On Thursday morning before an energized crowd of thousands of supporters, President Barack Obama made a stop at Ybor City's Centennial Park during a campaign tour that stretched from Iowa to Virginia.
After cheers from the crowd, he took the stage around 9 a.m., first thanking Tampa Bay residents for getting up early this morning to see him. Then, he joked about casting his own ballot later today.
"I'm going to stop in Chicago, and do some early voting in Chicago," Obama said. "I can't tell you who I'm voting for. It's a secret ballot. Michelle (Obama) said she's voting for me."
He moved on to address more serious matters during the "America Forward!" grassroots rally, talking about the importance of trust. He spoke between chants of "Four more years," from the crowd.
"Trust matters, and Florida, you know me," Obama said. "You know I say what I mean, and I mean what I say. We haven't finished all the work we set out to do in 2008. Every single day when I set foot in that Oval Office, I'm thinking about you. I am fighting for your families."
He told the crowd what he's accomplished after being elected in 2008, saying he upheld his promises to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," pass health care reform and preserve Medicare. He encouraged voters to compare his plan to Romney's before making a decision on the ballot.
"We've got a long way to go," Obama said, "but Florida, we've come too far to turn back now."
Both Obama and Republican candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have campaigned strongly in Florida, considered a battleground state, with just a few weeks left before November's general election. Romney is scheduled to appear in Land O' Lakes on Saturday.
Thursday's grassroots rally, held a few days after the last presidential debate on Monday night, brought about 8,500 Obama supporters from all over Tampa Bay, according to Fire Marshal Milton Jenkins of Tampa Fire Rescue.
Some wore Obama T-shirts. Others brought their kids or stood in packs behind a metal gate to catch a glimpse of the commander in chief.
Kayshondra Baroulette of Temple Terrace said she attended the rally with hopes of hearing encouraging words from Obama.
"I believe he can make a change," she said, "and he will if he is re-elected."
Lara Jackson of St. Petersburg brought her daughter, Harper Jackson, who is 11 days old, to Thursday's rally.
"I believe it's important to protect women's rights," Jackson said before the rally began. "She believes it, too," Jackson added, pointing to her daughter.
"I'm hoping to hear what his plans are," Jackson said, "because I'm confident we'll have him for the next four years."
At the end of his 20-minute speech, Obama had a few requests for the crowd:
"Knock on some doors for me. Make some calls for me. Vote for me ... we'll win Florida again. We'll win this election again."
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