Obama Barnstorms Fla. as Early Voting Begins
By Robert Barnes
TAMPA -- Barack Obama is barnstorming early-voting Florida this week, trying to turn the state that has vexed Democrats the last two presidential elections back into the fold.
Obama told a crowd at George Steinbrenner Field, where the New York Yankees hold spring training, that the election begins today in the crucial battleground state.
"I know you've heard it before, but I'm going to say it again," Obama said. "You can vote today."
The Obama campaign is newly confident about the Sunshine State, which went for President Bush in the last two elections.
"I think they're going for broke," said the state's Democratic senator, Bill Nelson. "I think they're pulling out all the stops because they know if McCain doesn't win here, there's no scenario for him to win" the presidency.
Nelson said he believes Obama now holds about a 4-point lead in Florida.
"I still think its going to be close but the wind is very much at the back of Obama," Nelson said. He described a "new phenomenon in this election, which will be a much higher turnout of minorities and, get this, -- students at the universities.You're going to see a phenomenon occur this time -- almost 100,000 new students have registered at their universities, not their hometown."
The economy is also in dire straits here, with the second highest number of home mortgage foreclosures in the nation occurring in Florida.
"All across this state, there are families who've done everything right, but who are now facing foreclosure or seeing their home values just plummet because of bad decisions on Wall Street and in Washington,'' said Obama. He repeated his proposal that firms that receive money from the $700-billion bailout plan not be able to foreclose on mortgages for three months.
Obama is organizing a "governor's meeting" for Tuesday in Palm Beach to to talk about job growth.
Obama has enlisted Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and wife Michelle Obama for three days of rallies in every corner of the state, as Florida voters have the chance to start voting today through Nov. 1.
Obama will campaign with Clinton later today in Orlando and with Michelle Obama tomorrow in Miami. Clinton is also campaigning on his behalf in Fort Lauderdale.
Michelle Obama is visiting the conservative Panhandle, an area usually bypassed by Democratic candidates, with a rally in Pensacola and an event in Jacksonville in North Florida. She'll likely find a friendly audience in Gainesville, home to the University of Florida.
Richardson will campaign in the smaller markets of Immokalee and Kissimmee.
Obama continues the pressure on McCain in Virginia, another formerly reliable Republican state now leaning Democratic, with events Wednesday in Richmond and Leesburg.
Tampa Bay Rays players Fernando Perez and David Price will be introducing Sen. Obama today in Tampa.
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