On his swing through South Florida to drum up support for early voting, Barack Obama on Tuesday visited a Fort Lauderdale barber shop packed with excited supporters and local politicians.
He later appeared with his wife, Michelle, at downtown Miami’s Bicentennial Park. The eager, but relatively patient, crowd of about 30,000 people weathered the Miami heat while they awaited the couple’s arrival.
Obama also held a press conference for members of the black media, where he stressed his support of Haiti and also emphasized the importance of early voting for a Florida victory.
“People have for the first time the opportunity to make change in a way that we haven’t seen in a very long time, certainly not in my lifetime. If we have early voting, where people are coming out in record numbers, people in the Haitian community, people in the Latino communities, young people who have not voted before, I have no doubt that we will win Florida,” the Chicago senator and Democratic nominee for president said.
In response to a question regarding the United States’ relationship with Haiti, Obama said assistance to the beleaguered island must be comprehensive and exceed mere humanitarian aid.
“It’s critically important to understand that Haiti has a government that doesn’t work, an economy that doesn’t work, and because there’s not safety and security and opportunity, some of the most gifted Haitians leave the island,” he said.
Obama added, “We’ve got an economic and political crisis in Haiti, not just a natural disaster, and so I think what we need to do is to work effectively with the Haitian government to create better governance and also to provide better economic development and opportunities for the island as a whole. That will help relieve some of the suffering.”
Prior to introducing her husband, Michelle Obama was greeted by thunderous applause as she took the stage.
“When she is the first lady, we will have two great Americans as advocates for each one of us,” former U.S. Rep. Bob Graham said as he introduced “the next first lady of America.”
Graham said his only regret about having retired is that he won’t get to work with Obama when he becomes president.
“I’m not used to Barack Obama-sized crowds. My crowds are good, but not this good,” Michelle Obama told the enthusiastic audience.
“This has been an amazing journey for us, the last 20 months or so. And we’ve seen some incredible things. We’ve seen young people from all walks of life, young people saying that they’ve never voted. We’re also seeing some not-so-young folks as well,” she said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “Let’s hear it for the not-so-young folks.”
Prior to introducing her husband, Michelle Obama commended him for his performance in the three presidential debates against his Republican competitor, Sen. John McCain.
“[Barack Obama] has performed phenomenally in these debates, and he’s done it with a level of poise, and character and grace and dignity, and respect and intelligence,” she said in a roughly 20-minute speech.
“He has built one of the most phenomenal political organizations that people have seen in a long time. I am so very proud of my husband,” the attorney and mother of the couple’s two young daughters said.
Taking the stage to maniacal applause, whistles and cheers, Sen. Obama told the audience, “In just 14 days, you and I can bring some badly needed sunshine to Washington, D.C. As the sunshine state, you can help bring some sunshine to D.C.”
Obama relished what some say is the most powerful endorsement of his campaign.
“We were thrilled this weekend when a great American statesman, General Colin Powell, joined our cause,” Obama said.
He took a few moments to chastise McCain regarding what Obama said is the “say anything, do anything politics. The careless, outrageous comments, all aimed at stopping the change that we need.”
Obama said, “It’s gotten so bad that Senator McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, denounced his tactics. You know you really have to work hard to violate Gov. Palin’s standards on negative campaigning.”
The ubiquitous “Joe the Plumber” was also brought back into the campaign. “[McCain] has decided to completely make up, just fabricate this notion that I’ve been attacking Joe the plumber. Just yesterday, Joe the Plumber himself said that wasn’t true. I’ve got noting but love for Joe the plumber. That’s why I want to give him a tax cut,” he said.
Michelle Obama summed up the importance of her husband’s campaign by sharing her experience with older voters who become emotional at the prospect of an Obama presidency.
“They are telling us that they never thought they’d feel this way about a campaign or a candidate. This time, they say, it’s different…You come across somebody in a rope line, tears streaming down their face. People are hungry for something different.”
And she warned against voter complacency.
“The only way that we get a leader like Barack Obama in the White House is that we vote for him. That we work for him, that we pray for him and then we work some more…Barack Obama is the underdog and will continue to be the underdog until he’s sitting in the oval office.”
Photo: Sen. Barack Obama