Banging his fist and pounding his lectern, President Barack Obama tried Thursday in Miami to conjure a little last-minute political magic for Hillary Clinton, the sort of excitement that twice elected a president of hope who was nevertheless unable to prevent a 2016 presidential race of gloom.
“It’s about what can be achieved by us, the people, together, through the hard, slow and, yes, sometimes frustrating work of self-government,” he said. “That’s not what Donald Trump stands for, but it is what Hillary stands for: The idea that in this big, diverse country of ours, we don’t demonize each other. We reach out and try to work together.”
Casting Trump as a vapid entertainer, Obama seemed intent on jolting disenchanted voters who, ballot returns show, have lagged in voting early and by mail and as a result left Florida once again in pure toss-up territory ahead of Tuesday’s election.
“This isn’t a joke. This isn’t ‘Survivor.’ This isn’t ‘The Bachelorette.’ This counts,” Obama said. “All of you are uniquely qualified to make sure that this uniquely unqualified person does not become president.”
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It appeared evident from the rocking crowd of about 4,500 at Florida International University Arena that many of them might eagerly vote for Obama again if they had the chance, in spite of all that Obama acknowledged he didn’t accomplish — which he blamed on the now Republican-controlled Congress.
“I will sometimes propose their own stuff, and they’ll oppose it. It surprises them. I’ll be like, ‘Well, this is in your Republican handbook. This is in your talking points! I thought you were all for this.’ ‘Nah, but you’re for it now, we can’t be for that.’ C’mon, man!” he said. “You can’t spend eight years being against me, and now you’re going to be against Hillary — but you haven’t been for anything.”
Supporters at the rally blamed Republicans, too, and made clear that they want to protect Obama’s place in history just as much as they want to defeat Trump.
“Congress made it difficult for him to accomplish a lot of things,” Taylor Lea Thomas of Miami Gardens said of Obama. “It is very important to prolong his legacy. If Trump is there, he will undo his legacy.”
Jeff Augustin, an FIU student from Lauderhill, said Obama was symbolic for black voters in a way Clinton and Trump can’t be.
“He can relate to our struggle because we are black,” he said. “Hillary and Trump don’t address the issues in the black community — Black Lives Matter, violence. Hillary is not hitting the key points black people want to hear.”
Augustin plans to vote for Clinton anyway, he said, because of her promise for tuition-free public college.
“I think she is going to be OK,” he said. “She is going to have Bill by her side. … Bill Clinton, my parents said, was one of the best presidents.
“Everybody is voting for Trump because he is more funny,” he added. “He is just a gimmick to me.”
Obama spoke for about 45 minutes, twice noting that he was going “long.” He read the street address to the nearest early-voting site to FIU, at Miami International Mall. He congratulated the World Series Champions Chicago Cubs (though he’s a White Sox fan). He quipped about inescapable negative political ads on Miami TV. He mentioned seeing this week in North Carolina that gas was “at $1.99.”
“The were predicting that if Obama got elected, gas would be $6,” he said. Then, repeating after someone in the audience, he turned sarcastic: “Thanks, Obama.”
Several times, people interrupted him to tell him they loved him. Several times, Obama chided them at the first hint of a Trump-inspired boo.
“You guys know that. You already know that. You can’t boo,” Obama said. “He can’t hear you boo. But he can hear you vote.”
He also got in jabs at one of his favorite targets, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, noting that as a Republican primary candidate Rubio tweeted “friends don’t let friends vote for con artists” like Trump.
“So guess who just voted for Donald Trump a few days ago? Marco Rubio!” Obama said. “Obviously he did not have good enough friends.”
With millennial turnout in particular trailing compared to 2012, Obama directly addressed young people, who comprised much of his college-campus crowd. Some of them were only 10 years old when he first got elected, he noted.
“I know a lot of you are cynical about politics. There’s a lot about this election that gives you reason to be,” he said. “But I’m here to tell you, right now, you have a chance to move history in a better direction.”
Later Thursday, the nation’s first African-American president was scheduled to campaign in Jacksonville, the city that hosted his final 2008 rally.
Building up to a thunderous conclusion in Miami, Obama implored voters to still “believe in your ability to change things.”
“You remember my slogan wasn’t ‘Yes, I can.’ It was, ‘Yes, we can,’ ” he said. “Choose hope. Choose hope. Choose hope. Choose hope. Choose hope.”