SEMINOLE -- Speaking to several thousand people at a rally on the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College Saturday, President Barack Obama offered a more relaxed — and better received — version of his Thursday speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Obama, the sleeves rolled up on his white dress shirt, told screaming supporters that the election presents a clear choice.
All Republicans like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have “to offer is the same prescriptions they’ve had for 30 years,” Obama said. “Tax cuts, tax cuts, cut a few regulations... tax cuts to help you lose a few extra pounds. Tax cuts to help your love life.”
When someone in the crowd shouted “it doesn’t help,” Obama keeled over laughing.
Obama, who spoke for nearly 30 minutes, talked about the benefits of the health care law, which he laughingly called “Obamacare.”
“I do care,” he said. “Mr. Romney says he wants to repeal it, which means his plan is Romney-don’t-care.”
CNN carried the first 10 minutes of Obama’s remarks live.
The crowd for the outdoor rally swelled throughout the morning, despite muggy conditions and occasional rain. A campaign volunteer said that as many as 15,000 people are expected, and sheriff’s deputies turned away some ticketholders saying there was no more room.
Obama took the stage at about 11:10 a.m., after being introduced by former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
“He is working hard for the middle class,” Crist said. “He is working hard for Florida. He is working hard for America.”
When Obama took the stage, he and Crist hugged.
The rally started at around 10 a.m. with an opening prayer and remarks from a St. Petersburg High School student. Other early speakers included U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. “You’re in the state that is ’Ground Zero’ in the presidential (race), and you are in the location in the state that is ’Ground Zero’,” Nelson told the crowd. “If President Obama carries Florida, with 29 electoral votes, that’s the election.
At least 10 buses were shuttling Obama supporters to the campus from nearby Seminole Mall, but many people chose to walk to the outdoor event because of long lines. People chanted an Obama slogan, “Fired up. Ready to go,” as they waited.
Dorcas Downey, 61, and Dell Kelleher, 51, a lesbian couple from Clearwater, waited patiently at the end of one line for their chance to see the president.
“I feel even better about him than I did four years ago,” said Kelleher, who wore two Obama pins on her chest, a “vote Obama” sticker, and a rainbow flag is tucked into her shorts and hanging down her backside.
Said Downey: “He needs 4 more years and, like (former president Bill) Clinton said, he never would have been able to turn things around so fast. No one could.”
At the end of another line, Lynn Myers, her husband, and their 16-year-old daughter Maria sat waiting on a curb. Myers, who came from Tampa, said she doesn’t “feel the same passion for change and reform that I thought might happen when he was elected.
“I wouldn’t think of voting for any other candidate, but I don’t have the zeal I had four years ago,” she said.
The long lines were too much for some. Helen McLaughlin, of Dunedin, stood in line for 90 min before retreating to a bench — just in time to see the presidential motorcade arrive.
McLaughlin, who recently had hip surgery, squealed and jumped back to her feet.
“When Obama came in, he had a hard job,” she said. “(George W.) Bush left it pretty bad ... He’s getting everything in order. You gotta give him a chance.”
The event drew about 50 protestors, including a man dressed in an elephant costume protesting the treatment of circus elephants and another waiving a sign that says, “We the people built it.”
Bob Kunst, 70, of Miami Beach, just got back from protesting at both political conventions. Kunst said he is Jewish, a registered Democrat and voting for Romney. “I’m voting for Romney not because I’m overwhelmed by him, but because I have to change the regime,” he said. “I can’t give Obama four more years.”
Obama’s visit to Pinellas County is the first stop on a two-day bus tour through Florida, and comes on the heels of the Democratic National Convenion in Charlotte, N.C.
Florida, with 29 electoral votes, is considered the biggest swing state in a presidential race that remains a near dead heat. A RealClearPolitics average of national polls shows Obama at 47 percent and Republican Mitt Romney at 46.3 percent.
The national polls mirror the mood in Florida. An Aug. 31-Sep. 2 Florida poll conducted by Public Policy Policy shows a statistical tie: Obama 48, Romney 47.
Obama flew into St.Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport late Friday and stayed in the area overnight. Air Force One sat in full of drivers passing by the airport, with many people stopping to take photos.
Times staff writers Boyzell Hosey, Sharon Wynne and Melissa Lyttle contributed to this report.