ST. PETERSBURG — By the time former President Bill Clinton arrived in St. Petersburg on Friday, his usually strong voice was fading and he was nearing the end of a tour of Florida to stump for President Barack Obama.
He said a gravelly "Hello St. Petersburg," and coughed. It was his fourth stop in Florida that day and he had one more to go. Still, Clinton held the attention of about 2,000 people as he delivered a nearly hourlong speech championing Obama's achievements and criticizing Republicans for being unwilling to work with the president.
"I did 40 events for then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008. Hillary did 70 events in 2008," he said. "But I am far more enthusiastic about him this time than I was four years ago. And you should be, too."
Since September, when Clinton's speech at the Democratic Convention cemented his position as Obama's surrogate, the former president has been crisscrossing Florida.
He began the day in Lake Worth, speaking to a crowd at Palm Beach State College before moving on to a convention center in Fort Myers. After his speech in St. Petersburg, he was scheduled to appear in Tallahassee.
In St. Petersburg, Clinton was joined by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, and former Gov. Charlie Crist, who introduced the former president. Throughout the event, Clinton's voice was so hoarse and the room's echo effect so obtrusive that people in the back of the room could barely hear him.
For much of his speech, Clinton focused on the economy.
"I think we're coming back," he said. "I can tell you, nobody, nobody, nobody, not me not anybody else, could have repaired all the damage in four years."
He cited a recent jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the unemployment rate has stayed just below 8 percent and job growth was exceeding economists' expectations.
Republicans "were trying to keep it above eight and they were so disappointed when it dropped," he joked.
Clinton reminded the audience that Obama had just won the endorsement of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who on Thursday said climate change and Hurricane Sandy contributed to his decision. And he mentioned New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's newly warm feelings for the president as an example of Obama's leadership.
"Florida has been through enough hurricanes to know that when you've got a natural disaster, everybody all of a sudden wakes up and says, 'you know, we're all in this together,' " he said. "That works a lot better than 'you're on your own.' "
On Friday, Mitt Romney's campaign called Clinton's appearances in Florida a "desperate attempt to make up for lost ground."
"President Obama has dispatched President Clinton to Florida to do what he could not — convince Florida voters that he actually has a plan to create jobs and get our country back on the path to prosperity," wrote Romney's Florida communications director, Jeff Bechdel.
But in the days leading up to Tuesday's election, Republicans have scheduled some of their own time to convince Florida voters. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan is scheduled to appear in Panama City today and Romney's campaign website says that he is holding a rally in Sanford on Monday.
According to the Obama campaign, the president is scheduled to appear in Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday and Michelle Obama is headed to Central Florida — exactly where is unclear — on Monday.
Norris Comer, 23, an Eckerd College senior, was motivated to attend Clinton's speech to get a glimpse of what politics is like in a swing state. The Oregon native isn't used to all the attention.
"Nobody ever fights over Oregon," said Comer, who voted for Obama.
As for Clinton's speech, Comer said: "I thought it was pretty classic, a little long-winded, but with good, juicy numbers."
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.