If you ask supporters from Sioux City to Miami why they support President Obama, they'll tell you stories about their kids, their grandkids, their student loan debt. "2008 was historic; 2012 is personal" is more than a campaign catchphrase—it's a reality for so many folks like Jack, who stopped by a Gotta Vote event near his home in Coconut Creek, Florida, yesterday. This year really is personal.
"I'm a single mom. I'm a disabled single mom. I look at my son every day, and I want him to have all the opportunities that my parents were able to give to me. I know that this president is the one who works for me, who fights for me. And that's what we need—someone who's going to remember that we're not all even upper-middle class. So many of us are down in the trenches, trying hard every day. That's how he grew up. That's how this president grew up. He understands what it's like for me, what it's like for my son.
"My son wants to go to Stanford. How am I going to send my son to Stanford if things go back to what they were? We have to keep moving forward, for the sake of our kids, for the sake of us, for all of us who are lower class. We're not low-class people, we're just financially strapped. He understands that's worth fighting for, and that's what he does. So that's what we do: We stand up with him and for him and fight every day."
Today at 7 a.m., early voting began across Florida. Well before the doors opened—or the sun was up—Floridians were lining up outside their polling places to cast their ballots 10 days before Election Day.
Milagros and her husband joined the queue at the Platt Regional Library in Tampa before the sun was up. She's a veteran volunteer with the local OFA field office, but this morning carries special significance. As a new American citizen, this is the first time the Venezuelan-born Milagros is eligible to vote.
"This is my first time voting. I'm really proud to be a citizen of the United States. My husband and I went to bed last night at 2 a.m., and we decided to wake up very early and come here and do it on the first day. We want to make sure our president is re-elected. He's the best for this country. He worries about the middle class. He worries about everybody. He loves America, and he wants to help us. I want to do anything I can [to re-elect him.]"
From 2007 to 2011, Charlie Crist was the Republican governor of Florida. This year, he's endorsed President Obama for re-election, and he's actively campaigning for a president he calls "the right man for the job."
Today, he stopped by the Gotta Vote bus in Tampa to encourage Sunshine State voters to cast their ballots early for Barack Obama:
"Early voting officially begins in Florida tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. This is too important. It's too important for your future, too important for your children's future. Every little thing you do can make a difference. In Florida, we know what it's like to be close in a race. 537 votes in 2000 made all the difference in the world. Florida's the checkmate state. If we get Florida, there is almost no way for the opponents to get to the White House. …
"Barack Obama needs to be a two-term president. I got to know him during my last two years as governor, his first two years as president. What he did for Florida is dramatic and helpful beyond words. He saved so many of our public school teachers, firefighters, police officers' jobs. Without that Recovery Act funding, we wouldn't have been able to stabilize the economy and start growing again.
"This is the right thing to do. He's the right man for the job."
Chanel Iman was the youngest woman to appear on the cover of Vogue, and you've seen her everywhere from Victoria's Secret ads to America's Next Top Model. But there's one thing she hasn't yet done: Vote.
This year, the 21 year old will be old enough to cast her first ballot, and to make sure it's an experience she'll never forget, she's also hitting the campaign trail to energize her fellow young voters. "You can only imagine how excited I am to be voting for the first time," she says. "I believe in this president, and he believes in the people. So I'm out here to make sure young people know how important it is to vote and get excited about re-electing our president. Every vote counts, and every voice matters. I'm fired up."
Former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver stopped by a standing-room-only senior-to-senior phone bank in The Villages, Florida, this morning on the Gotta Vote bus tour. Florida is one of the key battleground states in this election, and the race remains close—but seniors here know who's fighting for them, and it's not the guy who's planning to end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher program.
"I don't know how a senior citizen in the state of Florida could vote for [Mitt Romney]," said Culver. "I just don't know how. He's telling you right now, along with his running mate, that they're going to turn Medicare into a voucher system. That voucher system could come up at least $6,000–$7,000 short. Do you all have an extra $6,000–7,000 lying around each year for the next five, 10, 20 years? This is an issue I care about, you care about, my mother cares about, my father cares about. This guy is wrong, and Florida, you can' t let him win."
Seniors aren't just fighting for Medicare. They're fighting for a president who's not going to write them off as dependent victims.
"I would be ashamed if I were Romney," says Nancy, who participated in today's senior-to-senior phone bank. "The rest of us struggle all the time. I'm in one of the groups he calls the 47 percent. If we didn't have Social Security and Medicare, we would be bankrupt. My husband and I would be bankrupt. That's just how simple it is.
"He doesn't have a clue about what people go through to pay the bills and save a little bit."
At the University of Florida, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm explained difference between the two candidates on fair pay:
"I was watching the rerun of Meet the Press on the Gotta Vote bus, and your senator was on. You know what he said on Meet the Press this morning? Your Senator Rubio said that the Romney administration would probably not have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. He said that the Lilly Ledbetter Act was nothing more than a gift to trial lawyers, nothing more than that.
"There would be huge problems for women with a Romney administration. In fact I happen to have my binder—a binder full of policies that the Obama administration supports on behalf of women. Polices like fair pay, like access to contraception, like freedom of choice.
"Women are half the population, but between women's issues and jobs, this matters to 100 percent of the population. And I'm glad we have a president who stands up for us."
As mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson has seen firsthand how President Obama's policies on clean energy, infrastructure, and education have had a positive impact on his city. And with this year's presidential race reaching an apex, Johnson told the Obama campaign to put him to work and send him anywhere they needed him. That's how the Californian found himself in North Carolina this week, campaigning in one of the most critical states in this year's election. It doesn't hurt that this is basketball country—because before he was Mayor Johnson, he was KJ, an all-star who played for the Phoenix Suns.
"Right now, we're in the fourth quarter," Johnson says, "and we're up maybe by a point or two. The other side is digging deep. They're going to try to make a run. We have to open up the lead." And now that early voting has begun statewide, he's here to get out the vote.
Four years ago, President Obama won North Carolina by just 14,000 votes—five per precinct—and it was the first time the Tar Heel State had voted to send a Democrat to the White House in 32 years. It's going to be close, Johnson says, and it's going to come down to the volunteers and organizers on the ground. But North Carolina has a chance to decide our next president: If Mitt Romney doesn't win North Carolina, it's going to be extremely difficult for him to win the White House.
And what about those reports that the Romney campaign is pulling out of North Carolina? Don't fall for it, says Johnson. "In basketball, that's called a head fake. North Carolina, we can expand the lead here. We gotta play to win. We gotta get people out to the polls."