The frantic final stretch before the midterm elections hit high gear Tuesday as a "Spending Revolt" bus tour sponsored by national conservative groups made several Triangle stops and President Barack Obama appeared - albeit by television - at a campus event in Durham aimed at energizing young voters.
Obama was speaking from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his remarks were the featured event at more than 100 campus "watch parties," including one at N.C. Central University, where about 300 people packed a room in the Pearson Cafeteria. He urged students to get out and vote. The televised president dispatched one of his point men, U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk, to stand in for him at the NCCU event.
On another tip of the Triangle, Obama also made an appearance. His face flashed across a projector screen in Kerr Scott Building at the N.C. State Fairgrounds, as about 250 people gathered to bemoan government spending and call for reform.
Americans for Prosperity, whose members have come to be called part of the tea party, crisscrossed the Triangle on Tuesday in a bus bound for Washington. Those at the Raleigh event signed their names on the bus, a sort of stamp of approval for a simple message: Stop spending our money.
At both events, participants eyed Nov. 2 with anticipation. Americans for Prosperity hopes to shake the footing of entrenched Democratic representatives from the area.
Among them: U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat and the long-time incumbent North Carolina's 4th Congressional District.
Price is facing a challenge this year from Republican B.J. Lawson of Apex, whose campaign said this month that its polling shows Lawson running a tight race with Price among registered voters.
Price spoke briefly at the NCCU event but long enough to attack Lawson, who he said would try to abolish federal student loans and the U.S. Department of Education.
A wave of murmurs swept the crowd.
"It sounds extreme, but there's some stuff out there that's pretty extreme," he said.
The campus events, put together by an offshoot of the Democratic National Committee, called Organizing for America, were part of a coordinated effort by the Democrats to counter the conservative tide that threatens their control in the House and Senate.
Appealing to students
In a speech that hit several emotional peaks, Obama ticked off a list of accomplishments including health care, banking and education loan reform and said that the students had to get out and vote or Republicans would try to erase everything that his administration had done in the past two years and return to the policies that had put the economy in jeopardy.
"If everyone who voted to empower change in 2008 shows up in 2010, we will win," he said, urging the students to vote and get their friends and families to vote, too.
Charlotte freshmen Lauren Holsey and Jordan Hancock, both 18, applauded Obama vigorously from the back row. Both said they had already planned to vote, but Holsey said she was doubly determined after listening to the president.
"I'm not really into politics, but he explained the issues really clearly," she said.
Call to conservatives
At the other end of the Triangle, a mostly graying crowd digested a litany of numbers as speakers from Americans for Prosperity and local conservative groups such as The John Locke Foundation and John W. Pope Civitas Institute detailed government spending rates. The latter two are Raleigh-based groups started by millionaire businessman and conservative activist Art Pope. They advocate for smaller government, lower taxes and other conservative causes. Pope is a director of Americans for Prosperity.
"We have a tax problem, not an income problem," said Dallas Woodhouse, North Carolina director of Americans for Prosperity.
Participants cheered when speakers demanded restraint. They booed when he mentioned Obama and Washington bureaucrats.
'Out of control'
Karleen Gross of Raleigh said she started paying closer attention to government spending in the past few years.
"Our government is way out of control," she said. She criticized government, saying it is trying to compete with work that private corporations can handle, such as health care, student loans and mortgages.
Mike Gautier, who moved to Raleigh from New Jersey about a year ago, blamed the government's high taxes for loss of his job. He was laid off from a casino more than a year ago.
"Taxes have spiraled out of control," he said. "If people weren't having to pay so much, they'd have more to spend."
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