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In USC speech, Obama urges 37,500 Democratic voters to 'fight on'

With 11 days to go before the tightly contested midterm elections, the president gives a pep talk to college students, union members and other supporters in California.

October 23, 2010|By Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

President Barack Obama rallied thousands of loyal supporters at the USC campus Friday, urging them to defy skeptics who have predicted losses for Democrats and turn out in force on election day to give his administration more time to turn around the nation's flailing economy and deliver the change he promised in the 2008 election.

"We need all of you to fight on. We need all of you fired up," the president told the roaring crowd of students and admirers — 37,500 of them, by USC officials' estimates — who spilled out across the sun-soaked lawn of Alumni Park and the streets beyond. "We need all of you ready to go, because in just 11 days … you have the chance to set the direction of this state and of this country, not just for the next two years but for the next five years, the next 10 years, the next 20 years."

"Just like you did in 2008," the president said, "you can defy the conventional wisdom that says young people are apathetic, the conventional wisdom that says you can't beat the cynicism in politics."

In the combative tone that has defined his remarks in recent days, Obama offered a sharp rebuke of the Republican agenda, accusing the opposition party of embracing a strategy of "amnesia" after sitting on the sidelines saying "no to everything" while blaming him for the nation's troubles.

"They figured that y'all would forget that they caused the mess in the first place," he said. "…But Los Angeles, as I look out on this crowd, this tells me you haven't forgotten."

With a new Los Angeles-Times/USC poll showing a narrowing enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats, the president's trip to California served the dual purpose of motivating his troops and raising money for endangered Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and attorney general candidate Kamala Harris. Boxer, Harris and state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, all spoke briefly at the event, asking Democrats to match the fervor of Republicans.

Actor Jamie Foxx also underscored the Democrats' precarious position by alluding to Obama's encounter with a woman earlier this year who said she was exhausted by defending him — and then prompting the crowd to chant: "We're not exhausted."

Boxer, who has been hit with millions of dollars' worth of attack ads from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other outside groups, said the other side has "giant, wealthy, unlimited-spending special interests with them." But, she said, "We have our own army."

Unlike on his last visit to Los Angeles, the President sought to avoid the wrath of the city's commuters by flying from LAX to USC on Marine One for the event organized by the Democratic National Party. He also attended a luncheon fundraiser for Boxer and sat for an interview with Spanish-language radio host Piolin in Glendale. Then he jetted off to Nevada for another Democratic rally and a dinner to benefit Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is in an uncomfortably close race of his own.

While some Democratic candidates have kept Obama at arm's length — distancing themselves from the administration's controversial healthcare legislation and the $814-million stimulus package — Boxer has welcomed his help in California. In this state, 56% of likely voters said in a recent Times/USC poll that they wanted a senator who supports the president.

Boxer has been an unfailing defender of Obama's policies, even in the face of relentless criticism of Obama's policies from her challenger, Republican Carly Fiorina. The White House has rewarded Boxer's loyalty with multiple trips to California on behalf of the three-term senator, who is clinging to a slim lead over Fiorina.

The president's visit will be followed next week by a fundraising event for Boxer featuring First Lady Michelle Obama. The efforts will provide a much-needed boost to Boxer's coffers in the final stretch.

New fundraising reports covering the period from Oct. 1 to Oct. 13 showed Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, raising slightly more than Boxer, though Boxer still had twice as much cash on hand as her opponent. But Fiorina announced a new $1-million loan to her campaign Friday for the final push, in addition to the $5.5 million she gave herself for the primary.

At Friday's rally, the candidates took care to avoid mentioning the names of their rivals but drew distinctions between themselves and their opponents.

Brown signaled that he would reject what he has criticized as the divisive tactics of his opponent: "We don't scapegoat anybody, not public workers, not immigrants, not anybody because we're all Californians together."

And Obama argued that if Republicans were to regain control, they would cut "middle-class families loose to fend for themselves."

"Their basic philosophy is — you're on your own," he said.

Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund called Obama's visit "another rescue mission for Boxer" and said the fact that Boxer did not mention Friday's new unemployment figures or her specific plans to address them in her short speech proved "just how out of touch she is with the reality that 1 in 8 Californians is without a job."

Brown's Republican rival, Meg Whitman, meanwhile, campaigned in San Jose on Friday with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He had held the all-time record for self-funding a campaign until Whitman, who has put $141.5 million into her gubernatorial bid, surpassed him.

The former EBay chief executive said the Obama administration's efforts to revive the economy had been a failure.

"The progress has been terrible," Whitman said. "Look at the unemployment rates we face in California and we face in the country."

maeve.reston@latimes.com

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Times staff writer Michael J. Mishak in San Jose contributed to this report.

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