Plans take shape for Obama’s rally

Bernard Schoenburg

It will probably be easier than getting on a commercial jet these days, but people who want to see U.S. Sen. Barack Obama at the Old State Capitol on Saturday will have to follow some rules.

Obama’s presidential campaign provided more details about how to attend the event, which could turn into the first dual public appearance for the Illinois Democrat and a running mate yet to be named.

Among those details:

--Gates open at noon; Obama is expected to speak around 2 p.m.

--The public entrance is on Washington Street at Seventh Street.

--For security reasons, people cannot bring bags.

--Visitors won't be allowed to bring in their own signs to the speech site on Saturday. But they can get one from the campaign after they clear security.

--In the wording of the announcement, “Please limit personal items.”

--The event is free and open to the public. The campaign was encouraging people to RSVP at a Web site,, but such a response is not required to attend.

Those who do go through the RSVP process will find that it is, at least in part, an organizing and fundraising tool. After submitting initial information including name, address and phone numbers, computer users are then asked to invite “friends, family and neighbors” to the event via e-mail, with a ready-made message provided. After sending such a message, the computer user is then thanked for inviting someone and encouraged to “own a piece of this movement” by making a donation online.

Ernie Slottag, spokesman for Mayor Tim Davlin, reiterated that it’s likely the crowd for this event will be larger than for the campaign announcement made Feb. 10, 2007 at the same place, when estimates ranged to 17,000 people. Slottag said Wednesday he didn’t know whether a decision had been made but he knew that placement of outdoor video screens to help people far away from the stage see the candidate was under consideration.

He also said he wasn’t sure what setup there would be for any VIP ticketing for areas near the stage, but he thinks it will be less confusing than it was in 2007.

Back then, there were souvenir tickets of one color and other tickets in three colors that provided access to certain areas.

The general public didn’t need tickets, just as they don’t need to RSVP to Saturday’s event.

“They’re obviously going to try to be as accommodating as they can,” Slottag said of campaign organizers. “It should be a little more user friendly.”

Obama also has Secret Service protection now, which he did not in early 2007.

The weather Saturday afternoon is expected to be warm and humid, with highs around 90 and a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. The Obama campaign made it clear back in early 2007 that an outdoor event was greatly preferred to going indoors, so any switch in plans this time would likely be only for very severe weather.

Mike Coffey Jr., chairman of the board that runs the Prairie Capital Convention Center downtown, said people associated with the Obama visit “kind of checked … out” the facility this week, possibly for use as a bad-weather location. If all seats are used and there is standing room on the floor, Coffey said, the building can fit about 8,000 people.

Obama is using the Old State Capitol as the kickoff point for a trip to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, which runs Monday through Thursday. The campaign said after Illinois, there will be stops in several battleground states.

As for Saturday’s 5th Annual Old Capitol Blues & BBQs music and food festival, set for downtown from noon to midnight, there has been no change in plans.

“I think both events can work well together,” Victoria Clemons, executive director of Downtown Springfield Inc., which is sponsoring the Blues & BBQs with the Illinois Central Blues Club, told The State Journal-Register on Tuesday.

Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at (217) 788-1540

Watch Bernard Schoenburg talk about Obama's upcoming appearance.