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MONROE - Regional economic troubles fed the enthusiasm of union members and supporters of Barack Obama at a Labor Day barbecue featuring the Democratic presidential candidate yesterday.
About 300 people attended the event at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 671 on Detroit Avenue, campaign officials estimated. Those in attendance - many who said were feeling the sting of the contracting American auto industry - were hopeful Mr. Obama would deliver change that will improve the economy in Michigan and Ohio.
"Jobs are hurting in this country," said Jather Ransaw, 59, a steelworker at Macsteel in Monroe. "If we don't wake up soon we are going to be hurting worse than we are."
Mr. Obama arrived to cheers of "Yes we can" and "Yes we will."
Mr. Obama paid tribute to Gulf Coast residents fleeing Hurricane Gustav and credited union members for building the American middle class.
He also spoke of a "quiet storm" of plant closings, foreclosures, and educational troubles affecting area residents.
The message resonated with many union members like Josephine Vinson, 47.
Ms. Vinson has been forced to commute 45 minutes after transferring from Ford's Automotive Component Holdings in Monroe, which is closing, to a plant in Saline, Mich.
Gas costs her $120 per week. She may be forced to sell her home at a loss.
"It was great. It was just real," Ms. Vinson said of Mr. Obama's speech. "It just shows how thoroughly in touch with us he is."
John Moore, 41, a member of the UAW 300, worries his three children will be forced to leave the state to find work.
"[The Bush] administration has turned their back on us," Mr. Moore said. "We can't go back and do another four years. If we have the status quo, there'll be nothing left here."
Mr. Obama was introduced by Michigan Rep. John Dingell (D., Dearborn).
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), and Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner were at the event.
Many from the crowd waited hours in the heat for a chance to hear the Illinois senator speak in the intimate setting.
A number, including union members or party volunteers, were admitted by invitation. The Monroe County Democratic Party also distributed a number of tickets to the public Sunday at their headquarters in downtown Monroe.
Pam Klever, 59, of Sylvania waited 13 hours for her ticket. Ms. Klever arrived at 11 p.m. Saturday, breaking only to use the restroom at Tim Hortons restaurant before the distribution of tickets began at noon.
"I'll probably never wait in line that long again but it was worth it," Ms. Klever said. "I love his vision."
Kenny Brooks, 56, who is a custodian for Monroe Public Schools, watched from a field about 100 yards from the rally site with a small group who didn't have tickets. The small crowd was held at bay by the Secret Service.
They erupted in cheers at the distant sight of Mr. Obama leaving the union hall for a small press conference following his speech. Dearborn Heights resident Daniel David, 50, captured the moment on video.
"I don't care if I had to wait 24 hours," he said. "We need change. We need to get rid of [President] Bush. The little guy is tired of being pushed around."
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