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Anticipation builds in Orange County for Obama visit

March 18, 2009 |  3:13 pm

As President Obama kicked off his tour of Southern California, enthusiastic crowds gathered at the Orange County fairgrounds, forming a line to wait for the president's town hall-style forum this afternoon.

Karla Alonzo stood in the Costa Mesa sun alongside hundreds of others, decked out in her presidential best: a black skirt and striped blouse.

"It's the president," she explained. "It's a pretty big deal.

But like many here waiting for the president, Alonzo, 23, of Anaheim, has serious concerns and tough questions to ask, especially about the state of the economy and healthcare. She has been living off of unemployment since she was laid off from a movie theater in October and worse, her father was recently laid off too after 24 years working as a broadcast engineer.

"We keep looking for jobs, but it looks so hopeless. No one calls back," Alonzo said. "Myself and mostly everyone in California wants to know: How is this going to get better?"

And if she gets to ask a question?

"I just want to know how he feels having the whole country's worries and sorrows on his shoulders?"

Many huddled under umbrellas or next to a fence, shielding themselves from the sun. Others clutched their tickets bearing a golden presidential seal, antsy to be let inside the fairgrounds building, where the president will give a speech and take questions to an audience of more than 1,000 people.

Stephanie Johnson-Collier, 47, a surgeon's administrative assistant from Pasadena, donned an Obama T-shirt and stood in line for today's forum, ticket in hand, because she missed the inauguration and it was her one chance to see Obama, whom she volunteered for during the campaign.

"I am elated to be here," she said, but the mother of two said she'd also like to hear him speak about how the economic stimulus plan is going to help single parents such as herself who make less than $100,000 a year.

"We're not asking for a handout," she said, "we're asking for a hand up."

-- Tony Barboza

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