by Ted Manna
AR Political Correspondent
Merritt Island, Fla.
September 9, 2012
IN FLORIDA, VOTERS ARE STIRRED BY SPARKS OF THE OLD OBAMA
MELBOURNE, Fla., Sept. 9, 2012 -- President Barack Obama delivered a gritty message to a packed gymnasium of supporters Sunday afternoon at Florida Institute of Technology's Melbourne, Florida campus . The sun-kissed sky and sultry breeze off the Indian River did nothing to soften his tone. “If you give up on the idea that your voice matters, somebody will fill that void, “ he cautioned.
The President, more doggedly determined, more grimly tenacious and more ruthlessly resolved than ever before in his career, and in the fight of his political life to win another term, warned the wildly cheering crowd that the election hinged on their unwavering support.
“The folks who are are writing the $10-million checks and trying to buy this election, the people who are trying to make it harder for you to vote, the folks who want to tell you who to marry, who want to tell women they can't make up their own minds about health care choices, they're the folks who are going to fill that void if you don't step up,” he said.
He was referring to the Democrats' struggle to close the fund-raising gap with Republicans, the voter registrations bills in 14 states, some of which have already been struck down by the courts as discriminatory and the stark contrast between the two party's views on social issues.
“If you will make phone calls for me, if you will knock on some doors with me and get out and vote and talk to your neighbors and friends about what's at stake, we will finish what we started,” he prodded.
“The stakes in this election are two fundamentally different paths,” he explained. “The choice is between two very different visions for our future. The fight is for the basic bargain that built the middle class in this country and the strongest economy the world has ever known.”.
The President, alternately serious and humorous, with a healthy dollop of his trademark charm, reflected the compliments heaped upon him at last week's Democratic Convention, where former President Bill Clinton described him as "cool on the outside, but who burns for America on the inside," and Vice President Joe Biden claimed he has "a spine of steel."
The electrifying, energizing tenor of the 2008 campaign remained. The 3,050 supporters packed into the Charles and Ruth Clemente Gymnasium on the beautiful Florida Tech campus cheered and applauded non-stop. The real possibility that the President could lose this election didn't dampen anyone's spirit.
Andrea Fant, an Orlando, Fla., attorney, gushed genuine praise for the President after his speech.
“He is really what we need as a president right now,” she raved. “The country really needs him right now. Coming here shows me he really cares about our little town.
Both Ms. Fant and her friend, Yolanda Warren of Palm Bay, Fla., said the speech inspired them both to get more involved in the campaign. Warren, chairperson of the Delta Sigma Theta 2012 Debutante Ball, said she signed up to volunteer after listening to Mr. Obama.
Support was not limited to Democrats either. Mary Ann French, a member of Brevard County Republicans for Obama, introduced the President, assuring the crowd, “we can win Florida again.”
The diminutive French, a retired FBI intelligence analyst whose head barely reached the microphones, said she had been involved in the President’s decision to order the raid that eliminated Osama bin Laden.
“Our President cares about each of you, the middle class, our teachers and he is striving for fairness and equality for all,” French said in her introductory remarks.
The exuberance of the previous campaign was slightly muted, and the chants of "fired up, ready to go" didn't seem to be as enthusiastic or long-lived. Also missing was the optimism of the President's first month in office, when on a cold but brilliant day in Denver, Colo., he signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time,” he said then. “That's why we are here today, to enact the most sweeping economic bill in our history.”
In retrospect, his next remarks that day were astonishingly prescient.
“The road to recovery will not be straight. There will be slippage along the way. There will be hazards and reverses.”
If he only knew how many reverses there were, or how many hazards he would encounter, he might have done things differently.
Former President Clinton noted last week that “no president — not me, not any of my predecessors — no one could have fully all repaired the damage he found, in just four years.”
Melbourne was part of a two-day campaign swing through central Florida and may be one of President Obama's last visits to the “Space Coast,” which includes Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.
The President praised the “incredible achievement” of landing the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars as “an example of what we do in this country.” He has lost critical supporters in the region, however, since the phase-out of the shuttle program, when almost 8,000 jobs vanished overnight.
He promised a new phase in space investment, however, and “a new era of space exploration.
“We can spark new discovery, launch new careers, inspire the next generation to reach for something better. You've got that choice.” And the President's acceptance address in Charlotte, N.C., last week made mention of "new energy," an area where NASA research and patents have paved new ground in the once-obscure science of cold fusion, known now as Low Energy Nuclear Reactions, a technology that NASA hopes will power space travel in the decade of the 2030s. Introduction of the technology could ignite an Internet-scale economic boom.
The President's address touched on virtually all the points his campaign has been trying to get voters to concentrate on, and to counter Republican's emphasis on his record on the economy. He defended his record on tax cuts, saving and creating jobs and reviving the auto industry. He laid out his plan for reducing the deficit and sparking the economy and derided Republican rebuttals and alternative plans.
"We don”t want to just borrow and spend," he countered. “We also want to make stuff and sell it.”
“The Republican plan is no plan, “he said. “It's tax cuts, tax cuts, gut a few regulations and more tax cuts. It's tax cuts to help you lose a couple of pounds. It's tax cuts to improve your sex life." The President drew laughter when recalled a supporter who yelled out during a recent speech, "I tried it! It doesn't work!"
"I've given tax cuts to folks who needed them."
He asserted that the Republican's support for continuing the Bush-era tax breaks “for millionaires”would not help grow the American economy, nor to compete with burgeoning foreign economies.
“What they are selling, we're not buying,” he joked
He also disputed the notion that we are a nation “in debt and despair” as Ann Romney said at the Republican National Convention last month.
“My opponent goes around saying our nation is in decline. He doesn't know what he is talking about,” the President declared.
Obama also laid out his “concrete, achievable goals” for bring the country out of the arguably the worst recession since the Great Depression, with empahsis on manufacturing, energy and education.
“If we rally around these goals,” he vowed, “they will lead to new jobs, more opportunity and a stronger foundation for the future
He drew a line in the sand for the opposition as well, saying he “refused” to ask middle-class taxpayers to make sacrifices “to give millionaires a tax break.”
And he promised “never to turn Medicare into a voucher,” referring to the Republican proposal to give seniors a voucher from medical insurance.
Mr. Obama's message still resonates with young voters as well. Hunter Grice, 18, of Orlando waited in line for hours with her brother Jacob, 16, to hear the President. A Valencia College student, Hunter said she became involved in politics in the 8th grade, when she supported Hilary Clinton in the 2008 campaign.
She voiced a concern of many Democrats in the predominantly Republican Brevard County, where Democrats are outnumbered 154,415 to 127,436, with 77,420 unaffiliated voters making up the mix.
“I seem to be surrounded by Republicans who hate my views,” she observed, “but they can't give me any reasons why they support [Republican presidential nominee] Mitt Romney. They are just anti-Obama."
Faye Wofford of Melbourne, a PC technician for the City of Melbourne, who showed up at 4am Sunday morning to get a place in line to hear the President, thought that while anti-Obama sentiment "could be" racist, it's really "a combination of a lot of things...the economy, debt, jobs.
“You can't blame it on one thing. I like [the President] because of his background, his upbringing and his values. He is family-oriented and a strong supporter for women's rights."
Undecided voter Linda Lundstedt, a Florida Tech employee from Melbourne, didn't vote for Obama in 2008, but after listening to him today, said she might be leaning toward doing so in 2012.
“I came because I have never heard a President speak in person,” she admitted. “I've never seen a President in person. Now to see one in our little ol' Melbourne...this is big for us.”
Typifying the political split in families, towns and counties during this election cycle - or what in Spanish might be called "el otro lado" [the other side] - and touching the distance President Clinton saw in "the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our President and a lot of other Democrats," quadruplets Eric, Josh and Chris Yother, 17, of Cocoa, Fla., said they came to see the President and have the experience of listening to a President speak in person. The fourth sibling, their sister, did not attend.
“She's doing whatever conservative voters do.”