With her ticket firmly in hand, Tracy McLeod was one of the first in line. The University of Miami doctoral student arrived outside UM's BankUnited Center at 8:30 on Thursday morning, intent on securing a good seat to "see and show support for the man I'll always relate to because of his journey," she said.
McLeod, 34, was talking about President Barack Obama, whose re-election campaign rolled onto the UM campus once again on Oct. 11 – for the third time this year – for a grassroots event focusing on his administration's achievements and plans to improve the economy and create jobs. "I've heard Obama say how he was a poor college student who struggled and had to take out loans," said McLeod, who will graduate with a Ph.D. in special education in May. "I've had to endure those same hardships, trying to make ends meet. So I can relate to him, and that's why I came to this rally."
Once inside the BankUnited Center, McLeod and some 9,200 others – who included an overflow audience at the Fieldhouse next door – heard an energized Obama say he needs their help "to finish what we started."
"We've got some work to do, Miami," said Obama, who was introduced by UM freshman Elizabeth "Lizzie" Cooke, a music business major who attended the president's inauguration. "We've got an election to win. In just over two weeks, you get to start voting early ... and everything we fought for in 2008 is on the line in 2012."
Alejandro Miyar, a third-year law student at UM who worked for the 2008 Obama campaign, brought his mother to the BankUnited rally. "The President seems to be getting comfortable flashing the 'U,' " said Miyar, who works as a law clerk for Podhurst Orseck, P.A., and previously worked served in the U.S. Justice Department as a spokesman. His mother, Marijean Miyar, a UM graduate and "dedicated volunteer for President Obama," as she put it, said it was "a thrill to see him again in Coral Gables."
In his speech, Obama noted some of the campaign promises he's kept – ending hostilities in Iraq, passing the Affordable Health Care for America Act, repealing "don't ask, don't tell," and enacting tax cuts for small businesses and the middle class. "We reinvented a dying auto industry that's come roaring back to the top of the world," said the president. "Four years after the worst economic crisis of our time, we are moving forward. After losing 800,000 jobs the month I was sworn in, businesses have added 5 million new jobs in the last two years."
Obama criticized Mitt Romney's economic policies and proposed tax cuts, saying the Republican presidential nominee's plan won't create jobs, help the middle class, or expand opportunity. "Jobs and prosperity" don't trickle down, said Obama. "They grow from a strong and thriving middle class."
The president also called for investing in clean energy, wind, solar, and clean coal technology; hiring 100,000 new math and science teachers; and using the money saved from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to rebuild the nation's roads and bridges. It was Obama's third visit to UM as president and his second to the Coral Gables campus in the last 21 days. Last February he touted his energy policies at a rally inside the UM Fieldhouse, and on Sept. 20 he returned to that location, discussing issues important to the Hispanic community during a televised conversation.
Belgian tourist Jelle Van Regemortel and his girlfriend, Barbara Geeroms, were visiting the UM campus on Thursday when they learned Obama was coming for a rally. They got into line at about 10 a.m., hoping someone would give them some extra tickets to the event. Their luck came through when Jasmine Michaels, a freshman from Florida International University, and another good Samaritan donated their extra ticket. "It's not every day you can see the president of the United States," Van Regemortel said.
UM has invited Romney, who last visited UM on September 19, to return to prior to the election on Nov. 6.
In a message to students, faculty and staff on Wednesday, UM President Donna E. Shalala said that the university was "providing a very important public service to our South Florida community at large, as thousands will be attending this free Obama for America event on our Coral Gables campus." She went on to say that she had "heard from so many people, especially students, who have been thrilled to hear the presidential candidates speak in person" on campus.
"This only happens once every four years," President Shalala concluded, "and the University of Miami community has been able to participate, front and center, in this exciting part of the American electoral process."
The New York Times described the UM event on Thursday as a "fiery Florida rally," and said the president was "energized, displaying the fire that he did not show during the debate" last week. "He worked the audience, making people laugh and cheer," the newspaper said. "And he directed zinger after zinger at Mr. Romney."