This story was updated at 9:15 a.m. Aug. 26, 2022, to correct which school’s marching band particpated in Thursday’s rally.
As people started to gather outside Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville on Thursday afternoon, Daniel Koroma was quick to reflect on why President Joe Biden chose Montgomery County as a place to rally Democrats in advance of midterm elections in November.
Koroma hails from White Oak in the new County Council District 5 — where he ran in the Democratic primary, finishing fifth out of eight candidates. The eastern part of the county is a diverse region without a demographic majority: about 37% of residents are Black, 28% are white, 18% are Hispanic, 12% are Asian, and the remaining are of other races, according to U.S. Census statistics.
It’s this diversity — not just in East County, but throughout the county — that made Montgomery a good choice for Biden to visit and attend a rally at the high school in support of Democrats running in the Nov. 8 general election.
“Montgomery County is a microcosm of America,” Koroma said before Thursday’s rally. “We are the most diverse county in the state, and we’re the most prosperous county in the state … for the president to have a feel of America, Montgomery County is where you’ll get a pulse of America.”
Biden along with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-5th), U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8th) of Takoma Park, Sen. Ben Cardin and other prominent Democrats spoke at Thursday’s rally.
More than 2,000 people filled the gym at Richard Montgomery High School, and hundreds more were in overflow rooms watching the event. Several local elected officials attended, and Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Monifa McKnight was the first speaker to address the crowd.
Before attending the rally, Biden attended a fundraiser in Bethesda, according to a White House pool report. He also stopped in at least one of the overflow rooms during Thursday’s event.
In the hours before the rally, those attending convened near the gym entrance, with a line eventually winding along a sidewalk and stretching for several hundred yards as people waited to get inside the school.
Once inside, people packed the bleachers in the gymnasium — and before McKnight took the stage, the Bowie High School marching band and cheerleaders entertained the crowd with music and dancing.
Many Democrats highlighted the issues facing voters — abortion and reproductive health care, keeping prescription drug prices low, infrastructure funding and labor rights — and why it was important to vote in November.
Near the end of his roughly 30-minute speech, Biden noted, as he often does, that America was at an inflection point in its history. He called upon people of all political beliefs who cherish democracy to stand up and vote for the candidates who share their values in order to save the country from the rise of so-called “MAGA” Republicans who don’t support the “will of the people.”
“I respect conservative Republicans. I don’t respect these MAGA Republicans,” Biden said.
For Judith Howell, a Washington D.C. resident who attended the rally, labor rights is a top issue. She’s a member of Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, a large union representing union workers throughout the mid-Atlantic.
Howell said the goals of Thursday’s rally were simple — getting voters to turn out in November and selling them on the accomplishments of Biden’s first term. Those include the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Biden’s Wednesday announcement about student loan forgiveness, she said.
Highlighting those successes will be important as Democrats reach out to voters throughout the region, including in Montgomery County, Howell said.
“I’ll be knocking on doors in Maryland for the general election, and my job will be much easier if these politicians explain their work and how they’re going to continue to have an impact,” she said.
For some, showing support for Moore, who will face Republican Dan Cox, in the general election, was another reason for the rally.
Victoria Robinson, a Montgomery Village resident, noted that Takoma Park resident and gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez won the most votes in the county’s Democratic primary for governor. While Moore’s running mate, Aruna Miller, is a former state delegate from the county — and someone Robinson campaigned for — it will be important for residents to learn about Moore and then vote for him, she said.
“Montgomery County is pivotal to winning the governor’s race in Maryland,” Robinson said.
Others said that Biden showed up in Montgomery County because he would find a friendly audience in the deeply Democratic county, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 4 to 1.
“I think if you have that strong sort of [voting] bloc … mobilizing them is important,” said Patrick Sawyer, a Baltimore resident who attended the rally.
Ben Wikner, of Montgomery Village, agreed. Wikner, who finished third out of seven candidates in the Democratic primary for County Council District 7 — representing the northeastern part of the county — said it’s important for the president to act as a “national spokesman” and get Democrats to show up in November.
Carolyn Deal, a north Chevy Chase resident, pointed out there are also logistical and practical reasons for rallying in Rockville. It’s a short trip from the White House and lots of federal employees live in the county, she said.
“This is a county that has a lot of government and military people and it’s recognition for those people,” said Deal, who sat in the bleachers in the high school gym, where the rally was held.
For Jackie Simon, a member of the county’s Housing Opportunities Commission — an board that focuses on affordable housing issues in the county — Thursday’s political rally was first that she’d ever attended.
Simon, a county resident since 1962, said she hopes Biden and the Democrats focus on housing issues moving forward, but acknowledges — as others did on Thursday — that the president has accomplished much since he took office.
Now, it’s time for Democrats to get to the polls in November, said Simon, noting that the rally is an effort “to motivate people to come out and do their duty.”
“And I think that recent progress is going to boost [Biden],” she said.