by Sam Hemingway President Barack Obama paid a four-hour campaign visit to Vermont on Friday, telling 4,500 people crammed inside a University of Vermont athletic complex that he is "not a perfect man" but the efforts of his administration to address the nation's economic troubles, pass health care reform and bring troops home from Iraq are the "beginning of what change looks like."
Obama flew into Burlington International Airport at 11:21 am, accompanied by Senator Patrick Leahy,
D-VT, and Leahy's wife, Marcelle, and was cheered by about 100 onlookers who had been waiting for him on the Vermont Air National Guard side of the airport for more than an hour.
Obama was greeted at the airport by Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin, who gave him a quick hug; Senator Bernie Sanders, I-VT; Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss; and Burlington Mayor-elect Miro Weinberger. The president then made his way over to the small crowd, shook hands and was heard remarking that he was in the company of a former, current and future mayor of Burlington. Sanders was mayor of Burlington for eight years prior to winning a seat in the US House, and later the Senate.
Obama then boarded a limousine and, with a 17-vehicle entourage of staff, media and police following behind, made his way up Lime Kiln Road, past a small crowd of onlookers at Saint Michael's College and on to Interstate 89, which had been closed to traffic as a security measure.
He arrived at the Sheraton-Burlington Inn and Conference Center in South Burlington at 11:55 am, where he hosted a big-dollar luncheon before an appearance before a large crowd at a University of Vermont facility.
The president told 100 supporters at the private fundraising lunch that he believes this fall's election is more important for the country than the one that resulted in his election in 2008.
"It's going to be a clarifying election about who we are and what we stand for," he said. ‘A lot is at
stake in this election and we are going to have to fight for it."
Obama said that his 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain, R-AZ, understood the need for compromise on some issues and was in favor of things like immigration reform and addressing climate change. This year, Obama said, the Republican presidential field has tilted further to the right, to the detriment of most Americans.
"My confidence in the core decency of the American people is undiminished," Obama told the luncheon group. "I believe we are on the right track."
Obama was introduced to the 100 at the luncheon, who had paid between $7,500 and $10,000 to attend, by Jane Stetson of Norwich, the finance chairwoman for the Democratic National Committee.
"You've done what you said you would do," Stetson said of Obama as he stood next to her, hands folded and smiling. "You've said you know where you're going and how to get there and it's true."
Obama made his way to the UVM campus after lunch to address an estimated 4,500 people at a multi-purpose facility at the University of Vermont. At the sweltering UVM athletic complex, he was introduced to the crowd by Jeanne Morrissey, president of JAM Construction, a firm that has survived
the economic downturn, she said, due to stimulus money received from the federal government. Then she turned the podium over to the president.
"Change is the fact that for the first time in nine years there are no Americans fighting in Iraq," Obama said as the crowd roared. "Thanks to the brave men and women in uniform, Al Qaeda's leaders have never been so weakened, Osama bin Laden is no more and we have begun to draw down our troops in Afghanistan. That's what change is."
The president charged that electing a Republican as president would represent a return to policies that would favor the rich and endanger the economic recovery he said is now taking root in the country.
"What they're peddling has been tried," Obama said of the Republican agenda. "It did not work."
He said he lamented the contentious environment that exists in Washington, DC, but does not think it represents the can-do spirit he sees in the country at large.
"That same spirit of common purpose still exists," he said. "It may not exist in Washington, but out here in Vermont and across America, it's there."
The crowd inside the UVM facility gave the president thunderous applause as soon as he took the stage, prompting him to joke "maybe I ought to quit while I'm ahead."
He then took off his suit coat to more cheers, rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt and spoke for 35 minutes.
President Obama acknowledged that Vermont has not had a presidential visit since Bill Clinton. On a somber note, he told the crowd how very sorry he was to hear about the murder of Saint Johnsbury school teacher Melissa Jenkins.
As he left the stage, Senator Leahy, seated nearby, gave Obama a thumbs up. Obama smiled back. The president later shook hands with Leahy, Senator Sanders, and Democratic Burlington Mayor-
elect Miro Weinberger before working his way along a rope line near the stage for several more minutes.
Afterward, Obama rode back to a waiting Air Force One jet on the Vermont Air National Guard side of Burlington International Airport, stopping just before he reached the plane to meet privately with the "Gold Star" parents of a fallen Vermont soldier. The identity of the family was not disclosed by the campaign.
Obama's plane lifted off at 3:33 pm, bound for another round of fundraisers in Portland, ME. His visit to Vermont was expected to net his campaign and the Democratic National Committee about $750,000, which would make his visit the largest one-day campaign fundraising event in the state's history.
Photos Above: President Obama speaks from the podium at the University of Vermont Athletic Complex in Burlington as supporters and media fill the space. Senator Leahy talks to the press and shows pictures of his flight on Air Force One. Below, the crowd awaits the president's visit outside UVM's Patrick Gym.
Sam Hemingway from the Burlington Free Press covered the event at the University of Vermont for the Vermont press pool. Photos are from John Boutin, publisher of Vermont Business Magazine, who also contributed to this report.