BOSTON – President Barack Obama, the vigorous campaigner, showed up at a rally for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick in Boston on Saturday, countering an outburst from hecklers in the balcony demanding more AIDS funding and an end to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule with a testy reply: “If they win, our opponents will cut AIDS funding right here in the USA.”
It was perhaps a sign that the path to four more years for Gov. Patrick is not entirely smooth. The Democrat is in a four-way re-election race against Republican candidate Charles Baker, Independent candidate Timothy Cahill, and Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein.
Obama cited Massachusetts for being number one among U.S. states in education, measured by student test scores; health care, measured by health insurance coverage of 97 percent of state residents; and job creation, ahead of all other states. He said the choice is clear between Patrick’s policies and those that came before.
“You didn’t elect him to do what was easy, you elected him to do what was right,” Obama said.
The president hammered away on a theme of Republican indifference to middle class Americans, and on an economic mess that, he said, Democrats have been dealing with since 2008.
“No doubt this is a difficult election here in Massachusetts and across the country,” Obama said.
He said 2001 to 2009 saw the most sluggish job growth since World War II, leading to a five percent drop in middle class income, jobs going overseas, and many Americans working two or three jobs to make ends meet.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, a generational challenge,” Obama said. “I hoped, like many of you hoped, that both parties would set politics aside and get beyond the game playing. A lot of Republicans felt the same way across the country, but the Republican leadership in Washington didn’t. The Republican leadership made a tactical decision that, if they said no, if they opposed us every step of the way, they could ride people’s anger all the way to the ballot box. If they prevail, they will pursue the very same agenda that turned a record surplus into a record deficit, and let Wall Street run wild.”
“We’ve been there, we’ve tried it, we don’t like it, and we’re not going back,” Obama said.
Obama again used a frequently-referenced analogy of a car that, he said, Republican policies had sent into the ditch, from which Democrats had to extricate.
“We got it back on the road, a little banged up, and somebody taps me on the shoulder, and I look, and it’s the Republicans asking for the keys back,” he said.
“No, they can’t drive, they can ride, but in the back seat,” he continued. “Here’s the thing: When you want to drive a car forward, you shift into ‘D’ and when you want to go backward, you shift into ‘R’.”
“Because of the work we’ve done, we’re no longer facing the prospect of a second recession. But we’ve still got work to go. The biggest mistake we could make now is to go back to the very same politics that almost destroyed us. This election is about where we want to be two, five, ten, 20 years from now. It’s about the work we have left to do, about moving forward.”
Jobs, education, health care and alternative energy research were recurring themes from all speakers at the four-hour afternoon rally. Before it began, John E. Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, mentioned an “enthusiasm gap” between Democrats and Republicans.
Scott Brown’s election in January to the U.S. Senate seat long held by Edward M. Kennedy sent shock waves through Massachusetts Democratic circles that are still reverberating. It was the first solid sign of voter anger here and across the U.S. at politicians, and incumbents in particular.
Another possible sign of unease among Massachusetts Democrats: Longtime U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, stayed in his district on Saturday to campaign on one of the 17 days left before the November election, rather than attend the rally with Obama. Democrats, in other words, are feeling more vulnerable this election in this state than perhaps ever before.
“This election will be won on election day,” Walsh said. “We’re learning lessons from January. We weren’t prepared then. The infrastructure is in place now to put everyone to work effectively.”
That became a recurring theme of the rally, mentioned by Boston Mayor Thomas E. Menino and other speakers before a crowd that became increasingly animated until Obama walked on stage at around 4 p.m. eastern time.
Republicans, of course, were bashed by speaker after speaker as absentee villains, responsible for all the ills of the state and nation, eager to regain office by any means, and ready to undo all progress accomplished to date by Democrats. It was, after all, a political rally. Organizers estimated the crowd in the main hall of the Hynes Auditorium, two overflow rooms, and those standing outside at more than 16,000 persons.
Other speakers included labor leaders, the late Sen. Kennedy’s widow, Victoria Kennedy; U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey; Mayor Menino; state party Chairman Walsh; Steve Grossman, candidate for Massachusetts treasurer; U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry; Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, and Gov. Patrick.