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Hundreds camp out in O.C. for chance to see Obama

March 17, 2009 | 10:50 am

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More than 1,000 people waited in line in the Orange County Fairgrounds parking lot this morning in hopes of scoring free tickets to hear President Obama speak at a town hall meeting Wednesday.

The president is visiting Southern California Wednesday with stops in Costa Mesa, Los Angeles and Pomona. The line snaked along a fence and a festive atmosphere prevailed, with vendors hawking Obama T-shirts, hats and posters and the antsy crowd doing "the wave" to pass time.

The line included some weary-eyed campers who had been waiting overnight in tents and picnic chairs. Miguel Garcia Verdin, 72, of Ontario waited in line more than 12 hours.

"We want to see our president because we believe in him," the retired Mexican immigrant said in Spanish. "We have faith that he's not going to defraud us."

Like many in line, Verdin's son, Jose Garcia, 38, is eager to hear what the president has to say about the economy.

Garcia owns a small, family-owned chain of chicken restaurants and wants to know Obama's plan to bail out small businesses and not just the troubled Wall Street firms.

"What about us? What about the small guys?" he asked.

Others in line were surprised by the large showing for a Democratic president in a county known for its right-leaning politics.

"It's exciting to see so much support for him in Orange County, since it's normally so conservative," said Kim Payne, 51, of Santa Ana. Payne said she thought only former President George W. Bush could have mustered such a crowd in years past.

But the showing could signal a political shift in the county, she guessed. After all, Obama did garner about 48% of the vote in November's election.

Like many waiting in line, she wants him to address the economy and education, among other issues.

"I just hope he says things that are going to help calm people down about the economy," she said. "That's the most important thing." But first, she'll have to get a ticket.

By 10 this morning, when the free tickets were to be doled out, people toward the end of the line were already being turned away. And those who are lucky enough to get one have another night of waiting in store: The line for getting a good seat starts tonight at 10.

-- Tony Barboza

View more photos from the scene at the O.C. Fairgrounds.