By Ingela Rundquist and Nora Zacharski
PHILADELPHIA — Thousands came to see former president Barack Obama, who joined President Biden at Temple University on Saturday to rally Pennsylvanians to go to the polls.
Obama has been campaigning for Democrats across the country in the critical 2022 midterms. The commonwealth’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races have drawn national attention as they could potentially decide control of the Senate. Obama made the stop in Philadelphia after an earlier rally in Pittsburgh.
The former president and Biden were in town to campaign for Democrats Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, running for U.S. Senate and governor, respectively.
Barbara and David Adams, Philadelphia natives, were waiting in line for the rally. “I’m here to support Fetterman, and to see Obama again,” Babara Adams said. She last saw Obama speak in 2008, outside the Mayfair diner, when he was first running.
Barbara Adams has a family history in Philadelphia: “I went to Temple University. My mother grew up on that street,” she said and pointed across the road to Carlisle Street. “My father was the vice president of the Philadelphia Firefighters Union.”
Unions have historically been strong organizers for Democratic candidates, and some union members waited in long lines to get into the rally. Democrats have lost strength with non-college-educated voters in recent years.
“Republicans have always been for corporate entities. There’s no choice,” Barbara Allen said.
Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, spoke about the strength of unions when he took the stage later that afternoon. He promised to invest in trade training and to veto any right-to-work legislation that might get sent to his desk.
“It’s not freedom to say to our workers, you can work a 40-hour work week, but you can’t be a member of a union,” he said. “That’s not freedom.”
Barbara Allen said she and her family are still union supporters but she and her husband “aren’t lucky enough to be in a union” in their current positions.
Recent polls show that Roe v Wade has also been top of mind for voters since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark ruling in the Dobbs decision last summer.
Democrats have banked on abortion being a galvanizing issue for their base in an off-year that historically goes against the party in power.
“I’m a local political official, but that’s not my choice to make. That choice becomes between a woman and their doctors, and that is what I will always fight for,” Fetterman said to loud applause, referencing a statement by his challenger, Dr. Mehmet Oz, in their debate on Oct. 28.
A trio of young women in line, two Temple University students and their friend from Vermont, identified abortion as their top concern.
“I’m a very political person, but I’ve been following it for all of high school. It’s definitely a personal thing for me as a young female,” said Allison O’Toole, 20, of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
But whether young voters will turn out in large numbers this year remains to be seen.
Megan Gochenauer, 18, is from Chester County, one of several that are part of the Philly Metro area. She expressed frustration that some of her friends wouldn’t register to vote in what she sees as a very consequential election.
“I tell my friends they should vote, because they’re able to, and they agree that abortion rights are a problem,” she said. “But they won’t register to vote. And it’s really frustrating. Every vote counts,” she added. Gochenauer also said her friends feel it’s “too much of a process” to register to vote, but she considers it relatively easy
The Senate race in Pennsylvania could decide which party controls Congress and, by extension, future democratic processes related to voting. In recent polls, Oz and Fetterman have been locked in a dead heat. Both Democrats and Republicans have heavily invested in the race.
Katie Decker was visiting from New Jersey but had volunteered to help count ballots in 2020 and offered her thoughts on the importance of local officials.
“That’s part of why I got involved with helping count mail-in ballots. It’s because I wanted to understand how it works. And actually, being part of the process helped me trust the system way more,” Decker said.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a new ruling that will reject ballots “if the handwritten dates fall before Sept. 19, 2022, or after Nov. 8, and absentee ballots are to be rejected if they are dated before Aug. 30, 2022, or after Nov. 8, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Amy Williams, from West Philly, expressed concern about this ruling: “The mail-in ballots could have incorrect dates, right? So that means they’ve got a look at each one. And, I mean, it’s gonna slow everything down.”
“The longer it takes to get a solid answer, the more conspiracy nuts will stick out, whatever the answer is,” said Larry Holman, a 23-year Navy veteran and resident of Northeast Philly.
Each candidate who spoke at the rally emphasized the high stakes in this election, and its potential impact on future generations.
Obama closed the event with an energizing call-and-response: “Get off the couch and do what? Put down your phone and do what?”
“VOTE!” the audience responded enthusiastically.