campaign buttons.
“We offer 18 to 20 different T-shirts and 25 to 30 different pins,” said John of Arizona, who has been following the Obama campaign for two months.
“We do this and then we make a contribution to his campaign every month,” John said.
“Obama is the candidate. He’s the candidate of the people,” she said.
Vaughn and Mia Goff, a sister and brother, weren’t shy about their support of Obama.
“I like him,” Vaughn, 5, said shyly, standing next to Mia, 7.
With a little prompting from his mother, Suzanne, Vaughn said, “He gives me hope.”
Obama, even though he is the presumptive Democratic Presidential Candidate, it is believed he is the only candidate to stop in Rolla, according to local historian John Bradbury.
“I believe in 1896, William Jennings Bryan stopped here when his train came through, but he didn’t get out and there was some disappointment in that,” said Bradbury, who has authored books on the Civil War. “I don’t believe there has been one.”
Bryan was a Populist candidate at the time.
Doors for the Obama townhall meeting open at 1 p.m. The Illinois senator is due to arrive from Springfield at 3 p.m. Later in the day, Obama is supposed to move onto Union, where he will attend a barbecue.