Making a closing pitch to Florida voters, President Barack Obama bragged about the results he's achieved in the past four years, acknowledged much more work is ahead, and sought to portray challenger Mitt Romney as someone who's hiding the truth about what he has planned for the country.
"You know what I believe. You know where I stand. And you know no matter what happens I'll fight for you and your family every single day," Obama said. "So when you're trying to compare the two candidates' agendas, and we're talking about change, you know, I know, what real change looks like. Because I fought for it. Because I've brought it. Because I've got the scars to prove it. Because I've got the gray hair doing it."
Appearing in Florida for the last time as a candidate just 38 hours before the polls open Tuesday morning, Obama spoke for 24 minutes to a crowd of 23,000 people who packed the grandstands and jammed the football field at McArthur High School in Hollywood. These were the true faithful, many of whom spent hours in the blazing sun for a chance to see and cheer the president, who sounded hoarse on the second stop of a four-state blitz of battleground states.
The Obama rally left Mary Robinson, 66, a Democrat from Miramar, speechless. "I am just, I can't find words," she said. "I don't know. I looked at him and I'm thinking, 'Wow, he's a gift. He's a gift.' "
Leonard Carey, of North Lauderdale, said he had to be there. "This is like, for me, it's a historic occasion,'' he said. "To be a part of a rally with the possible re-election of the first African-American president, that's just an opportunity I couldn't pass up.''
Romney surrogates criss-crossed the state on Sunday, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who planned to stop in Coral Springs and West Palm Beach. Across the street from McArthur High was a small group of Romney supporters, many of them holding signs that said "Fire Obama.'' One handwritten sign said "Obama Weakest Economy Since WW II.''In his final stop Monday morning in the Orlando area, the Republican nominee is hitting Obama hard as he makes his own final pitch for Florida votes.“He cared more about a liberal agenda than about repairing the economy,” Romney said. “Almost every measure the president took made it harder for the economy to recover…. Do the people of America want the next four years like the last for years? Or do you want change finally?”
He mocked Obama’s plans for the next four years. “He calls this plan ‘forward.’ I call it forewarned,” Romney said. “With the Right leadership, America is about to come roaring back.”
South Florida is the most important territory in the state for Obama. Without a high Democratic turnout in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, Obama has no hope of overcoming Republican votes elsewhere in the state and carrying Florida's 29 electoral votes — more than a tenth of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
"When we do our job, we will knock it out of the park in Broward, giving Barack Obama the margin to win Florida," said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat whose district includes part of south Broward. "When we win Florida, it's game over for Mitt Romney."
Former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-independent, said voters should cast ballots for Obama even if they have to endure long lines on Tuesday. "Do not be deterred. Don't let anybody suppress your vote. Don't let anybody take it away from you or discourage you," Crist said. "When we get it done in Florida, it's over. We're the checkmate state."
And Cuban-American rap artist Pitbull said everyone should unite behind Obama. "It doesn't matter whether we're Latino, black, green, purple, orange, white, it doesn't matter because we're all Americans," he said.
In Florida on Monday, Romney ran through a lengthy list of failings of the Obama presidency. “Unemployment today is higher then when Barack Obama was elected president. Think of that,” he said. He said Obama promised to propose a plan to save Social Security but failed to do so. He said Obama promised lower insurance premiums and didn’t deliver. He said Obama promised to reach across the partisan aisle in search of common ground but failed to do so.
The crowd is responding with boos for mentions of Obama’s supposed failings and cheers for Romney’s promises.In Hollywood, Obama depicted Romney as a believer in a "top down" vision that "crashed our economy." He recalled progress the nation made under Democrat Bill Clinton's presidency, and used it to mock Romney. "At the time, the Republicans in Congress and a Senate candidate by the name of Mitt Romney [at which point the crowd started booing], I don't want you to boo, I want you to vote. I want you to vote. But a Republican candidate by the name of Mitt Romney said Bill Clinton's plan would hurt the economy and kill jobs. Turns out his math was just as bad then as it is now."
The crowd erupted with excitement as the sirens of the police cars escorting the presidential motorcade were heard in the distance — drowning out U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, who was delivering one of the introductory speeches. McArthur High School is in her district.
Just as the main event was beginning and the warm-up speakers were wrapping up, the sun started to fade, a breeze picked up and the afternoon morphed into an exquisite South Florida fall day.
"We've made real progress, Florida, in these last four years," Obama said, citing more jobs, a resurgent auto industry, rising home prices, less dependence on foreign oil, the end of the war in Iraq, the wind down of the war in Afghanistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
"Florida, after four years as president, you know me by now. You may not agree with every decision I've made. You know Michelle doesn't agree with every decision I've made. You may be frustrated with the pace of change. I'm frustrated with the pace of change sometimes. But here's the thing: You know I say what I mean and I mean what I say."
Obama also touched on the suffering of the victims of Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast. "We've seen a spirit that says no matter how bad a storm is, we'll always bounce back," he said. "We rise or fall as one nation and as one people."
Tribune Newspapers' Seema Mehta contributed to this report.
See how the Obama rally unfolded minute by minute at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.