Coconut Creek, Fla. — The ghost of Democrats' dashed hopes in 2000, former Vice President Al Gore, urged Florida supporters of Barack Obama on Friday to take advantage of early voting -- and to take nothing for granted.
"Take it from me -- elections matter. Every vote matters," Gore said.
It was a message that hit home with the partisan crowds in Palm Beach and Broward counties, two Democratic strongholds in a state where poor turnout, confusing ballot design and punch-card voting contributed to Gore's loss to George W. Bush by 537 votes in 2000.
Gore, at times self-deprecating and at others deadly serious about the possibility of Obama losing, ticked off economic disasters, foreign policy blunders and environmental tragedies that he said took place under President Bush. He cast Tuesday as the chance to recover the indomitable spirit and reputation of the United States.
"Now the choice is between change and more of the same. And I don't know how it could be any clearer than that," Gore said.
Florida has suffered one of the nation's steepest declines in home values, and it has lost 100,000 jobs since the start of the year. Gore blamed the Bush administration, which he said had pushed the country into hardships unseen since the Depression.
"The decline began on Jan. 20, 2001. I know -- I was the first one laid off," Gore said of his departure from the White House on Bush's inauguration day.
While Gore stirred up about 300 supporters at a theater on the north campus of Broward College, about twice that number waited in line to vote outside the county library next door.
Turnout for early voting has overwhelmed so many polling places since it began Oct. 20 that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, signed an executive order this week extending early voting hours. State Democrats think at least 3 million ballots will be cast before election day.
Gore hailed Crist's move -- opposed by many supporters of Republican candidate John McCain, who fear it will benefit Obama -- as the kind of bipartisan show of leadership the country is going to need in the next administration.
Gore praised Floridians for a spirited campaign that polls suggest has turned the battleground state from the Republican camp to the Democratic, but he stopped short of predicting victory.
"I don't want to jinx it," he told the crowd, which appeared divided between college students and retirees.
His wife, Tipper, added, "Let's not have a shadow of a doubt.
"Let's not leave anything hanging this time," she said, alluding to the tens of thousands of ballots invalidated in the 2000 race because of hanging chads, the perforated paper squares voters failed to fully dislodge from their punch-card ballots.
Some who came to hear Gore said they thought the former vice president had grown more passionate in his role as a watchdog on election fairness.
"Obama seems to be a very inspirational person as compared to, and I hate to say it, but Gore speaks a lot better today than he did eight years ago," said Joe Goldstein, a semiretired consultant from New York's Westchester County.
Goldstein was in Florida volunteering for the "Great Schlep," an effort by Jewish Democrats from across the country to flood Florida to persuade their elders to vote for Obama.
Most of those at the Broward rally raised their hands when asked if they had already voted. Some waiting outside the library to vote said skipping the Gore event was the price they had to pay.
"We wanted him to win last time. We wouldn't have this mess we're in if we got him last time," said Mona Loschner, a Czech-born hospital laboratory technician who was disappointed that she missed Gore's rally. "I could only take so much time off from work, and it was more important to do the voting."