N.H. Preps For Obama Town Hall On Health Care
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Tomorrow, President Obama heads to a town hall meeting about health care in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It comes as the health care debate is getting loud across the country. Tickets to the president's event were made available through a White House Web page, but not everyone who wants to will get in.
As New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports, local activists are getting ready to make their voices heard inside and outside the event.
JOSH ROGERS: It could've been any other sunny summer day in Portsmouth Market Square: tourists milled, motorcyclists compared rides, buskers busked. But just a few blocks away at a house with a sign saying, be the change, it felt a lot like presidential primary season.
Ms. JUDY STADTMAN (Seacoast for Change): You know, they just don't have to look perfect, folks. Handmade is the impression we want to give. We're looking for a fast, dirty and super positive message about health care this year.
ROGERS: Judy Stadtman was hosting a sign-making party for about 20 local volunteers. She was standing in front of a wall of voting maps from last November. Stadtman coordinates for the Obama-inspired group Seacoast for Change. She claims she now spends up to 60 hours a week as a community organizer. Stadtman says good organization will make the difference in the health care debate. Here's what she's observed about those on the other side.
Ms. STADTMAN: I've been impressed that the folks that have been out at the town hall meetings around New Hampshire, how good they are at sticking to their talking points. But I always kind of get the impression that they're like one of those frogs that, like, puffs up to look bigger than they are.
ROGERS: Critics of the president are making their presence felt here. Last week, they confronted staffers of Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in the small town of Grafton. When things got heated, they were barred from the building. They then started an impromptu rally. Here's Grafton resident John Babiarz from a clip posted on YouTube by a libertarian blogger.
Mr. JOHN BABIARZ: They're afraid to say publicly what they're trying to do to this country, and that's the problem. I'm tired of this stuff. No more business as usual. They're afraid of us, and rightfully so. Government should be afraid of us.
ROGERS: The Grafton incident was condemned by top state Democrats. Senator Shaheen says protestors should be ashamed for intimidating the public.
Senator JEANNE SHAHEEN (Democrat, New Hampshire): It's very disappointing to have people disrupt those office hours and keep constituents who have legitimate concerns from getting the help that they need.
ROGERS: Corey Lewandowski is working to ensure a more measured tone during President Obama's visit.
Mr. COREY LEWANDOWSKI (State Director, Americans for Prosperity): I think in order for us to be successful, we want to make sure that our message, which is fiscally irresponsible to be doing this right now, has to get out. Not these other crazy messages that some other individuals are, you know, have on their agenda.
ROGERS: Lewandowski is state director for Americans for Prosperity, and he's coordinating the rally to oppose the president's agenda to be held outside Mr. Obama's town hall tomorrow.
Mr. LEWANDOWSKI: Part of the, you know, discussion that we were having is do we just want to literally line the road, you know, with cars and signs? The problem with that becomes, if the media decides to go speak to a person who's parked in the 97th car down the road, we have no idea what their message is. We don't know who that person is. We don't know what they're going to say. That's why we've chosen to do this in one central location and really limit who is going to speak at that opportunity.
ROGERS: Lewandowski expects as many as 1,000 protestors to show up. The president's town hall meeting is slated for one o'clock. The protestors say they'll begin at nine.
For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire.
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