SEMINOLE, Florida (Reuters) - President Barack Obama kicked off a two-day bus tour of the key election battleground state of Florida on Saturday with former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who endorsed Obama's 2008 rival John McCain but has since left the Republican Party.
Trying to build on the momentum of this week's Democratic National Convention and overcome another tough jobs report, Obama is spending the weekend canvassing a state that he and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, both want to win in order to achieve victory in the November 6 U.S. election.
The Democratic incumbent hopes Crist, a once popular Republican governor, will help Obama appeal to political independents, who are likely to determine the victor in the state.
"We have a leader with a cool head, and his name is President Barack Obama," Crist told the crowd of some 11,000 at an outdoor rally.
"He is working hard for the middle class. He is working hard for Florida," Crist said.
Crist campaigned for Republican presidential nominee McCain in 2008 but left the Republican Party in 2010 when polling suggested he would lose the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate to Marco Rubio, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement. Crist ran as an independent and Rubio won in a three-way race.
Crist embraced Obama - literally - as the president campaigned for his economic stimulus bill in 2009, giving him a big hug that was videotaped and replayed endlessly. It reinforced Republican suspicions that Crist was not a true conservative.
Obama, with sleeves rolled up and no tie, embraced Crist again on Saturday after his remarks.
"I want to thank Charlie Crist for his introduction, for his support, for showing that the values that we're fighting for are not Democratic values or Republican values, they are American values," Obama said.
'ROMNEY DON'T CARE'
Obama has traveled to Florida 10 times so far this year, according to his campaign. Obama used his stop on Saturday to criticize Romney and his running mate, congressman Paul Ryan, for their opposition to his 2010 healthcare law and proposals to reform Medicare, the popular government health insurance program for the elderly.
"By the way, Florida, you should know I will never turn Medicare into a voucher system," he said. "No American should have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies."
Ryan proposed a plan two years ago that would transform Medicare into a program in which recipients would use vouchers to buy private insurance.
Romney has also pledged to repeal the healthcare law often called "Obamacare." Obama told the crowd the former Massachusetts governor's plan should be called "Romney don't care" and joked that Republicans believed tax cuts were so important they could help a person's love life.
Romney's campaign kept up the heat on the president over his economic record. Government data on Friday showed that U.S. employers added a lower-than-expected 96,000 jobs in August.
"After a disastrous convention week and a widely panned speech that was short on specifics, President Obama delivered more empty promises and false attacks today in Florida," said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams.
"As yesterday's dismal jobs report showed - and as President Obama admitted - job creation in America isn't good enough, yet he didn't lay out any new ideas for getting our economy back on track."
Brian Olinger, 40, who attended the president's rally, said Crist could help Obama in Florida. "Even though I was a Democrat, he did some good things for teachers and other people when he was governor," he said.
(Twitter: @jeffmason1; Additional reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Will Dunham)
Birth Certificate -- "Born In The USA"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/27/obama-birth-certificate-r_n_854248.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(April 27, 2011) --</strong></a> The White House <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/04/27/president-obamas-long-form-birth-certificate" target="_hplink">released</a> President Barack Obama's "long form" birth certificate, adding documentation to a longstanding discussion over his ability to serve as commander in chief. "We do not have time for this kind of silliness," Obama said. "We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve." (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Osama Bin Laden Killed -- "Tonight, Tonight"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/01/osama-bin-laden-dead-killed_n_856091.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 1, 2011)</strong></a> -- In a televised address to the nation, Obama announces that Osama bin Laden is dead. His death was the result of a U.S. operation launched today in Abbottabad, Pakistan, against a compound where bin Laden was believed to be hiding. "[T]oday's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people," Obama proclaimed. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)
Debt Ceiling Deal -- "Gold On The Ceiling"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/02/obama-debt-ceiling-deal-jobs_n_916285.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Aug. 2, 2011) --</strong></a> After the Senate passed a bill to raise the debt limit, Obama pleaded with Congress to shift their attention to jobs. "I will urge them to immediately take some steps -- bipartisan, common-sense steps -- that will make a difference; that will create a climate where businesses can hire, where folks have more money in their pockets to spend, where people who are out of work can find good jobs," he said. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Don't Ask Don't Tell -- "Don't Stop Believin'"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/20/barack-obama-dont-ask-dont-tell-repeal-statement_n_971662.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Sept. 20, 2011) --</strong></a> As the ban on gays serving in the military came to an end, Obama hailed the fresh start, celebrating the fact that "patriotic Americans in uniform will no longer have to lie about who they are in order to serve the country they love." (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Iraq War To End -- "Homeward Bound"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/21/obama-iraq-troop-withdrawal_n_1024108.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Oct. 21, 2011) --</strong></a> Obama announced that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by 2011, fulfilling a promise that dated back to his campaign. "As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end," Obama said. "So today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year." (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/obama-al-green-apollo-theater_n_1218070.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Jan. 20, 2012) --</strong></a> During a fundraiser at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater, Obama delivered a memorable musical message to his donors. With Rev. Al Green in attendance, Obama sang part of Green's hit song "Let's Stay Together," drawing strong applause from the crowd.
Singing Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/21/obama-sings-sweet-home-chicago_n_1292576.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(Feb. 21, 2012) --</strong></a> Days after his Al Green rendition, Obama flexed his vocal chords again with a hometown favorite. The East Room of the White House had its blues fix filled when the president started swinging "Sweet Home Chicago."
Gay Marriage -- "Can't Fight This Feeling"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/obama-gay-marriage_n_1503245.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(May 9, 2012) --</strong></a> In a sit-down interview with ABC's Robin Roberts, Obama explained his evolution on the issue, affirming his support for gay marriage. "[A]t a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," he said.
Immigration -- "With Arms Wide Open"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/obama-immigration-order-deportation-dream-act_n_1599658.html " target="_hplink"><strong>(June 15, 2012) --</strong></a> The Obama administration addressed America's immigration issue, announcing that it will halt deportations and grant work permits to young individuals eligible for Dream-Act benefits. "They pledge allegiance to our flag," Obama said. "They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper."(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Health Care Reform -- "Beautiful Day"
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/supreme-court-health-care-decision_n_1585131.html" target="_hplink"><strong>(June 28, 2012) --</strong></a> After weeks of speculation that Obama's signature piece of legislation could be overturned, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is constitutional. "It should be pretty clear that I didn't do this because it's good politics," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/obama-health-care-ruling_n_1632953.html" target="_hplink">Obama said</a>. "I did it because it's good for the country." (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)