More than 40 people came from Somerset and Morris counties—even from as far as Pennsylvania—to celebrate President Barack Obama’s 50th birthday Wednesday night, joining the president virtually from a home in Morristown.
The gathering on Revere Road, organized by Morris County resident Kim Hurdman, was one of thousands that took place across the nation. It had all the halmarks of a friendly affair—a potluck feast, camaraderie, plenty of chatter among like-minded individuals. But one thing set the party apart: the opportunity to speak with Obama via a live video stream.
And as the night went on, good times often took a backseat to concerns that bad ones could be ahead, at least for those on board with the president's agenda.
The celebration—in the seat of one of New Jersey's redder counties, where Republican legislative and freeholder candidates almost always sail to easy November victories—was just the beginning of an effort to galvanize support for the 2012 election, said Hurdman, organizer for the Morris County for Obama organization.
Most of the participants expressed passionate support for the president in the 2012 election. But some said they were worried that the recent behavior of Tea Party-associated Republicans in the recent debt-ceiling and national budget negotiations was going to continue, making it difficult for the president to realize his own vision for the country.
Throughout the negotiations, Tea Party-backed legislators—particularly freshmen members of the House of Representatives—proved the hardest for Congressional leaders to win over as they considered a variety of options for reducing the national debt. The Tea Partiers pushed for steep cuts without new taxes, and bristled at even slight suggestions of compromise; some refused to raise the nation's debt ceiling under any circumstances at all.
“I think the Tea Party is just wasting the president’s energy. He is a fine, intelligent man but he can’t really focus his full attention on moving forward because they are creating so many distractions,” said Diana Modugno, who traveled more than 50 miles from Bushkill, Penn. to be part of the event.
She said she is very disappointed in the Republican party’s behavior, especially in the last few weeks.
“It just seems that they are determined to stop him every inch of the way and, after all, he inherited this mess from the Bush-Cheney regime. Most of his energy has gone toward cleaning up their mess,” Modugno said.
She said she traveled more than 50 miles because no events were scheduled in her area.
“I really wanted to be with like-minded people. It’s very refreshing,” said Modugno.
Stefano Crema, a resident of Denville, is an Obama supporter who worked for him in 2008 campaign.
“He is a visionary, but I think he has let us down. He hasn’t been able to deliver on all of his promises. But he’s the best that we’ve got,” said Crema.
Ewa Carpenter, a resident of Morris Plains, said she had the "utmost respect for the president—and I am thoroughly disgusted with the fact that he is having trouble getting his ideas implemented."
"The Republicans have been very dishonest and they refuse to work with him,” Carpenter said.
She, too, said she was especially unhappy with the recent negotiations over the debt ceiling.
“It was like a torture chamber. It represented everything that is wrong with America,” Carpenter said.
She said ultimately, the Republicans are working against themselves.
"The Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot," Carpenter said. "The president has great wisdom and he will prevail. Anyone with a working brain will see that he is trying to do the right thing for people."
Jackie Kahle, a resident of Bernardsville said he was at the celebration to wish the president well, "but he is up against terrible odds."
Alex Naario, a resident of Whippany, who has helped out with voter registration, said he backs Obama because he believes the president can effect change in Washington.
"It hasn’t happened yet, but I believe that change will come about," said Naario, who has been unemployed for almost two years.
"Critics say that he caved into the Republicans because he extended the tax credits," he said. "It seems that the Republicans just want the poor and the middle class to take the brunt of the responsibility. They want tax credits, but they have had tax credits for 10 years now—and where has it gotten us? I think it’s pretty clear, we need to end tax credits for millionaires."
Rudy Grodowski of Bernardsville said he is worried about the 2012 election, and that the Tea Party could land a candidate in the White House.
“So far all they have done is use a technique of intimidation on the nation which risks the national well being for the benefit of special interest groups,” Grodowski said. “I think Obama has shown that he is trying to be fair and reasonably bi-partisan.”
And Grodowski said the health care reform championed by Obama could be in danger as well.
"I hope that we don’t go in the direction of repealing the health care act," he said. "It was put in place to help people who lose their jobs and can’t pay thousands of dollars in Cobra medical insurance bills and protect people with pre-existing conditions."
Hurdman, who began working on the Obama campaign in 2007, said she is committed to helping the president get re-elected.
She spoke to the group about a comment made by Tom Brokaw recently.
“He said the Tea Party got mad, then they got organized, and they got elected. So, good for them. Actually, I think they learned this from Democrats during the 2008 campaign,” Hurdman said. “Well, now it’s time for us to get mad again, and get organized and win the election."