California abuzz over Obama’s coming visit


Los Angeles : President or rock-star? Californians seemed unable to make up their mind Tuesday about US leader Barack Obama, who was due in the Golden State for a two-day visit for the first time since his inauguration in January.

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News of the presidential visit sparked thousands into action in southern California, where Obama is set to hold two town hall meetings Wednesday and Thursday, visit an electric car testing facility and appear as a guest on comedian Jay Leno’s top-rated “Tonight” show.

In fact, the trip seemed to offer a welcome escape for Obama from the intense pressures of sorting out the country’s financial crisis from the nation’s capital.

Local media reported that thousands of people were waiting in line Tuesday morning in the hope of scoring tickets to Obama’s appearance in Costa Mesa, Orange County, a suburb south of Los Angeles.

Many had camped out overnight in the right-leaning county, which is known as one of the strongest Republican districts in the overwhelmingly Democratic state. California voted for Obama by a margin of 24 percent, making it the sort of liberal stronghold that got few campaign visits from Obama during 2008 as he concentrated on battleground states.

Political commentators said the visit to the wealthy region made famous in the TV show “The O.C.” – a teen soap opera that took place in Orange County – is an attempt by Obama to use his personal appeal to help the Democratic candidates win congressional elections there next year.

Many of those waiting in line for tickets were Hispanic, underscoring the changing demographics which are also helping the Democrats in the state.

One of them, Miguel Garcia Verdin, 72, of Ontario waited in line more than 12 hours and said he wanted to hear Obama’s economic message. “We want to see our president because we believe in him,” the retired Mexican immigrant told KTLA. “We have faith that he’s not going to defraud us.”

Los Angeles Times commentator Andrew Malcolm said presidential visits were a rare event in California because the state has been so well-defined politically. After his visit to Canada last month, “President Barack Obama makes a visit to his second foreign country this week”, Malcolm quipped.

California is important to Obama as a US pioneer of environmental regulations and green technology. The US president, who has pledged to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, will reflect this in a visit to the Edison International Vehicle Electrics plant in Pomona, California.

The plant, which is owned by the Edison electric utility that serves most of southern California, is involved in testing electric vehicles for car companies like Ford and Toyota. But it said it will not release any details about the visit until after Obama leaves.

Obama is expected to use the visit to focus on his economic plans and build support for his budget. He also will use it to start fulfilling a promise he made last week when he announced his education plan.

In the speech, Obama made reference to a video called “Is Anybody Listening?”, made by a group of high school students from Pomona who spoke about how the economic crisis was causing them hardship.

“I am listening. We are listening. America is listening,” Obama said. “And we are not going to rest until your parents can keep their jobs, your families can keep their homes, and you can focus on what you should be focusing on: your own education.”