A team of military veterans, state and local government officials, Barack Obama and, less than twenty-four hours after winning game #7 of the American League Championship, members of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team have a singular message for Floridians--the election starts now.
Attendees at a Tampa rally yesterday were asked by no fewer than ten different speakers to cast their votes as soon as possible. Listing a host of reasons that voting early is more convenient and citing the events of the 2000 election, voters were asked to cast their votes now to ensure that any problems that may arise would have time to be fixed.
The procedures for casting a vote, including which forms of ID are valid and an attempt to "squash" early voting myths, were painstakingly outlined for the attentive crowd of nearly 10,000 at Legends Field.
Obama used a more populist tone for his pitch for early voting: "What if your car breaks down on Election Day? What if your alarm doesn't go off or you have to work late? Don't wait. Go early."
He then unveiled what he dubbed a historic effort to protect the votes of Americans. Raising a blue hat for the crowd to see, Obama revealed that there would be volunteers on hand at every polling location every day in case something goes wrong. Should someone experience difficulty casting their vote they would need only to flag down a person wearing a blue hat and help would be on the way. A toll-free number, 877.2FLOBAMA, will also be available for people to call for help. "We'll make sure your vote is counted."
Senator Bill Nelson (FL) explained the focus on Florida by the campaign: "Tampa and Orlando are on the I-4 Corridor, a swing area of the state. As the I-4 Corridor goes, so goes Florida. As Florida goes, so goes the nation. A great responsibility rests on the shoulders here."
He then proceeded to outline three specific examples to illustrate why he feels that Floridians must vote for Obama - to protect social security, to establish a National Catastrophic Fund that would protect the state when a hurricane strikes and to advance the space program that "has been savaged by Bush". Asked about his confidence about the GOTV effort and the campaign in general, Nelson responded: "There shouldn't be nearly as many hitches this time around. You're going to see record numbers of voters, particularly students and newly registered voters. It would be very difficult for McCain to put together now what we have already built on the ground."
Obama had more pointed remarks about what to expect in the final two weeks: "Change never comes without a fight. Expect to see the same say anything, do anything politics by the McCain campaign. But I believe in this country. I believe in the American people."
Attendees were seen asking volunteers about early voting locations as they exited the stadium, some even carpooling to the polls directly from the event. One woman explained why she will cast her vote early: "I wasn't really planning on voting early, but it seems like a great idea. If they find it this important to have him come and tell us about it then I'll do it."
With machines already malfunctioning in both Jacksonville and parts of West Virginia it appears that the men and women in the blue hats may have their work cut out for them over the next thirteen days.