- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho’s politics may run red, but the city of Boise is one of the Gem State’s few Democratic strongholds - and it showed Wednesday when thousands of people in a Boise State University building erupted into cheers as President Barack Obama took the stage for his first post-State of the Union speech.

Obama was greeted in Boise by families of deployed military members and Lt. Gov. Brad Little before traveling by motorcade to the university, where roughly 6,600 filled the Caven-Williams Sports Complex.

Obama focused on his economic proposals that he presented during his sixth State of the Union on Tuesday evening, including an initiative to make two-year community colleges free and impose a tax increase on the wealthy.

He made multiple references to Boise State’s Bronco football team as well as other beloved Boise gems, such as Hackfort - a spinoff of Boise’s popular music festival Treefort that focuses on technology and innovation.

Obama began his speech by recognizing Bella Williams, 13, who wrote him a letter last year.

“I bet you’re thinking, ‘Wow, what’s it like in Boise, Idaho?’” Williams wrote in the letter, Obama said. “So she invited me to come visit.”

It was Obama’s first to Idaho since he made a 2008 campaign stop.

His message resonated with Leonila Ceja of Payette, who attended the speech with her daughter and husband. Ceja said with her daughter getting ready to attend Boise State, she was anxious to hear about the president’s plan to help families with children who are going on to college.

“I think it’s important for my family to be here,” said Ceja, who had been standing since 10 a.m. waiting for the president to arrive. “This is very exciting.”

Obama also came to promote unity, a theme from his State of the Union address.

“I hope this isn’t a time to preach to the choir,” said Tawnia Santos of Boise. “I hope what he said today will warm the hearts of Republicans.”

Nearly all of Idaho’s democratic legislators attended Obama’s speech, while only a handful of Republican state lawmakers sat with them. Most stayed back at the Idaho Statehouse, citing legislative work because of the session.

However, state Republican Rep. Linden Bateman of Idaho Falls said he attended because, regardless of the president’s politics, it was a historic moment for Idaho.

“I thought it was great and the reactions from the crowd showed they were right there with him,” said former Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus, who attended the speech. “He’s speaking the right message, education is important.”

College of Southern Idaho President Jeff Fox, who oversees a community college in south-central Idaho, said he agreed with Obama that education must be accessible to more students. But he wanted to know more about how offering two free years of community college would work.

“The devil is in the details,” Fox said. “Right now, 75 percent of our students go on to a university. They would take advantage of his plan. It’s just waiting to see how that would work.”

All tickets to Wednesday’s event - distributed among students, faculty, lawmakers and general attendees - were snatched up within an hour on Monday. Some were listed early Wednesday for sale on Craigslist at $100 or more. A group of students nominated by faculty were seated behind the podium and a student introduced the president.

Outside the arena, some people demonstrated to support Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Boise who is jailed in Iran for preaching Christianity. They wore neon yellow “Save Saeed” T-shirts and held signs. Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, and two children were expected to meet with Obama.

Abedini has been held in Iran for two years.

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