TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ First lady Michelle Obama drilled the number 36 into the heads of supporters Monday as she asked for help in re-electing her husband.
While President Barack Obama carried Florida by nearly 205,000 votes in 2008, the race was even closer when broken down to the local level, Mrs. Obama told a crowd of nearly 9,000 at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center.
“That's just 36 votes per precinct. Alright? That's 36. Now get that number in your head,'' the first lady said. “That could mean just one vote in your neighborhood, in your dorm. Just one vote in your apartment building can make a difference.''
And she said the 2012 election will be closer than the last one.
“In Florida you all know about close elections, don't you?'' she said, a reference to the 2000 presidential recount, when it took five weeks to sort out President George W. Bush's 537-vote Florida victory. “If there's anyone here sitting and thinking to themselves that maybe their vote doesn't matter, if there's anybody here thinking that maybe my involvement doesn't count, or maybe in this complex political process ordinary folks can't possibly make a difference, if anybody here is thinking about that, I want you to think about those 36 votes.''
Florida is the largest of the tossup states, with 29 of the 270 electoral votes Obama or Republican Mitt Romney will need to win the November election. Many political strategists from both parties call Florida the key to the election.
Mrs. Obama was wildly received by a crowd that was largely made up of students from Florida A&M and Florida State universities. She was often drowned out by cheers as she talked about her husband's accomplishments, possibly the loudest when she said the health care overhaul he signed into law will allow people to remain on their parents' health insurance plans until they're 25.
She also depicted her husband as someone who realizes that the American promise means that even if someone doesn't start out with much, they can be successful by working hard and doing the right thing.
She said he also believes “that when you've worked hard and done well and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. No! You reach back and help other folks.''
A large part of her speech was used to encourage people to register others to vote, to volunteer and to make sure they vote early by absentee ballot or when in person during Florida's early voting period.
“We don't want to leave anything to chance,'' she said. “We want as many of you to vote as early as possible so you can spend election day getting other people to the polls, right?''
Frederick Cooper, 24, a Florida A&M graduate student, said he's already encouraging whoever he can to vote.
“I'm spreading the word,'' he said. “It's important, it is our right. I honestly say it doesn't matter who you vote for just as long as you vote.''
He also said he's personally been helped by Obama's presidency, saying he was kicked off his mother's insurance plan when he was 23 and now he's back on it.
“When he came into office, it helped me,'' he said, adding that he thinks the first lady is a good messenger for her husband's policies. “She's elegant and classy. She always says the right thing and she's good for our country.''
The first lady earlier spoke to a similar-sized crowd at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where she delivered a similar message.
“All our hard work, all the progress we've made, it's all on the line,'' she said.