PORTLAND — As President Barack Obama moved from a fundraiser at Southern Maine Community College to a second fundraiser at the Portland Museum of Art., a small crowd gathered across the street from the museum, hoping to get a glimpse of the president.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to see a president,” said Jaime Bourque, 29, a teacher from Portland. “I think it’s pretty cool that he’s coming to us here in Portland.”

About an hour earlier, Obama took the stage at Southern Maine Community College and spoke to a sell-out crowd of 1,700, each of whom paid $44 to $100 to gain entrance.

Obama talked about his first bill he signed into law as president, which guaranteed women equal pay for equal work and drew raucous applause. He also championed the Affordable Care Act, his health-care reform bill.

“People are getting preventive care they weren’t getting before,” Obama said to loud cheers. “We’re making sure that people with pre-existing conditiions can’t be denied coverage. That’s what change is.”

Obama also rattled off a list of other accomplishments, from rescuing the faltering auto industry to pulling American troops from Iraq to ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military.

He championed the growing economy, which was losing 750,000 jobs per month when he first took office, but is adding more than 200,000 per month this year, he said.

“Our economy is getting stronger, the country is recovering, the last thing we can afford to do is go back to the policies that got us in this mess in the first place,” he said.

He also asked supporters for their patience on other changes, which he said require a long-term view.

“During the campaign, I warned you that this was going to be hard. Big change is hard. It takes time. It takes more than a year. It takes more than a single term. It takes more than a single president. It takes a determined citizenry inching and inching the country forward toward its highest ideals.”

Obama finished speaking about 5:35 p.m. and waved from the podium before shaking hands with people in the crowd, while a PA system blared Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own.”

Throughout the speech, the crowd chanted, “Four more years.”

Occupy protests at museum

But things weren’t all rosy for the president.

By mid-afternoon, protestors gathered in the plaza next to the Eastland Hotel, across Congress Street from the museum, decrying the swankiness of the fundraiser planned for later in the evening.

Occupy Maine had set up a half-dozen plastic blue tents in the plaza. The tents were adorned with written information about their cause and the unequal distribution of wealth in this country.

They also set up a soup line with six kinds of free soup for anyone who wanted it.

“The 99 percent can’t afford super PACs so we’re giving them soup,” said Rachel Lyn Rumson, one of the organizers.

By 6:45 p.m., the Occupy protesters hit high volume. They banged pots and pans and chanted slogans like “We are the 99 percent” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”

Doug Bowen, 66, drove more than an hour from his home in Porter to be part of the protest.

“If we get the big money out of politics, like what’s going on here tonight, then we can start to make our votes count more,” he said.

As the crowd grew to more than 200 people before 6 p.m., activities included singing, juggling, waving signs and chanting slogans.

Other protesters included state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, who is running for the U.S. Senate and also targeted super PACs. Dill set up a “bake sale,” offering “super PACs” of lobster-shaped cookies with a price tag of more than $25,000. Dill said she was trying to make a point about “the exorbitant cost” of running for office by demonstrating outside of a fundraiser where the president was raising thousands of dollars from wealthy donors.

Despite the price tag, Dill actually sold the cookies for much less. She said she would donate the proceeds of the bake sale to soup kitchens.

Ahead of schedule

Obama landed in Portland at 4:09 p.m. at the Portland International Jetport, 11 minutes ahead of schedule.

Air Force One taxied into view around 4:13 p.m., tailed by two SUVs.

Obama jogged down the front set of stairs and Portland Mayor Michael Brennan greeted him and the two men shook hands and spoke briefly on the tarmac.

Cheers came from the area where about 60 invited guests were waiting for the president’s arrival. The president shook hands and spoke to them as some snapped photographs.

“Thanks, guys,” the president said before waving goodbye.

Brennan related his brief interaction with the president.

“He said, ‘Hello and how are things going as mayor?’ And I said, ‘Things are going terrific’ and I’m really happy to have him as president,” Brennan said.

The motorcade left the Portland International Jetport and headed toward the event at SMCC in South Portland.

Small groups gathered by the Embassy Suites, the Hilton Garden Inn and other spots around the airport as well as around Mill Creek shopping center and Broadway in South Portland. Some waved, took photographs or held Obama 2012 signs.

Matthew Marston of Portland and his 3-year-old son, Tommy, were among those who got to meet Obama before he left the Jetport. “I thought he was a class act. He gave my son a high five. He asked him his name. He shook everyone’s hand.”

“I said, ‘thank you for fighting the good fight, Mr. President,'” Marston said.

Leonard Cummings Sr. of Portland, who has led the restoration of the Abyssinian Meeting House, gave Obama a flier to autograph describing the restoration project. Obama signed the paper and gave it back to him.

“I don’t think I could say enough words to really express myself at this point,” said Cummings, who attended Obama’s inauguration. “It’s really quite an experience.”

Cummings attended the arrival with two daughters and a granddaughter. One of them, Deborah Khadraoui, said that her father and others have worked for civil rights for 50 years. “It’s the culmination of all those efforts,” she said. “We met (Obama) when he was running for president. We’re so proud of him.”

Scott Springer, of Cape Elizabeth, brought his 5-year-old twin sons Aiden and Landon, and a friend’s daughter, Fiona Fasulo, to the Jetport to catch a glimpse of the president.

“To watch Air Force One land — and the president get off — is always a special event,” Springer said. “Take the politics out of it, and you still have to have support for the Office.”

A select group of reporters, security and 60 others gathered near gate 129, north of the north-most runway, where they could see Air Force One land and the president get off the plane.

The Springers were able to get access to the special viewing area because they’re friends with a Secret Service agent, Springer said.

Paul Bradbury, the Jetport director, said flights were not allowed to land as Air Force arrived, but he didn’t believe it would disrupt traffic.

SMCC packed

By 4:40 p.m., the auditorium at SMCC was packed with about 1,700 people waiting for the president.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, was warming up the crowd as people waited for the president’s arrival and recounted a recent telephone conversation with him. Recalling his victory in Maine in 2008, he told her, “I got to tell you, Maine was pretty good to both of us.”

Afterward Pingree told the crowd: “We want to make sure that Maine is good to President Barack Obama one more time.”

Following Pingree to the podium was former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, who said Obama has provided results in office, while Republicans have only offered bluster.

“For 10 long years, Republicans talked tough about Osama bin Laden,” Mitchell said. “Obama said little, and then he killed him and there, in a nutshell, is the difference between a man of bluster and a man of action.”

After Obama’s speech, Danielle Vayenas of Portland used her smart phone to update her status on Facebook.

“Inspiring speech! Photos to come later!” she wrote.

Vayenas said she feels a strong connection to Obama because she was out of work for a year during the recession. She said the Affordable Care Act allowed her to keep health insurance after she lost her job.

“Without it, I would have been in big trouble,” she said.

By 5:30 p.m., guests for the dinner fundraiser at the Portland Museum of Art had begun to gather at the entrance to the McClellan House, which is part of the museum.

Among those arriving was former Maine Democratic Gov. John E. Baldacci, who chatted with police officers patroling the area before getting in line with the other guests.

A few people gathered to wait nearby for a glimpse of the president. One was Alex Haslam, 12, of nearby Park Street.

Alex said she had been studying government in school and wanted to be able tell her teacher she had seen the president.

Joe Barbeau, 79, of Kennebunk, who volunteered for President John Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign when he was in college, said Obama is the nation’s best president since Kennedy and that Obama’s speech at SMCC pumped him up.

“I loved it,” he said. “We have to keep fighting. We can’t afford to have the Republicans take over. We can’t go back to the Bush years.”

But others disagreed about the president’s abilities. Christopher Pennell, 27, of Portland, a protetster, also arrived earlier and held a sign “Impeach Obama.”

“I think Obama reflects the corruption of the federal government,” Pennell said. “I voted for him because I thought he’d protect my civil liberties. But I think he’s doing worse than Bush did.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.