KISSIMMEE – Last Saturday, Keith Laytham arrived in downtown Kissimmee pretty early. He had a job to do, for someone he felt was a very, very important client.
“My assignment was to help collect tickets for people going into the Kissimmee Civic Center,” said Laytham – and as it turned out, he and the other volunteers had quite a few tickets to collect.
“There were 3,000 people in there,” Laytham said, all of them gathered at the Civic Center for one reason: to see up close President Barack Obama’s visit to Central Florida.
Laytham, who volunteered that day to work for the Obama For America campaign organization that is working on behalf of the president’s reelection campaign, said the crowd was massive.
“Because they held it in the Civic Center in Kissimmee, it only holds 3,000 people – and it didn’t take them long to fill those seats,” he said.
Laytham is a retiree who lives at Solivita, the development on the Polk County side of Poinciana, and he’s also a member of the Polk County Democratic Executive Committee. When he learned that the president was visiting Central Florida and would be speaking in Kissimmee around 4 p.m. on Saturday, Laytham decided to contact the Obama For American campaign, which has several offices, including one in Poinciana. They were only too happy, he said, to recruit as many volunteers as possible.
“On Friday, I attended the training session at the Civic Center, and they must have had 100 volunteers who volunteered for the event,” Laytham said. “Each of the groups had their own captain for their staff.”
The president’s visit, two days after he addressed the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., put a spotlight once again on one of the few tight battleground states left in the presidential election, with less than 60 days to go until the Nov. 6 election day arrives.
Florida voted for Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996, for Republican George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and then Obama in 2008, making the Sunshine State one of the nation’s clear toss up states. In fact, since the end of World War II, Florida has voted for the losing presidential candidate only twice, in 1960 and 1992.
Central Florida and the “I-4 corridor” between Orlando and Tampa is also considered to be a real battleground region, with vote potential for both candidates. The Romney camp is counting on the high unemployment rate in this region, above the national average of 8.1 percent, driving voters away from the president, while the Obama camp believes the fast-growing Latino population – which the president carried handily in 2008 – will give the president a boost here in November.
Laytham, a strong supporter of the president, said there was evidence of that at the Kissimmee Civic Center and the enthusiastic audience that showed up for the president’s rally.
“There weren’t a lot of middle aged white people like me waiting in line, but there were a whole lot of blacks and a whole lot of Hispanics, and a whole lot of young women and a whole lot of college students,” Laytham noted. “The enthusiasm was amazing.”
That, he added, is exactly the coalition that the president courted successfully in 2008, when he carried Orange, Osceola and Hillsborough counties, on his way to winning Florida with 51 percent.
If the enthusiasm shown at the Civic Center is any indication, Laytham said, those same voters are once again fired up to go to the polls in November to support the president’s re-election, and the Obama For America campaign appears to have the organization in place to ensure they do get out to vote.
“There was a massive line snaking up the Civic Center and around Main Street,” Laytham said. “The purpose of the visit was not only to get the president in front of those 3,000 people, but to collect their contact information. They were going to put that on a computer database to see who would work on the campaign. It was an excellent organization. In 2008, they had taken computerization of voting lists beyond anything I have seen before, and they are doing even more of it this year.”
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