Obama Looks To Florida As A Bright Spot

Sen. Barack Obama in Florida i i

Sen. Barack Obama greets volunteers and supporters at a campaign field office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Tuesday. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Sen. Barack Obama in Florida

Sen. Barack Obama greets volunteers and supporters at a campaign field office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Tuesday.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Democrat Barack Obama is wrapping up two days of barnstorming across Florida and has been pushing early voting, which began in the state this week.

On Monday, Obama campaigned with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in Orlando, where members of the World Series-bound Tampa Bay Rays introduced him at an event. On Tuesday, he appeared at a rally in Miami and at a more low-key forum in Palm Beach.

Throughout his travels across Florida, Obama's focus has been on the economy. The state has a large working-class and elderly population, and economic anxiety runs high there.

Obama put those fears into stark terms for voters. "One hundred and fifteen thousand workers lost their jobs in Florida this year, more than any other state in this country," he said from the campaign trail.

At a rally in Orlando on Monday night and accompanied by Clinton, Obama talked about how it is becoming harder for Americans to make the mortgage or fill up their gas tanks.

"At this rate, the question isn't going to be, 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' " he said. "Question is, 'Are you better off than you were four weeks ago?' "

The Obama campaign is also working its ground game hard in Florida. Campaign officials say that thanks to new-voter sign-ups, registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans in the state by 650,000. They feel that is their secret weapon here.

One of those new voters is 20-year-old Justin Atkins, who is a student at Palm Beach Community College. Atkins has heard Obama caution that people can't take anything for granted.

"He tells everyone not to get overconfident, but I do feel really confident. I'm looking at this crowd right now, and I am amazed how diverse it is," Atkins said. "So many people of different backgrounds, all supporting the same exact cause and the same person."

But despite Atkins' optimism, Democrats in this part of Florida have a hard time feeling confident about anything. It wasn't far from here back in 2000 where the nation first heard the term "hanging chads." It was ground zero for the controversial Florida recount.

That memory is just another motivating force for many Floridians, including 46-year-old Cory Metzler.

"For the residents of Palm Beach County, we've been beleaguered with hurricanes, the housing bust, unemployment. I'm unemployed," Metzler said. "We want change, and the first change is our self-respect."

Early Voting

Voting began on Monday, and 80-year-old Ed Levin has already cast his ballot.

"There was a wait of about an hour all told," he said. "The people who were working the computers and registering us — it was a brand new experience, so they had trouble. If a glitch came up, they had to wait for a supervisor to come up. But other than that, it was a great relief. I'm voted. I'm in."

That's music to the Obama campaign. Obama holds a slight lead in polls in Florida, but the state is still very much up for grabs on Election Day. But Levin's vote is already in the bank — no matter how the next two weeks play out.

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