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The small river town of Cannon Falls had to wait 83 years between presidential visits, so it was no surprise that there was pent-up demand for tickets to see the commander-in-chief.
Between 1,300 and 1,500 people -- in a town with a population of 4,000 -- showed up Sunday for a chance to attend Monday's town hall meeting with President Obama.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, [and] I have not seen an event where people were so happy and exhilarated about this opportunity," said Police Chief Jeff McCormick.
Obama will speak at a town hall event at Lower Hannah's Bend Park in a bid to regain momentum as the country's economy continues to stall and potential Republican rivals vie for a shot to replace him. It will be the first stop of his three-day Midwestern bus trip, which also is to include visits to Iowa and Illinois.
The last time a president visited Cannon Falls, about 45 miles south of the Twin Cities in Goodhue County, it was 1928 and the president was Calvin Coolidge.
While Obama will likely address sobering issues, such as the nation's high unemployment rate, many in Cannon Falls said they were excited nonetheless to see a president visit.
Big deal for little town
"That's probably the biggest thing that has happened to this town," said resident Tony Ehrlicher, 65, as he sat outside the Cannon River Winery on Sunday and sipped a glass of red. "Most people don't know where this place is."
On Sunday afternoon, the front lawn of City Hall could have been mistaken for the grounds outside a concert venue, with people tossing Frisbees, parking lawn chairs and waiting patiently in the sun for a chance to snag one of about 1,000 tickets that were available starting at 1 p.m..
Among those lining up were Wally Stangler, 70, and his wife, who live within walking distance of City Hall. They had been waiting since 6:30 a.m.
Good word on the economy?
Stangler said he hopes the president will address the economy in his speech.
"We can make some strong decisions so that people have confidence in the economy again," he said.
Mark Sabin, 36, was waiting in line so his 13-year-old son could see the president and maybe even "have the opportunity to shake his hand."
Cannon Falls residents were not the only people who showed up in droves.
Nina Mattson, 39, of Northfield, journeyed to Cannon Falls to show her support for the president.
Although she voted for Obama in 2008 she said she hopes he will do more to create jobs.
"I guess I just want to see more action," said Mattson, who has been looking for a job along with her husband.
Once all the tickets were gone, about 800 people were turned away, McCormick said.
Stealth line for tickets
Police were not allowing a line to officially form until 6 a.m., but those vying for a ticket tried everything from staying out of sight in nearby bushes to hiding in the portable toilets, he said.
Down the street at Chuggers bar, John Newton, 44, was not as excited to see Obama come to town.
"For me, he came into a bad situation and maybe just made it worse," Newton said.
Newton said he would like the president to find a way to get government spending under control.
"I would like to see him take more of a leadership role," he said.
More than a year before the 2012 presidential race, Obama sets out on the Midwest bus tour amid low approval ratings. His political battles will follow him to Minnesota: Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton will hold their own press conference in Cannon Falls.
Coolidge dedicated statue
As for the city's last presidential visit, Coolidge traveled to Cannon Falls for the dedication of a statue of Col. William Colvill, who led the First Minnesota Volunteers at Gettysburg in the Civil War.
Mayor Robby Robinson said the city is excited and honored to welcome Obama.
"I'd imagine there will be a lot of people trying to get a glimpse of the president," he said.
Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report. Nicole Norfleet • 952-707-9995