Obama returns to UM for third time in eight months

Graphic by Mariah Price

Thursday will mark President Barack Obama’s second visit to the University of Miami within 21 days. It will also be his third visit in eight months and his fifth since 2007.

The president will visit campus as part of a grassroots rally organized by the Obama campaign.

UM President Donna E. Shalala said she has been pushing to bring the presidential candidates back to campus this election season.

“I personally promised the students I would do everything I could to get both candidates back for large rallies so more students could participate,” she said. “I hope the students will see that this is their election.”

When Obama was last on campus on Sept. 20, as part of an Univision broadcast, only about 375 students attended the event.

This time, more than half of the attendees will be students, said Rudy Fernandez, UM’s vice president for government affairs.

According to a poll of 101 students conducted by The Miami Hurricane, 61 percent of students waited in line for under 30 minutes on Monday and Tuesday to pick up their tickets. Thirty-one percent waited for more than an hour.

Sophomore Tatiana Faria, for instance, waited 40 minutes on Tuesday morning.

“I actually had to miss my first class because of the line, but I thought it was worth it because there are just some things that are more important than lecture notes,” Faria said.

Fernandez believes the BankUnited Center (BUC) was selected because of the student interest during Obama’s last visit. The campaign also considered the Miami-Dade County Auditorium and a venue at Miami Dade College to host this event.

“They were very impressed by the fact that three weeks ago, almost 7,000 students signed up through the lottery to see President Obama when he was here for the Univision interview,” Fernandez said. “They thought, ‘If we’re trying to do a huge grassroots rally, why not do it at a place where we know there’s a lot of interest?’”

Fernandez hopes that every student has an opportunity to experience an event like this.

“We work very hard to bring events like this to campus, because we think it’s part of the student life experience,” he said. “We believe in making sure that our students, after they graduate from here, are good civic citizens and participate in the democratic process.”

At the event, Obama will address voters on his vision for an economy that will grow from the bottom up, and about his plan to restore middle-class economic security, through the creation of jobs.

Richard Sobaram, director of the Department of Parking and Transportation, believes the results of such an event are worth the extra work.

“When I was an undergraduate here, we never had this – never ever had this opportunity,” said Sobaram, a 1987 UM alumnus. “You come to the University of Miami, spend four years here and you’re virtually guaranteed to see at least one or two world leaders – whether it’s the Dalai Llama, a sitting president, a former president or a presidential candidate. That’s how dynamic the University of Miami has become.”

Junior Emily Young, the campus team leader of Canes for Obama, hopes the rally will garner student support.

“Florida is one of the biggest states of concern for this election, and the campaign has told us numerous times that they are counting on the University of Miami to pull through,” she said. “They would love for us to go 80 percent blue.”

Senior Alex Alduncin, the president of UM College Republicans, sees this both as a great experience for students and a campaign tactic.

“We’re on a college campus, so the student population is always going to skew a little bit to the left,” he said. “The reason he’s coming so often is to try to reenergize the youth vote that he had in 2008, and I think the fact that he has to come so often kind of indicates that he hasn’t been as successful as he’d want to be.”

According to Fernandez, this is Obama’s only public event on Thursday. He believes it will bring a lot of positive press coverage to UM, because it is on the same day as the vice-presidential debates.

Junior Nick Penny is surprised that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has not announced another visit to campus.

“I’m a little disappointed that he’s not competing to address his constituency,” he said. “Obama will be here for the third time, and Romney is not representing himself well.”

Fernandez hopes Romney will be back on campus, too.

“We’ve extended an invitation to Gov. Romney’s campaign as well, and we’re hopeful that, if he comes back to Miami, he will consider us as a possible site for a large rally,” he said.

Sophomore Dave Capelli, the data analyst specialist for Canes for Obama, believes students have a civic duty to attend the event in order to become more informed this election season.

“I expect Republicans and Democrats to go to it, and I expect every single student to attend it – and I do not care what class you have,” he said. “When people say, ‘I have class to go to,’ I say, ‘This is Miami. I know people skip classes. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – get over it.’”

The event will take place at approximately 3:25 p.m. in the BUC. Doors will open at 1 p.m., and students are encouraged to arrive early.

The Obama campaign distributed between 8,000 and 8,500 tickets, Fernandez said. Although the BUC holds 8,000 people, they overcompensated to account for possible no-shows.

If the fire marshal later decides there are too many attendees for the space, overflow will be directed to the BUC Fieldhouse, where television screens will be set up with a live stream.

Students will have several opportunities to volunteer during the event. According to Young, volunteers will have their names entered into a raffle every time they complete a volunteer shift, and winners will be able to take a photo with Obama.

All attendees will be required to go through security, and no large bags or signs will be permitted.

Fernandez thinks the events that have taken place at UM this election season set the campus apart from other universities.

“In approximately eight months, the University of Miami has had three presidential visits,” Fernandez said. “I don’t believe any other university can claim that.”