Tick Tock

First Lady Michelle Obama Makes a Last-Minute Pitch in Florida

Michelle O. swung through Orlando Monday in a down-to-the-wire speech to rally votes for her husband. In this swing corridor, every vote—literally—counts. Winston Ross reports.

Forward. That’s the familiar one-word mantra of the campaign to reelect President Barack Obama. But at this point on the eve of that election, the campaign’s slogan can be boiled down to a another word: turnout.

Take First Lady Michelle Obama’s appearance at a park near the Orlando International Airport Monday night. She gave the standard stump speech to the 2,600 who showed up, reminding everyone—as she does in every stump speech—of all the things her husband has accomplished: preventing a second Great Depression, ending the Iraq war, reforming health care and killing Osama bin Laden.

But underneath it all, the real message was clear: turn out and vote for the guy who’s got your back. That message was laced in the first lady’s choice of opening acts, a guy named Adam Beck, who is the field organizer for Florida for Obama, and says he was forced to leave the Navy ROTC “because of who I love” (another man). Then there was Latino pop superstar Ricky Martin, at his first-ever appearance at a campaign rally and fresh out of the closet. The only white guy to take the podium was Florida Senator Bill Nelson, and he did his best to fire off a sentence or two in mangled Spanish: “Por favor, yo quiero su voto, es el voto para el presidente también.”

This was not a rally about reaching across the aisle. With the polls opening in 12 hours, it was about turnout, about appealing to those constituents the president is counting on to win the election.

As in several other swing states, recent polls in Florida show a race here that could go either way and is all about which candidate gets his people to the voting booth. Thus, the direct appeal to the people Obama hopes are in his corner and hopes will outnumber Mitt Romney’s backers come Tuesday morning.

Ricky Martin spelled it out pretty clearly: "If you are a student, you must vote for President Obama. If you are a senior citizen, you must vote for President Obama. If you are an immigrant, you must vote for President Obama. If you are a veteran of the armed forces, you must vote for President Obama,” he said. “And now this is very important: if you are a woman, you must vote for President Obama. If you are a Latino or a Latina, you must vote for President Obama.”

The truth is, in a swing region like this one, the so-called I-4 corridor stretching from Tampa to Orlando, the president will take any vote he can get. The 2000 election was decided by a mere 537 votes, and no one expects even an Obama victory in the state to reach the 236,000-vote margin he hit in 2008.

But Michelle Obama pointed out Monday night that even that sizable number divides to a mere 36 votes per precinct. In a place like this, every vote counts.

"Our votes count double,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said, before catching himself. “Not double, but it’s really important.”