Suffolk preps for Biden

Published 10:29 pm Friday, October 24, 2008

As students left Nansemond River High School Friday afternoon, dozens of people went to work setting the stage for today’s visit by Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden.

Suffolk Police Capt. Dean Smith and Secret Service officials surveyed the perimeter of the gymnasium at the Nansemond Parkway high school. As Obama-Biden campaign workers talked out the logistics of Biden’s visit, other people unloaded bleachers and chairs off a tractor-trailer.

“There’s a lot to it,” said Curtis Wyatt, who works for a Maryland equipment rental company delivering a stage setup for the 11 a.m. rally.

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“Lighting, decorating, seating, setting up the stage. We’ve done a lot of these (events) … for both the Obama and McCain campaigns.”

Few people working at the school were willing to discuss Biden’s appearance, which was announced late Thursday. Doors open at 9 a.m. this morning, with seating on a first-come, first-served basis.

With the election moving into the home stretch, organizers say they anticipate a heavy turnout by Obama-Biden supporters.

The Secret Service is handling security for the event, with assistance from the city police department. Both Debbie George, city spokeswoman, and a spokeswoman with the Virginia State Police referred all security questions to that agency.

A spokesman from the Secret Service’s Norfolk office declined to comment.

Biden will be laying out highlights of the Obama-Biden ticket’s plans to jumpstart the economy, provide affordable health care to Virginians and end the Iraq war, according to a press release from the Democratic Party.

Biden’s visit is the first time a candidate on the presidential ticket has come to town since 1964, when Democratic presidential candidate Lyndon B. Johnson stumped in Suffolk.

“And he won,” said Suffolk Democratic Committee Chairman Art Bredemeyer. “The state has gone Republican since then. Maybe that is behind the strategy in coming to Suffolk.”

Bredemeyer said he was out of state Thursday when he got a phone call telling him Biden would be in town. The visit has been largely organized by Obama campaign staff, rather than the local party members, he said.

Biden’s visit is a signal of the importance that party officials are placing in Suffolk’s voter turnout, Bredemeyer said.

“Unlike some areas that have leaned heavily one way or the other over the years, Suffolk has gone both Democratic and Republican (in recent elections),” he said. “I think Suffolk is an important bellwether for Hampton Roads.”