Obama, Clinton campaign together to clinch Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. - October 20, 2008 - It was the first time the bitter opponents from the Democratic primaries have appeared together since a pair of fundraisers in early July. Those were understated affairs compared to the wild, sign-waving, overflow crowd of more than 50,000 people that gathered outside a sports arena to see them side-by-side as the sun set.

Clinton, sharing nearly equal billing with the man who beat her for the Democratic presidential nomination, got the "jobs, baby, jobs" train going by saying that the "drill, baby, drill" chant that is popular in speeches and crowds at events for Republican John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, misses people's real concerns.

Later, as Obama spoke, he picked it up at his audience's urging. "Jobs, baby, jobs - you like that don't you?" he said to cheers.

With just over two weeks left until Election Day, Obama is setting aside two full days to campaign across Florida, which twice went for Republican George W. Bush and now figures prominently in the Democrat's hopes for clinching the presidency.

Obama's swing was timed to coincide with Monday's opening of early voting statewide.

He brought potent weapons, Clinton foremost among them. But Obama's wife, Michelle, and another former Obama rival for the Democratic nomination, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, also were holding their own campaign schedules around Florida at the same time.

In Orlando, there were signs of Clinton's gracious dedication to getting Obama elected, along with some evidence of the awkwardness that still lingers after their long- and hard-fought primary rivalry.

Clinton met Obama's plane at the airport and boarded it, so that the smiling, waving pair could descend the stairs together in a show of unity designed for the cameras. But they then quickly split, riding to the event in separate cars.

Clinton's 15-minute address focused more on the importance of ending Republican dominance of the White House than about the specifics of her support for Obama. She campaigned mostly to fire up the crowd, urging them to get out the vote, especially now, as Florida's early voting ends Nov. 1. Earlier Monday, Clinton drew about 600 people to a rally in Fort Lauderdale where she barely mentioned Obama but spoke passionately about a Democratic win.

"Now is the time to close the deal for Barack Obama and close the book on eight years of failed Republican leadership," she said at Obama's side. "America will once again rise from the ashes of the Bushes."

Clinton aides say she has done 65 events for Obama, including public events like rallies or town halls but also behind-the-scenes duties such as conference calls and fundraising. In Florida this week, she is headlining two other events on her own, besides the joint one with Obama.

Obama paid tribute to his supporter, opening his remarks by giving a paen to her accomplishments and leading the crowd in a "Hillary, Hillary" chant.

Obama had been unable to reduce McCain's solid lead in Florida polls, despite far outspending and outstaffing his opponent. But since the housing crisis spread recently into a broader financial meltdown, Florida - like other key states - has started looking better for him.

In a sign of the importance of Florida, Obama's campaign has parked deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand here. Winning the state's 27 electoral votes could ease Obama's path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

And the campaign has decided that persuading Democrats to vote early is key.

Earlier in the day in Tampa, Obama noted that anything can happen on Nov. 4 - cars breaking down, emergencies at work - that can keep even a determined voter from the polls. What he didn't say was that anything can happen between now and Election Day in a heated White House race, and that his campaign wants to capitalize on its current momentum.

Obama's Florida director, Steve Schale, said as many as 40 percent of voters in the state could turn out early; the state has 11.2 million registered voters. The more the better for the campaign, which has identified a total of 1 million people in two demographic categories considered ripe for Obama's message, black voters and white or Hispanic independents under age 30, who are now registered but did not vote in 2004, Schale said.

Obama also took careful note of Florida's precarious economic situation. The state has higher unemployment than the national average and one of the worst foreclosure rates. So he touted his plan for a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures and for giving bankruptcy judges authority to reduce the interest rates or amount owed on a mortgage for a primary home.

He planned to hammer home that message some more in a round-table discussion of his economic plan on Tuesday in Lake Worth, Fla., featuring governors from states key to the election - Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico and Colorado. All the governors are Democrats, but all four states except Michigan voted for Bush in 2004.

In Tampa, Obama was introduced by half a dozen baseball players from the Tampa Bay Rays, who dethroned the defending champion Boston Red Sox Sunday night to clinch the American League pennant and earn a spot in the World Series.

The crowd went almost as wild for them as for Obama. "Tampa Bay! Tampa Bay!" the audience screamed as the players waved from the stage at Legend's Field, the spring training home of the New York Yankees.

"When you see a (Chicago) White Sox fan showing some love to the Rays, and the Rays showing some love back, you know we're on to something right here," said the Illinois senator.


Associated Press writer Travis Reed in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.

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