SOUTH PORTLAND — President Barack Obama sought to reignite the feverish support he enjoyed during his first campaign for president in a March 30 speech to supporters at Southern Maine Community College.
“If you’re willing to keep pushing with me, keep fighting with me, keep reaching for that vision we believe in,” Obama said, “then I promise you we won’t just win another election, but we’ll finish what we started in 2008.”
The president was sometimes drowned out by applause and chants of “Four more years!” from the supporters, who each paid at least $44 to attend the event. Organizers said there were just under 2,000 people packed into the Hutchinson Union to hear the president, but wouldn’t say how much cash was raised.
Opening remarks were made by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. The president was introduced by Richard Schwartz, a Woolwich resident who credited Obama for the retraining program that helped him get a new job at Kestrel Aircraft in Brunswick after being laid off in 2009.
“The president believes in workers like me, and that’s why I’m here today,” Schwartz said.
Obama was by turns jovial and defiant. He outlined what he believes are key policy victories from his term as president: the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the end of combat operations in Iraq and the passage of the Affordable Care Act, his signature health-care reform legislation.
The president said he has presided over a recovering economy after “the worst crisis in our lifetimes.” Under his watch, the economy added 4 million jobs in the past two years, he said.
His major campaign themes varied little from 2008. Obama talked about change and the necessity for Americans to work together.
But unlike the Obama of 2008, who often talked about the need for Democrats and Republicans to come together, Obama on Friday seemed ready to present himself in stark contrast to a GOP that has opposed him at nearly every turn during his first term in office, especially on the economy.
“If you haven’t noticed, we haven’t gotten a lot of help from the other side,” the president said, later adding, “Their philosophy is simple: You’re on your own. That’s their view. … ‘If you’re out of a job, tough luck, figure it out on your own.'”
Obama pledged his support for research and investment in green energy measures, reinvigorating the American manufacturing base, rewarding companies that create jobs in the U.S. and punishing those who outsource jobs, and higher taxes on Americans who make more than $1 million per year.
On one subject, Obama was silent. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court took up a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act, considering – among other things – whether the key provision requiring American adults to purchase health insurance if they can afford it is constitutional.
Obama said nothing about the court’s deliberations, but Pingree, in her address to the crowd, said she sat in the courtroom during a portion of oral arguments before the Supreme Court.
“I can’t tell you how scary it is to see justices who don’t belong there making decisions about even the incremental changes we have in front of us,” she said. “We can’t let that happen.”
As one would expect, the crowd was energized after the president’s speech.
“I think this is a tougher Obama,” said Eric Mathieu, a 21-year-old Bates College student who attended with his twin brother, Alain, who studies at Bowdoin College. “His experience has made him tougher. The language was a lot more forceful and aggressive, but in a good way.”
Alain Mathieu had a straightforward initial reaction to Obama’s speech: “That was one of the most exciting moments in my life,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Obama attended a fundraising luncheon in Burlington, Vt. He arrived at Portland International Jetport shortly after 4 p.m. and was greeted on the runway by Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, who was invited to join the president for the limousine ride to SMCC.
After the event in South Portland, the president attended a closed-door dinner with about 130 top-dollar donors at the Portland Museum of Art. Each attendee paid at least $5,000 to have dinner with the Obama. The event sold out about a month ago.
Included among those in attendance at the museum were Pingree, her husband, S. Donald Sussman, and her daughter, Hannah Pingree, a former state legislator. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, former Gov. John Baldacci and U.S. Small Business Administrator Karen Mills also attended.
At the museum the president joked that he came to Maine because first lady Michelle Obama had such a good time when she made a fundraising trip here six months ago.
Obama spoke of the need to sustain progress on the economy and to continue working on issues he campaigned on in 2008.
“We probably have not seen an election where the contrast is that sharp between the two parties as it is in this election,” Obama told his contributors.
In Portland and in South Portland, motorists dealt with delays and street closures for much of the time Obama was in town. The president departed Portland on Air Force One at about 8:30 p.m.
Here’s a tally of how often some key words and phrases showed up in the March 30 speeches by President Obama in South Portland and Portland, according to official transcripts:
• “We,” 172 times. Obama used inclusive language, giving his supporters ownership over the progress and struggles he outlined in his speech. He used “you” 122 times.
• “America” or “American,” 38.
• “Change,” 20.
• “Economy” or “economic,” 18.
• “Jobs” or “job,” 15 times, excluding one reference to deceased Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
• “Fight,” 10.
• “Republican,” six. Obama used “other side,” a phrase he uses to reference his legislative opponents, four times.
• “Worker,” five.
• “Iraq” and “Afghanistan,” five.
• “Health care,” four.
President Barack Obama addresses the crowd during a re-election fundraiser at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland on Friday, March 30.
A crowd of almost 2,000 people listens to President Obama inside the Hutchinson Union at Southern Maine Community College on Friday, March 30.
President Obama’s words elicit a strong reaction from one member of the crowd at Southern Maine Community College on Friday, March 30.
A supporter’s smartphone camera captures President Obama at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland on Friday, March 30.
President Obama greets supporters after his remarks at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland on Friday, March 30. His next stop was the Portland Museum of Art for a high-priced dinner with select campaign contributors.
President Obama’s motorcade arrives at the rear entrance of the Hutchinson Union at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland late Friday afternoon. The president was in Maine for two fundraising events.