No, that wasn’t a rock concert rattling the rafters and raising the roof at Boston’s august Symphony Hall.
Nor was it a religious revival shaking the 112-year-old hall’s gilded balconies and snarling the city’s already notorious rush-hour traffic.
It was merely Barack Obama storming through town Monday evening to rake in some cash for his reelection campaign and to bask in a rapturous reception from supporters and donors, deep-pocketed and not.
The president’s star quality may have dimmed since 2008, but it hadn’t among the adoring 1,800 people who ponied up between $250 to $2,500 to see the Democratic incumbent offer up grist on Republicans, taxes, immigration, job creation, and even a barb on the Red Sox that got what sounded like boos. (This is sports-mad Boston, don’t forget.)
On a day when the US Supreme Court offered a mixed bag of fraught judicial opinions, the thunderous ovations and millions of dollars he pulled in gave affirmation that for now Mr. Obama doesn’t have much to worry about in the blue-state Bay State.
“The debate in this election is not whether we have more work to do. Of course, the economy is not what it needs to be. Of course, there are too many folks still struggling. Of course, things should be better. These challenges were built up over years. They weren’t created overnight. They won’t be solved overnight,” he said.
“But the big thing is with this election is how do we grow the economy back together? How do we create more jobs? Moving forward, how do we find more opportunities? How do we pay down our debt? How do we reclaim that basic bargain that makes America the greatest nation on Earth? How do we do it?” he asked.
Both Obama and his likely Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, have raised substantial amounts of money in the state, though neither has spent much time campaigning here. Obama has netted more than $7.7 million in contributions this election cycle, as of the end of May, according to federal campaign filings. Monday's visit brought in at least $3 million more. By contrast, Romney has collected nearly $4.9 million in direct contributions from state residents.
Monday’s visit most likely will be Obama’s last before November. Polls show Obama with a solid lead over Romney here.
So while stumping votes wasn’t the priority during the one-day visit, stumping for dollars was. The Symphony Hall event was bracketed by an even more elite pair of gathering in the Boston area: one at a posh bistro in the city’s swanky South End with 25 supporters who reportedly paid $40,000 each to attend, and later on, a fundraising dinner with 100 people at a private home in one of the state’s wealthiest towns. Tickets reportedly cost $17,900 per person and $35,800 per couple.
If Obama’s fundraising prowess in a state that voted overwhelmingly for him in 2008 was never in question, neither was his ability to inspire a crowd to jump to its feet for nearly a dozen standing ovations and at least as many applause lines during his 40-minute Symphony Hall speech.
“We believe that in America that your success shouldn’t be determined by the circumstances of your birth,” he said. “We believe that if you work hard, you should be able to find a good job. You make your responsibilities, you should be able to support your family, own a home, start a business, give your kids opportunities you could never imagine.
“No matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter who love, no matter what your last name is,” he said.
In between poking fun at the Red Sox, Republicans, and even himself, he also presaged the Supreme Court decision on health care, expected on Thursday, that could define, or doom, his presidency.
“You can decide whether ending bailouts for Wall Street banks was the right thing to do; whether preventing insurance companies from discriminating against people who are sick is the right thing to do; whether allowing over 3 million young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan, whether that is the right thing to do,” he said.
The undercard for Monday’s event could very well have deserved equal billing. Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law professor whose bid to unseat Republican US Sen. Scott Brown is one of the most closely watched races in the country this year, poked at Romney and his campaign trail comments on corporations, but made no mention of her competitor in her introduction for Obama.
In the end, it was clear that few in the audience needed any persuading.
“It’s a tough world. As he said, he’s not a perfect man, he hasn’t been a perfect president. But he’s got the vision that I think people will respond to,” said Al Zabin, a trial lawyer from the suburb of Lexington.
“The main thing people have going against him is fear. When people are afraid, they’re polarized. When people are afraid of losing their jobs, the homes. When people are afraid, they don’t think,” said attendee Priscilla Douglas, who served as secretary of consumer affairs under Republican Gov. William Weld in the 1990s.