President Obama found a receptive and vocal audience estimated at 15,000 at an appearance in Minneapolis on Saturday.
BY SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
The New York Times
MINNEAPOLIS — Thousands of roaring supporters turned out Saturday to rally behind President Obama’s call to overhaul the nation’s health care system, packing a basketball arena here as Mr. Obama warned that nearly half of all Americans under 65 could lose their insurance at some point during the next decade.
“It can happen to anyone,” the president said.
The rally, at the Target Center, was the first of what the White House said would be a series of similar events intended to whip up public support for a health overhaul. One of the biggest obstacles the president faces is winning support from middle-class workers who already have insurance, so he is stepping up his warnings that people could lose coverage at any time.
On a day when demonstrators crammed onto the west lawn of the Capitol to protest what they regard as Mr. Obama’s brand of big government, including his health plan, the images of screaming, cheering Obama supporters here provided a welcome visual counterpoint for the White House.
The White House estimated that 15,000 people attended the rally here; the applause was thunderous when the president bounded onto the stage, shirtsleeves rolled up, as he revived an old campaign rallying cry: “Are you fired up?”
The crowd roared back with another Obama favorite: “Yes we can!”
Mr. Obama opened his 40-minute speech with what he called “disturbing news”: a report from the Treasury Department that, he said, “found that nearly half of all Americans under 65 will lose their health coverage at some point over the next 10 years” and that “more than one-third will go without coverage for longer than one year.”
In fact, that is not precisely what the department found when it analyzed data from a University of Michigan survey that tracked the health insurance status of more than 17,000 Americans from 1997 to 2006.
The survey found that 47.7 percent had lost coverage at some point during those 10 years for one month or more, and that 36 percent lacked coverage for at least one year during that time, though not necessarily 12 months consecutively. Mr. Obama extrapolated those statistics to predict what might happen in the future.
Critics say that the president, who has deplored the “scare tactics” of his opponents, is now employing scare tactics of his own. But Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, who also spoke here, said that even one month without insurance was too long, “if that’s the month you get sick.”
Minnesota, where 92 percent of the people have health coverage, is just the kind of state Mr. Obama needs to convince. The state’s senior senator, Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, said she had noticed a shift in sentiment from the beginning of August — when conservatives turned out in droves to protest Mr. Obama’s health plan — to the end of that month.
People “are much more willing to listen,” Ms. Klobuchar said, and are “starting to sit back and think about it, in terms of their own coverage and that it could be at risk.”
Some in the crowd here seemed to care less about health statistics than about simply getting a glimpse of the president. Many waited in line for hours to get tickets; among them was Michael Alvarez, a 22-year-old exhibit designer for Target, which has its headquarters here.
“After this day,” Mr. Alvarez said, “I will be able to say I saw the first black U.S.A. president.”
Others said they wanted to counter the protests against the president in Washington. Jean Buckley, a city administrator, said most of her colleagues supported the president’s health initiative, but she acknowledged that they were wary.
“They worry about how it’s going to be paid for,” Ms. Buckley said. “They don’t want any more taxes.”
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