TAMPA, FLA. — Words helped get Barack Obama where he is today. Elegant words. Inspiring words. Words that swoop and words that soar.
But as he campaigned Monday in Florida, it was the words of his Republican rivals that Obama used to urge supporters to the polls on the first day of early voting in this tropical battleground.
The Democrat's pitch, at Tampa's minor league baseball stadium and later alongside Hillary Rodham Clinton in Orlando, was straightforward: There is nastiness afoot.
"We've seen it before, and we're seeing it again," Obama said. "Ugly phone calls. Misleading mail. Misleading ads. Careless, outrageous comments. All aimed at keeping us from working together. All aimed at stopping change.
"It's getting so bad that even Sen. McCain's running mate denounced his tactics last night," Obama went on. "You know, you really have to work hard to violate Gov. Palin's standards on negative campaigning."
The crowd of 8,000 roared.
Palin told reporters Sunday that if she were in charge of the GOP campaign, she would not allow the automated phone calls that have flooded key states. The robocalls cite Obama's passing ties to Chicago radical William Ayers, co-founder of the Weather Underground. The Alaska governor said she would rather sit at voters' kitchen tables discussing issues than rely on robocalls and TV ads.
The Illinois senator skipped that part of Palin's remarks as he assailed his GOP rivals. "We're not going to be distracted," Obama said. "We're not going to be diverted. Not this time. Not this year. Our challenges are just too great for a politics that's so small."
Obama criticized McCain's $300-billion proposal to help stabilize the economy and ease the credit crunch by having the federal government buy bad loans and renegotiate for struggling homeowners. The issue has particular resonance in a state that trails only Nevada in home foreclosures.
"Guess what?" said Obama, his sleeves rolled up in the 80-degree heat. "It would be paid for by all of you, the American taxpayer. That might sound like a good idea to the former bank lobbyists who are working on Sen. McCain's campaign. But that's not the change America needs."
Soon after, the Democrat used McCain's words to turn back his criticism of Obama's tax plan. The Arizona senator has said his rival would cripple the economy with a massive tax hike; Obama said his plan would cut taxes for 95% of working families, raising them only for the richest Americans.
"It's true that I want to roll back the Bush tax cuts," Obama said. "John McCain calls that socialism. What he forgets, conveniently, is that just a few years ago, he himself said those Bush tax cuts were irresponsible. He said he couldn't 'in good conscience' support a tax [cut] where the benefits went to the wealthy at the expense of 'middle-class Americans who most need tax relief.' That's his quote. Well, he was right then, and I am right now."
McCain voted against Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 but supported their renewal in 2006, saying business and investors needed "a stable and predictable tax policy" to sustain economic growth.
Obama repeated the charge in Orlando, accompanied by Clinton at a sunset rally of more than 50,000 people outside the Amway Arena. Seeing the pair smiling, waving, arms around each other's waists, it was possible to imagine their long, angry fight for the nomination had never occurred.
"Many of you supported me in the primary," the New York senator hollered as palm trees swayed in the background. "Now I am asking you to work as hard for Barack as you worked for me. If you made phone calls for me, make them for Barack. If you walked streets for me . . . if you talked to your friends and your neighbors, do it again for Barack."
Florida is a must-win state for McCain and, if less crucial for Obama, is nevertheless one that Democrats covet after the party's disputed loss in 2000. President Bush carried the state more comfortably in 2004.
Obama's stop in Tampa on Monday took him to a GOP stronghold where winning is less important than holding down McCain's margin. Orlando, in the fast-growing central part of the state, is more competitive.
Statewide, the Democrats enjoy a registration advantage of nearly 660,000 voters out of 11.2 million, up from a lead of about 370,000 voters in 2004.
But the GOP has one of the strongest state party organizations in the country, and McCain hopes to overcome the registration deficit through a strong push among absentee voters and a high GOP turnout on election day.