An old African American woman is leaning against a fence and holding a blue sign with ‘Forward’ in her hand. She is surrounded by others who stand shoulder to shoulder in the burning Florida sun. All of them are accompanied by thousands of people. They all are here for one thing: to support President Barack Obama, who will appear soon. Volunteers of the Obama campaign spread bottles of water around so that people will not get dehydrated. Other volunteers hand over signs with ‘Forward’ and ‘Obama 2012’ on it. In the air you can hear the sounds of Aretha Franklin’s song “Respect”. Somewhere on the field, a group of people is singing along: ‘R-e-s-p-e-c-t!’
This Obama rally is held at a high school football field in Hollywood, a city in the Miami metropolitan area. The event was announced on Friday and fully booked within a couple of hours. After visiting the Republican rally with Veep candidate Paul Ryan in Panama City, my colleagues and I wanted to attend a Democratic gathering. We jumped in our SUV to drive down to southern Florida. We drove until 3 a.m. and stopped in Ocala – central Florida – for a short sleep in a motel, stood up early today and drove on to Hollywood. In total it was a nine-hour drive. After arriving at the football field, we could park on a special media spot and walk in. The contrast with the visitors couldn’t be bigger. They had to stand in line for hours before they could even enter the field.
Halfway through the afternoon the first speakers appear on stage. At first former Florida governor Charlie Christ speaks out. ‘A few months after the economic crisis broke out, President Obama came down to Florida to help us out. During the BP oil spill, the president was here day and night to help us out. When he gets reelected I’m confident that the president will help our Florida out again. That’s why you have got to reelect him,’ says Christ. Next to speak is R&B artist Pitbull: ‘My father and mother are Cuban refugees. Thanks to President Obama, Cuban Americans have a future.’ Once the national chairwoman of the Democratic Party is speaking the crowd goes wild again, because the presidential limousine drives along.
For us Dutch journalists, the Obama rally is an amazing happening to be part of. Not only have we never seen Obama up close, but we also have never see so many people that gather together at a political event. Dutch politics can learn from this approach. However, we are not the only journalists: more then forty colleagues (domestic, local and foreign) are here to cover this event. It differs a lot from the Paul Ryan rally that we attended yesterday. There were only ten journalists in Panama City. The reason for Obama to campaign in Florida is the same one as the Romney camp has: due to the undecided situation in battleground state Florida, this year every vote counts. Therefore both parties came down to the state to urge people to vote.
After the pledge of allegiance and the American national anthem, the moment arrives that we have all been waiting for. President Obama appears on stage and is cheered on by thousands of people. The crowd really goes crazy. The president walks to the microphone and says: ‘I’m fired up and ready to go!’ His stump speech is about reforms, his future plans and a lot of optimism. Obama wants to hire more teachers, invest in the economy and complete his health care plans. But for now, the most important message comes down to this: get out and vote! Obama: ‘This election will be a close one. That is why you and others near you have to vote on Tuesday. Yes Florida, get out and vote!’