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Supporters, protesters bring concerns to Obama's town hall meeting

TAMPA — Hours before President Barack Obama was scheduled to speak in Tampa, lines of people young and old stretched for five blocks.

Obama is expected to announce that Florida will receive $1.25 billion in funding for high-speed rail at the town hall meeting, held at the University of Tampa. The meeting will start at 1:05 p.m., 35 minutes later than originally planned.

Many who stood in line appeared to be Obama supporters, though some expressed concerns about his first year in office and referred to Wednesday's State of the Union address.

"I think he was trying to save the world, and I admire that he was willing to admit that he was trying to do too much," said Emily Rogers, 42, who said she was laid off from her job at a charter school a year ago.

Sam Williams, 79, of Tampa, described himself as "a hundred percent (in support of) Obama," but echoed Rogers' opinion and said he hopes Obama narrows his focus to "jobs, jobs and jobs."

Health care reform was also a concern among those in the crowd, and 67-year-old Bill Biddle of Delaware shared a story about switching dental insurance and having to pay $8,000 for a root canal and other dental issues because it was considered to be pre-existing.

"You just throw up your hands and say 'Come on,' " said Biddle, who lives in New Port Richey in the winter.

Biddle, a retired high school social science teacher, said he felt better after hearing the State of the Union address, but he worried the country is too divided to get things done.

The anti-Obama demonstrators outside the Bob Martinez Sports Center were few, but noisy. One man stood by the line and read from the Christian book The War Is Over by Andrew Wommack, yelling it through a bullhorn. People in line laughed and took photos of him.

Greg Pound, who is running for a Pinellas County Commission seat, held a sign that said, "Obama: Do you believe it's okay to molest children like Gov. Crist?"

Barry Bench, 51, of Orlando, stood across the street from the line with an American flag and a yellow banner than said "Don't Tread On Me."

"I am angry at both political parties," Bench said. "Both parties are bankrupting this country, and they have to stop."

Carrying a sign that said "Fund Human Needs, Not War," 55-year-old St. Pete Beach resident Rachelle Van Wyk said she and her husband were representing St. Pete for Peace.

"We're here to send a message that health care is a major issue in much of America, equal to, if not more so, than the economy and is not to be put on the back burner," Van Wyk said.

After all 1,100 free tickets to President Obama's town hall were handed out Wednesday, some wound up for sale on Craigslist.

Michael Bandera of St. Petersburg waited in line with his wife for a couple of hours and ended up with an extra ticket. When none of his friends wanted it, he advertised it on Craigslist for $50.

It wasn't long before he heard from a cash-strapped USF political science major, who told Bandera he really wanted to go but couldn't afford it.

Bandera, a retired schoolteacher, couldn't resist. He planned to meet the student at 9 a.m. to give him the ticket — for free.

The student "gave me kind of an 'Obama's my hero' type of thing," he said.

Some UT students also were trying to sell their tickets. UT officials reserved about half the seats for UT students and administrators.

UT student Dylan Seloberg was going to use his ticket for Thursday's meeting after his Craigslist pitch — $700 or best offer — fell through, he said.

Bonnie and Michael Newitt were willing to give them away after their neighbors couldn't go with them.

They tried selling them on Craigslist, but now they'll do anything to keep them from going to waste, she said. "We just want somebody else to go and see Barack."

Doors opened at 10:30 a.m.

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Supporters, protesters bring concerns to Obama's town hall meeting 01/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 6:21pm]
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