State Democrats received a major-league assist from President Barack Obama today at a massive rally held at the University of Southern California, where top party leaders and even actor Jamie Foxx urged supporters to stay enthusiastic despite polls showing Republicans prepared to make major gains in the Nov. 2 elections.
Some 37,500 people attended the marathon three-hour rally held in USC's Alumni Park and heard from more than a dozen speakers, including the president, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, state attorney general candidate Kamala Harris, Assembly Speaker John Pérez, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and others.
The message from nearly all the speakers: Prove the naysaying pundits wrong, and vote.
"I told you this was going to be hard," Obama said, appearing in his trademark shirtsleeves and gray tie. "I told you power concedes nothing without a fight. You know, inch by inch, day by day, week by week, we've been grinding it out because that's the nature of change in a big, complex democracy."
Obama hit Republicans hard, comparing them to someone who had driven a car into a ditch.
"They say, 'We want the keys back,' " Obama said. "And we got to tell them, 'You can't have the keys back. You don't know how to drive.' "
The president also trumpeted health care reform, financial reform and other legislative feats.
He concluded, "I need you to keep on believing. I need you to keep hoping. And if you knock on some doors and make some phone calls and keep marching and keep organizing, we won't just win this election. We are going to restore the American dream for not just some but for every, every, everybody in this great land."
Many of the speakers stressed the importance of young voter turnout to Democratic hopes, with the crowd hearing from several young activists. The rally also included a performance by the Los Angeles-based band Ozomatli.
"They're counting on us to lose our enthusiasm," Foxx told the multitude, which included many USC students. "We cannot lose our enthusiasm."
Boxer repeated that message, while highlighting her support for abortion rights and environmental laws.
"The pollsters have already decided who's going to win," Boxer said. "They've already decided who's going to lose. There's only one problem: We haven't voted yet."
She also portrayed the Republicans as the party with the deeper pockets although she's been competitive in fundraising against her GOP opponent Carly Fiorina.
"The other side has giant, wealthy, unlimited spending special interests with them," Boxer said. "They have Karl Rove with them."
Brown took the stage to chants of "Jerry! Jerry!" and gave a short speech that quoted both former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew and Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi.
"We're the positive force of change for everybody," Brown said. "All the diversity in this state, we don't scapegoat anybody, not public workers, not immigrants, not anybody, because we're all Californians together."
Hector Barajas, a spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, watched the rally and told The Bee that Obama's visit to a state with a Democratic voter registration advantage of 13.4 percentage points showed the Democrats were in trouble.
"To have the president of the United States come out to California shows you how worried they are," Barajas said.
He also said Obama was proposing to continue the policies that have produced a stubbornly high state unemployment rate.
"You've got 2.3 million Californians who don't have a job," Barajas said. "Barack Obama today came to basically campaign for more of the same."
Obama remains relatively popular in the state with 49 percent of Californians approving of his performance in office, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. The Gallup company pegged Obama's national approval rating at 42 percent.
That popularity was clear Friday, as crowds shouted their appreciation while he spoke and rushed to shake his hand afterward.
"I don't think anybody could have done better," said USC graduate student Erin Kampschroer. "It takes time to do these programs."
Obama had visited an intimate fundraiser for Harris last night in Palo Alto and was scheduled to appear today on the Spanish-language radio show Piolin Por La Mañana, which is based in Southern California. The president was also scheduled to speak at a rally later today in Nevada alongside Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Photo: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer addresses a rally featuring President Barack Obama and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown on Oct. 22, 2010, at the University of Southern California. (Jack Chang/ Sacramento Bee)