Even with help from a friend at Amazon to help him get in, Jason Crawford knew he’d have to get to Chattanooga early if he wanted to see President Barack Obama.
“When he gave me a guest pass, it said the doors open at 11. They said their best estimate was that the president would go on between 12:30 and 1 p.m.,” Crawford said. “Just to be on the safe side, I got there at 10:30 (Tuesday) morning. And traffic was crazy. The parking lot was a madhouse.”
Obama toured Amazon’s 1-million-square-foot distribution center and delivered a speech on the economy.
“It was about 12:20 p.m. before I made it through the door,” Crawford said. “Amazon’s security is pretty tight, They have metal detectors that the employees have to walk through when they leave. We walked through those, and Amazon employees checked pockets and phones.”
Crawford, a Dalton resident, said he’d never had the chance to see a president before, so he was determined not to let the opportunity pass him by.
“Presidential candidates don’t seem to spend a lot of time in the South. We usually go Republican, so Republican candidates don’t have to spend a lot of time here. And Democratic candidates can’t afford to spend a lot of time here. So it was cool to see him come through, even though this area went largely for Romney,” he said.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if it had been George Bush or Jimmy Carter. If a president is close by, I’d want to check it out. That’s an experience you don’t get very often,” he said. “But I am an active Democrat, so that made it even better.”
Crawford said that plenty of other Obama supporters turned out for the event.
“Turning onto Volkswagen Drive, there were plenty of Democrats and Democratic groups lining the street, holding up signs. That set a pretty good tone for what we got when we got inside,” he said. “It was definitely an Obama crowd. He even noted that Tennessee isn’t always agreeable to him or to Democrats. But the crowd there was definitely supporting him.”
Whitfield County Democratic Party Treasurer Pat Gross was unable to attend the president’s speech, but she said she was disappointed that none of the area’s top Republicans joined the president at Amazon.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, especially the president, no matter whether you are Republican or Democrat,” she said. “I was very upset, and it made me question whether I want to go to Chattanooga anymore and spend my money.”
Crawford said the crowd reacted well to Obama’s speech.
“The parts where they really popped were when he talked about raising the minimum wage and about simplifying the tax code so everyone pays their fair share. He said we should use the money we gain by closing loopholes to putting people back to work rebuilding roads and rebuilding bridges,” Crawford said. “Those were the things that got the loudest response.”
Whitfield County Democratic Party Vice Chair Sherie Luffman was also not able to attend the speech, but she welcomed Obama’s proposals.
“The problem is that there is no bipartisanship right now. The Republicans came out against his ideas even before he delivered his speech, and there’s only so much that the president can do by executive order or on his own,” she said.
Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb, a Republican, called Obama’s speech “interesting.”
“But in the end it was just a speech. We at the local level can’t wait for Washington to solve our problems, and the commissioners aren’t waiting,” Babb said. “We’ve got to do what we can do to make ourselves more competitive with our surrounding areas and more attractive to business. We are dealing with the way the world works, and that businesses that are expanding are looking for incentives, they are looking where they can get the best tax rates and the lowest cost of energy.”
Crawford said the excitement at Amazon was palpable.
“To me, that was the most interesting part, feeling the energy of the crowd and seeing the passion for the issues the president supports,” he said. “I usually watch speeches like that on the Internet because I’m at work or asleep when they are actually delivered. And it’s really hard to get a feel for the energy of the crowd that way.”