President Barack Obama concluded his speech at the University of New Hampshire with a call-and-response chant of “Fired up — ready to go.” The crowd of thousands at the Whittemore Center on Monday afternoon seemed fired up indeed, cheering wildly for Obama throughout what was probably his final visit to the Granite State as president. Supporters yelled, “I love you”; Obama said, “I love you back.” Supporters booed Donald Trump; Obama told them, “Don’t boo, vote.” When a heckler started yelling indiscernible comments, the crowd dutifully drowned him out with a boisterous “Obama” chant.
The crowd seemed somewhat less fired up, though, as they were herded out of the arena’s exit and bottlenecked through a narrow, barricaded path to Durham’s Main Street, only to get in their cars and enter gridlock traffic. One couldn’t help but wonder if Chris Christie’s staff had been on traffic detail.
The important question, though, is how fired up they’ll be tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 8. That’s when New Hampshire voters will help elect a new president, as well as a new governor, a U.S. senator, two U.S. representatives, and a host of state legislators and other office-holders.
Voters here are in a uniquely influential position, as Obama and other speakers repeatedly reminded them. New Hampshire is a critical swing state in the presidential race between Trump, the Republican nominee, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. It’s also the site of one of the highest-profile U.S. Senate races in the country, between incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte and Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. That race could conceivably decide which party controls the Senate for the next four years.
By the time Hassan and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen took the stage to introduce Obama at UNH, the crowd had already heard from filmmaker Ken Burns; former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former Navy captain and NASA astronaut Mark Kelly; first-district congressional candidate Carol Shea-Porter; second-district Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster; and gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern, a current executive councilor. They were all there to motivate UNH students and other young voters to get to the polls on Tuesday and elect a slate of Democrats, thereby concluding what has been the most bizarre, divisive, and all-around ugly election cycle in modern history.
If the Democrats succeed, as Kuster noted during the rally, not only will New Hampshire voters have helped elect the first-ever female president, but also the first-ever all-female, all-Democratic congressional delegation from any state in history.
At the Whittemore Center, there was a gruelingly long wait between the speeches of Van Ostern and Shaheen, during which the same three or four songs repeated on a loop. There were audible groans when Brooks & Dunn’s “Only in America” started up for the seventh or eighth time. But this crowd had stamina, and when Hassan finally welcomed Obama to the stage, the roar was deafening.
The crowd was composed largely of UNH students, many of whom are not old enough to remember Obama’s first campaign visits to New Hampshire a decade ago, when he was a young first-term senator from Illinois. He knew how to work a crowd then, too. Obama’s capacity to inspire has been one of his most remarkable and enduring qualities, and one that Clinton has struggled to replicate.
But Obama assured the young guests in Durham that Clinton is the most qualified person to replace him. They will decide, he said, “whether we continue the journey of progress, or whether it all goes out the window.”
He outlined many of the highlights of that “journey of progress,” which began almost eight years ago during the worst economic recession in 80 years. During Obama’s time in office, he said, the nation has added 15.5 million jobs, 20 million Americans have gained health insurance, and marriage equality has become a reality. Incomes and wages are up, he said, and poverty is down. High-school graduation and college enrollment are at all-time highs. The nation has dramatically increased its investment in clean energy, Obama said. Fewer troops are now fighting overseas, and Osama bin Laden is dead.
“Make no mistake, all that progress goes down the drain if we don’t win tomorrow,” Obama said after leading a “Hillary” chant. “And New Hampshire, you know, it’s a small state but it’s an important state. There are some scenarios where Hillary doesn’t win if she doesn’t win New Hampshire.”
Unfortunately for Democrats, her opponent’s supporters are likely aware of those scenarios as well. Although Obama’s speech was mostly one of positivity, he did set aside time to take some digs at Trump.
“Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief. This is not just my opinion, this is the opinion of a lot of Republicans,” he said. “Think about it, over the weekend his campaign took his Twitter account away from him. If your closest advisors don’t trust you to tweet, how can you trust him with the nuclear codes?”
By contrast, Obama called Clinton “the most qualified person ever to run for this office.” He also praised Hassan and criticized Ayotte, saying voters can only end the partisan gridlock in Washington by electing Democrats.
Obama’s “fired up” chant came after he implored guests to understand the power of their vote. “The fate of our democracy depends on what you do,” he said.
The world will find out tomorrow how fired up voters are. On Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, we’ll know whether our next president will be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Unless, of course, one of them refuses to accept the results.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that victories for Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster would make New Hampshire the first state in U.S. history to have an all-female congressional delegation. Their victories, along with a win for Hassan in the U.S. Senate race, do give New Hampshire the first-ever all-female, all-Democratic delegation, but not the first all-female delegation. New Hampshire previously elected an all-female delegation in 2012.