Last, urgent dash for Florida votes

TAMPA — They wore Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops and clutched foot-tall margaritas, but this was a different kind of concert for Jimmy Buffett fans Sunday.

For one, it was free. And for another, even the parrots on their heads wore Obama pins.

"I feel a volcano of change," said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. "You can hear it on the 'Coconut Telegraph.' "

They roared. The name of the rally? "Last Chance for Change."

As Election Day closes in, Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are clawing for Florida's 27 electoral votes, staging a flurry of personal appearances and sending big-name stand-ins like Jimmy Buffett when they can't be here themselves.

McCain held a midnight rally Sunday and will be in Tampa first thing this morning. Obama is in Jacksonville today.

The equation is a simple one. Obama can reach the magic 270 electoral votes even if he doesn't carry Florida, but McCain cannot. So for McCain the late, hard push to win Florida is about survival; for Obama it is about reaching checkmate.

David Chroman, who spent the week volunteering for Obama, took a break in the stands of the Ford Amphitheatre in Tampa for Sunday's free Buffett concert. He was among about 15,000 who showed up for the free show that ran a full hour.

He wore a tie-dye shirt, and said he understood why Buffett would support Obama.

"They both stand for positivity," he said. "Jimmy is one of the most optimistic people I've ever seen. Obama's call for hope rings a similar tune."

Craig Cameron from Brandon sang a different song. As an outnumbered McCain fan, he came strictly for the music, and said he'd ignore the politics. "I still like Jimmy Buffett," he said.

But McCain isn't going it alone in Florida. At Square One Burgers in South Tampa earlier in the day, about 225 people turned out to see former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Among them were New Jersey residents Carl Ceragno and A.J. O'Connor, who happened to be in town. They hadn't been to any McCain rallies yet, but didn't want to miss a chance to see their Northeast neighbor.

"We really wish he could've stayed in the running," Ceragno said.

"But we love McCain, too," O'Connor quickly added.

Giuliani walked through the standing-room-only restaurant crowd to cheers of "Ru-dy! Ru-dy!"

Giuliani got serious. He said polls that show Obama in the lead are "just trying to psych you out," and he said he expects McCain to pull off "the greatest comeback victory" in history. "Right now," he told the crowd, "we need John McCain more than he needs us."

He brought up remarks by Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, who recently told supporters that Obama would be tested by a foreign crisis soon after coming into office. Giuliani suggested that might be good reason to elect somebody else.

"Nobody tested Dwight Eisenhower. Nobody tested Ronald Reagan," Giuliani said. "Nobody with half a brain is going to test John McCain."

In a three-stop swing across North Florida, Biden focused on the economy. He spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 at Langford Green at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

He borrowed the old Reagan campaign slogan — "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" but offered it with a twist: "Democrats and Republicans know we're not better off," he said.

Biden talked about the "longest walk a parent can take" being the walk up the flight of stairs into their child's bedroom to tell them they're going to have change schools because a parent has lost a job.

"Folks, if we can help Wall Street, we should be able to help Monroe Street," said Sen. Biden, referring to one of Tallahassee's main commercial arteries.

Biden drew comparisons between McCain and President Bush, pointing out how McCain said on Meet the Press last week that he and Bush "share a common philosophy."

"You can't call yourself a maverick if all you've been in the last eight years is a sidekick," Biden said.

Florida State and Florida A&M university students packed the speech, which also drew a couple of dozen student protesters who chanted "John McCain" and made siren noises throughout Biden's speech.

"We're witnessing history right now," said Florida A&M junior Antonio Rosado, 23, who voted for Obama and Biden on Thursday. "Obama is the best candidate for the economy. It won't change right away, but he's the best person to jump-start it."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at (813) 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com.

McCain in Tampa

Sen. John McCain stops in Tampa this morning as part of his "Road to Victory Rally." The event will take place at Raymond James Stadium, South Parking Lot, 4201 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. Doors open at 6 a.m., with the event starting a few hours later. For tickets or more information, visit florida.johnmccain.com.

Last, urgent dash for Florida votes 11/02/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 3, 2008 6:36pm]

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