US vote at polls 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
A roaring crowd greeted Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama at his final stop in this hotly contested state Monday, as he urged his cheering supporters to think about one thing on the penultimate day of the campaign: tomorrow.
"We are one day away from changing the United States of America," he declared, stressing his campaign theme to the approval of a screaming crowd gathered in this traditionally Republican northern Florida city.
Obama has spent the last days of the campaign focusing on states George W. Bush won in 2004 - some longtime GOP strongholds - in his quest to become the country's first black president. The wear of criss-crossing the country was apparent when Obama complained to his audience about the money Republicans were spending on ads "here in Ohio." He corrected himself by repeating Florida when he realized his mistake, then quickly added, "Listen, they've been spending a lot of money in Ohio, too."
While that line was met with appreciative laughter, one of his biggest applause lines came when he declared that "as president I will end this war" in Iraq. He was also greeted with cheers when he said he would "finish the fight against bin Laden and al-Qaida," though most of his speech focused on domestic issues such as health care, education and the economy.
The economic crisis, coupled with current President George W. Bush's deep unpopularity, have helped fuel a surge of support for Obama in polls of states rival candidate John McCain needs to hold onto to win.
Polls indicate Obama is up by eight percent nationally, but hasn't broken away from McCain in key swing states such as Florida heading into Tuesday's balloting. Here Obama was only up by an average of 2.5% in the polls, though surveys in other crucial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania put him ahead by a comfortable margin.
McCain also lay claim to the Sunshine State in the campaign's final hours, topping a multi-state battle for votes Sunday with a midnight rally in Miami, followed by a Tampa gathering coinciding with Obama's Jacksonville event.
"My friends, it's official: There's just one day left until we take America in a new direction," he told thousands of cheering students at the University of Miami.
Like Obama, McCain strayed into territory that hasn't always been the friendliest to his campaign, as young voters and South Floridians generally have been seen as more supportive of Obama. The area has a large Latino contingent, which went for Bush by 40% last time but has been backing Obama in larger numbers in this campaign.
McCain is trying to hold onto those wavering supporters, as well as Jewish voters who have expressed qualms about Obama.
While Jewish voters have traditionally backed Democrats by a wide margin - 76 to 24 in 2004 - there were signs that many were considering voting Republican earlier in the race. But recent polls have suggested that Jewish voters will end up going with Obama, including a Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll released Monday finding Obama leads 70% to 29% among the demographic group.
"They're now satisfied as to Barack's position on Israel and they have no question about Joe Biden," asserted Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, who warmed up the crowd at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. "What was expected early on to possibly be a problem is not now. The Jewish community will vote overwhelmingly for Barack."
Nelson spoke to The Jerusalem Post after entertaining the crowd by twirling his wife in time to the Aretha Franklin blasting from the speakers before the event.
"Early on there was a generational thing in the Florida Jewish community," he noted. "The younger generation, I'd say, 45 and less, they were very strongly in favor of Obama. The older generation was skeptical, but that skepticism has been erased."
Indeed, many younger Jewish activists have made a strong push to sway undecided friends and neighbors by making phone calls, knocking on doors and attending rallies in Miami neighborhoods.
But many older Jewish voters who say they are voting for Obama expressed ambivalence or even reluctance at their choice.
"You can't trust any of them," Ronnie Rosenberg said of politicians, in between bites of her eggs and bagel at a South Florida diner. But, a Democratic voter in the past, she decided to go with Obama. "We've had enough Republicans," she said.
Still, the Obama campaign has held a slew of well-attended events with Jewish politicians, entertainment figures and campaign staffers in the final days of the race, while the McCain Jewish outreach hosted only a handful of events in the same timeframe.
One of those, in a Coconut Creek retirement community Sunday, drew about 60 people to hear two journalists talk about Obama's ties to radicals and anti-Jewish groups.
Organizer Sid Feldman, the president of the community's Republican club, attributed the Obama campaign's more intense outreach efforts to a sense of desperation that it was losing the Jewish vote.
"They're actually frightened that people are standing up and asking for the truth," he said.
But even several of the seniors at his event were actually voting for Obama.
One of them, Holocaust survivor Victor Preitburg, said that the last four years under Bush had convinced him to choose Obama, particularly after McCain chose conservative Republican Sarah Palin as his running mate.
"My stomach tells me not to vote for him," he said of Obama, "but my brain says yes."