Obama Visit Today To Draw Thousands

This story was written by Cassie Bottge, The Diamondback
Editor's note: Important information about times, parking, getting to the event, entrances that will be open and tips follow this story. Scroll to the end to view details about the event.

University officials are bracing for a flood of visitors and students expected to turn out to hear Sen. Barack Obama, who will speak during a campaign rally at Comcast Center Monday.

The Illinois Democrat has achieved rock-star status among college students, who often turn out to see the presidential candidate in such large numbers that overnight pre-rally camping has become nearly ubiquitous when Obama speaks on a university campus. A College Park Students for Barack Obama coordinator, Sterling Grimes, said his group is expecting "no fewer than 15,000" rally attendees.

Linda Clement, the university's vice president for student affairs, said officials here decided to move the Obama rally from Cole Field House after it became apparent that interest in the event could be overwhelming.

"Originally, Cole was the designation of choice, but the team got word that there would be more people coming than originally planned," Clement said. "The Secret Service advised that Comcast was a more secure location."

University Police Spokesman Paul Dillon said the Secret Service, which protects major presidential candidates as well as the president himself, would be "taking the lead" in providing security tomorrow. Students are being advised to walk to the event and to leave backpacks, other large bags and laptops at home.

The projected attendance at the Obama rally in some ways underscores the senator's popularity among students, but it also highlights the importance the Obama campaign is placing on Maryland in Tuesday's primary. Obama, who is in a tightly fought race for delegates with Sen. Hillary Clinton, is coming off a sweep of three state contests held over the weekend.

A victory for the Clinton campaign in Washington, D.C., Virginia or Maryland tomorrow could help to slow Obama's momentum, although some analysts expect the fight for the Democratic nomination to continue through the summer. As of yesterday, Clinton had collected 1,084 delegates and Obama had 1,057. There are 239 Democratic delegates up for grabs in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia; none of the delegates are winner-take-all.

The Chesapeake primary has ignited a streak of activism rarely seen in the area at this time of year. On Saturday, more than 50 members of Students for Barack Obama canvassed area neighborhoods to promote the candidate and encourage residents to vote.

College Park District 3 City Councilman Mark Cook, who is also a canvas organizer for the Obama campaign, said 188 volunteers - including one man from Alaska and two men from New York - showed up at College Perk over an eight-hour period to lend a hand. The off-campus coffee house has recently been dubbed "Obama headquarters" and is a hot spot for local supporters.

About 20 students also met at McKeldin Library later to organize canvasses. One of the students, freshman history major Caralyn Welliver, said she was going door-to-door because she missed the voter registration deadline.

"I completely dropped the ball on that," Welliver said. "I can't vote but I'm going to still support Obama as much as I can and get as many votes for him as possible."

Following the McKeldin meeting, Welliver said she planned to drive four students to a Hyattsville neighborhood and go door-to-door encouraging "Democrats who maybe haven't been out to vote in a while" to head to the polls in support of Obama.

As the group walked to Welliver's car, one student said he planned to arrive early to see Obama speak today.

"I'm going to get there at 5 a.m.," he said. "I went to the rallyat American and didn't get in. I was like six blocks back."

Once in the neighborhood, some residents said they were still making up their mind about who to vote for. Welliver spent about 10 minutes talking to one couple which was divided between Clinton and Obama.

"I'm still on the fence because they're so similar," said Hyattsville resident Colleen Williams, 33. "You have experience versus not so much experience. I have to make up my mind soon and I'll definitely be voting for one of them."

Williams's husband, Bryan Williams, 30, said he plans to vote for Obama.

"It's going to take us a long time to recover from [Bush]," said Bryan, who is an alumnus of the university. "Barack Obama is a uniter."

Nearby residents weren't the only ones on the fence. Amanda Rothberg, a senior marketing major, also said she hasn't made up her mind about who to support. She attended a discussion last night led by former first daughter Chelsea Clinton at Stamp Student Union, and she said she plans to skip class to attend today's rally. She added that she hopes faculty don't penalize students for missing class for the rally.

"There's nothing more important," said Rothberg. "I hope professors and everyone understands that."

Reporter Ken Pitts contributed to this report.

INFORMATION ABOUT THE EVENT

Comcast Center doors open at 10:30 a.m.; Obama is scheduled to speak at 12:30. People are known to camp at Obama events, but temperatures Monday aren't expected to rise above the high 20s.

In a campus-wide e-mail on Friday detailing a change in venue from Cole Field House to Comcast Center, Vice President of Student Affairs Linda Clement wrote the following:

"The public will enter from Gate A (South Plaza Gate): Southeast corner atop the grand staircase (Main Public Entrance). In order to speed up entry into the Comcast Center, those attending are being asked not to bring backpacks, large bags, or laptop computers.

"Beginning Monday at 7:00 AM, Lot 6 and 9 parking permit holders will be redirected to the following locations: Stadium Drive Garage, Union Lane Garage, Lot 1, and Mowatt Lane Garage.

"Visitors are encouraged to take Metro. Shuttle buses from the College Park Metro Station will run to and from the Comcast Center every 5 minutes beginning at 8:00 AM. Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to walk to Comcast. Very limited parking will be available for visitors in Lots 6, 9B, 9C, and 11C."
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