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Obama's visit 'a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' for fans, foes in Portland, South Portland

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Obama's visit 'a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' for fans, foes in Portland, South Portland

SOUTH PORTLAND — Mark Wahl and his friends were all smiles as they lounged on the front steps of Spring Point Hall at Southern Maine Community College, watching as the line of people waiting to see President Obama snaked far out of view. 

"I wasn't expecting anything like this," said Wahl, a second-year student who lives in the dorm. "I was expecting some people, but gosh." 

By mid-afternoon Friday, a quiet crowd of about 2,000 people waited in a line that wrapped onto Broadway from Pickett Street. College students and residents of neighborhoods near campus gathered on corners to watch the crowd and to try to snap photos of Obama as he arrived for the fundraising event in the Hutchinson Union building. 

Many ticket holders waiting in line snapped photos with a cardboard cut-out of the president taped to a telephone pole. Jim Boyle, a state Senate District 6 candidate from Gorham, mugged for a photo before jumping back in line. 

Boyle said he bought a ticket to the event to support the president and his vision, a sentiment echoed by Steve Warshaw of Raymond. 

"I think he's been a great president and he seems to have the correct ideas on most issues," Warshaw said. "The opposition doesn't look this good." 

Tito Drice of Portland arrived with his 10-year-old daughter Sascha several hours before the doors opened. He said he bought tickets because of his daughter's desire to see Obama. 

"I just wanted to see him because it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. 

At the end of the line, Tegest Herrmann, an SMCC student from Cape Elizabeth, admitted she was a bit cold, but was excited to get a closer look at the fundraising aspect of the election process. She said she came to the United States from Ethiopia more than three years ago and wants to learn more about elections to share with her 15-year-old daughter. 

But not everyone was on campus to support the president. About 10 people with signs gathered outside the campus center, including Alan MacDonald of Sanford, who said he sees both Republicans and Democrats as Vichy governments, beholden to special interests. 

Bob Goldman, a South Portland resident, stood by himself further down Pickett Street holding a brightly colored sign asking Obama to "respect and protect American wolves." He said he is disappointed with the president's wildlife policies.

"He promised when he was elected his environmental policies would be science-based. His policies are based on dirty politics," Goldman said. "He's not reflecting the affection and respect American people have developed for wildlife." 

As the end of the line moved closer to the doors, SMCC students gathered on the porch of the dorm, on sidewalks and in a parking lot overlooking the motorcade route. 

Savanna Subilia, a first-year student from Wells, said students were told to keep their dorm windows shut, shades drawn and "basically be on your best behavior." 

"It's pretty intense, but it's cool to see how many people came out for this," she said. "It's going to be part of history." 

After the last ticket holders were inside, the president's motorcade made its way onto campus, arriving behind the Hutchinson Union with flags on limo windows waving and lights on police cars flashing. 

Jonathan Brown, who walked down from his house to try to get a photo of the president, lamented he wasn't in a better position to catch a glimpse. Minutes earlier he had been waiting in a different parking lot, but heard the motorcade route would take a different route.

"It's hard to predict," he said, "but it's more than nothing."

As the president spoke in South Portland, a crowd formed at the intersection  of Congress and High streets in Portland to await his arrival at the Portland Museum of Art for a private dinner with about 100 donors. 

Several dozen people waited along the sidewalk outside of the museum, cameras in hand and expecting to catch a glimpse of the president. Justine Willey said her boss at the Pom Thai restaurant on Congress Street sent her down to try to get a photo.

Catherine Sarson of Westbrook said she was willing to wait out in the cold because "I think it's cool (Obama) is coming to Portland, Maine." 

Across Congress Street in the Congress Square park, supporters of Occupy Maine held signs, displayed photos and set up a soup line. 

"Soup or PAC" was a nonviolent action to express frustration with the erosion of democracy in America through Super Pacs, said Steve Demetriou of Portland. He said people who can afford to spend thousands of dollars on a meal have the president's ear because of their money.

"We're having a soup line for the 99 percent, the rest of the people who can't go to the fundraiser," he said. 

The crowd assembled at the intersection swelled to a couple hundred as the presiden't arrival around 6 p.m. neared. The volume also swelled as demonstrators banged ladles on soup pots, hands on drums and sticks on buckets. They chanted "we got sold out, banks got bailed out" as traffic was halted for the motorcade's arrival on Spring Street. 

Luiz Oliveira stepped out of his apartment on Congress Street to watch the crowd. He said he called his son in Brazil to tell him both the president and rapper Snoop Dogg were feet away from his front door.

Snoop Dogg was in Portland for two sold-out shows at the State Theatre, diagonally across Congress Street from the museum. 

Teenagers Amy Houser of Saco and Brooke LeClair of Biddeford had the perfect crowd-watching vantage point from their spot at the front of the line for Snoop Dogg.

"I'm excited I'm so close I might get to see (Obama) and I'm waiting to get into this show at the same time," LeClair said. 

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.