GRAND JUNCTION, Colo., Aug. 15, 2009 — -- President Obama came to the land of big sky to make what could be his last big public push to save his health care reform plan.
Last night the president held a town hall meeting in Belgrade, Mont., just outside Bozeman, and tonight he'll do the same in Grand Junction, Colo. The president's rhetoric has a new sense of urgency as he struggles to win the hearts and minds of citizens across the U.S. in what has become a heated and emotional debate.
At a town hall meeting tonight in Grand Junction, Obama was on the stump, recalling his early days trying to ingratiate himself with voters.
"If you want a different future -- a brighter future -- I need your help. I need you to stand against the politics of fear and division. I need you to knock on doors and spread the word," he said. "I need you to fight for the security and stability of quality, affordable health care for every American."
Rowdy town halls and a slew of misinformation propagated by conservative circles has fueled criticism from the right and the left. A recent Gallup poll shows that public support for Obama's health care reform is at 43 percent, while opposition is at 49 percent.
His plan took a big public relations hit last week when a Senate committee rejected a provision in the Obama plan that would have provided for end-of-life counseling. That topic turned toxic after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and others on the right said the provision would have created so-called "death panels" that would determine who gets care and who doesn't.
Obama has been fighting that misnomer ever since. He did so again today in his weekly radio address: "These are legitimate differences worthy of the real discussion that America deserves. One where we lower our voices, listen to one another and talk about differences that really exist."
At a town hall meeting Friday night, he issued a warning and what sounded like a call to arms.
"Every time we are in sight of health insurance reform, the special interests fight back with everything they've got," he said. "They use their influence, they run their ads and their political allies try to scare the heck out of everybody. ... We can't let them do it again, not this time."
Obama Pitches Health Care Reform at Colorado Town Hall
Some who came to see him in Belgrade, Mont., liked what they heard, including Nancy Lien Griffin. She owns a small lumber company that has been hit hard by the recession, and she's struggling to keep providing health insurance benefits to her employees.
"I think the president has it exactly right," she said, "as far as unemployment, economic recovery, and health care cost reform. It's a trifecta that has to happen all at the same time. And we're feeling it here on Main Street America. And I really appreciate the fact that he cares about it enough to come to Montana."
But there are two concerns that come up time and again in these town halls: fear over a government takeover of health care and the price tag of reform.
Randy Rathie, dressed in an NRA T-shirt said to the president, "All we get is bull. You can't tell us how you're going to pay for this!"
To which Obama responded, "You are absolutely right, that I can't cover another 46 million people for free."
The other hot button issue is the president's plan for a government-run health insurance program. Leading Democratic lawmakers, including close allies of the president, now concede that in order to get health care reform through this year, the public option may have to be sacrificed.
So as Obama continues to make his pitch to mainstream America, and as the criticisms and concerns keep coming, the president may have to prepare to make some tough compromises.