Pitching hard for women's votes with a voice raw from a grueling campaign schedule, President Barack Obama spoke to a roaring crowd estimated at 8,500 people that overflowed Centennial Park in Ybor City on Thursday.
The brief speech, along with stops at a downtown doughnut shop and South Tampa fire station, were part of a two-day whirlwind tour of swing states for Obama as the race nears its end.
"We are right in the middle of our 48-hour flyaround campaign extravaganza," Obama told the crowd. "We pulled an all-nighter last night. … You notice my voice is getting a little hoarse, but I'm just going to keep on keeping on."
With 12 days to go and the race too close to call, Obama was pushing for early votes by his supporters.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who with former Gov. Charlie Crist warmed up the crowd, told them the lengthy ballot packed with constitutional amendments was intended by the Republican-led Florida Legislature to stifle voting at polling places, enhancing the GOP's usual advantage in mail-in votes.
Before a crowd of ardent backers, including many people of color, Obama delivered a shortened version of his typical stump speech, concentrating on themes of equality and social justice.
"You can choose to turn back the clock 50 years for women and for immigrants and gays, or in this election you can stand up for that basic principle that makes our country the envy of the world, that we're all created equal," he said.
The event was part of a last-minute surge of activity in the politically crucial Interstate 4 corridor by both the Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns.
Romney is scheduled to appear at a rally with Sen. Marco Rubio in Land O' Lakes on Saturday, and Obama will appear with former President Bill Clinton in Orlando on Monday. Romney backers say he'll be back the weekend before the Nov. 6 election, and Obama campaigners say another Obama visit is likely before then, too.
Obama opened his speech with a comic riff on "Romnesia," his word for what he calls Romney's tendency to shift political stances.
"He's counting on you forgetting that his policies aren't going to work," Obama said. "He's hoping you'll come down with a case of what we call 'Romnesia.'"If you're starting to get a temperature, your ears are ringing, your eyes are blurry, you can't remember what you just said last week, … don't worry, because this is a curable condition, and Obamacare covers pre-existing conditions. … There's a cure. You just have to vote."
Obama emphasized a theme resonant with Democrats, that he's solving problems created by the Bush administration and that Romney would return to those policies.
"You can choose the top-down policies that got us into this mess or you can choose the policies that are getting us out of this mess," he said.
He called Romney's economic proposals "a sketchy deal that says folks at the top get to play by a different set of rules than you do."
Women's health care was another theme of Obama's appearance.
In the past few weeks, a surging Romney has all but erased Obama's former double-digit "gender gap" advantage among female voters in many polls.
A national Associated Press poll this week showed Romney narrowly ahead, 47 percent to 45 percent, and running even with Obama among women, 47 percent to 47 percent, after trailing by 16 points a month earlier.
Obama may have received some help this week from another controversial comment about rape and abortion, this time from Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. He told a debate audience he favors an abortion ban with no exception for rape victims because a pregnancy is "something that God intended to happen," even if it results from rape.
Democrats have sought to tie Romney, who has made a television ad for Mourdock, to those comments.
In Ybor City, bleachers behind Obama, in view of the cameras focused on him, were filled with a mainly female crowd.
Laura Starkey, a former Tampa teacher and single mother, introduced Obama.
Under pressure to make ends meet after her daughter was born, she said, "for more than a decade, I counted on Planned Parenthood for my annual exams, checkups and screenings. They were dependable, compassionate and affordable. They were a lifesaver.
But "for (Romney) and his buddies, Planned Parenthood is a villain and a punching bag. He has promised to defund it while also overturning Roe v. Wade, repealing Obamacare and turning women's health decisions over to their bosses."
In his speech, Obama said, "I don't think any politician in Washington should be making health care decisions for women. … Women should be making their own decisions.
"The health care law we passed put those choices in your hands. That's where it belongs, and that's where it will stay as long as I'm president."
Sybil Goings, of Tampa, came to the rally with her three grandchildren, Camrey Williams, 12, Michael Sawyer, 13, and Myquasja Sawyer, 9.
"I wanted them to have the experience of seeing a president, seeing the first African-American president," Goings said. "I have talked to them about the importance of voting and the struggle we had to get here."
They were far from the stage and outside the barrier surrounding the park, but the three children said they got a look at Obama.
"He looked nice," Myquasja said.
Ilya Goldberg, owner of the Ybor City restaurant Stone Soup, brought his two children, Lexie, 11, and Lauren, 9.
"America is too impatient; change takes time," Goldberg said when asked whether Jewish voters have lost enthusiasm for Obama since voting heavily for him in 2008.
Goldberg said he doesn't think Jewish voters, a key group in the swing state of Florida because of its consistent turnout at the polls, will be swayed by concern over relations with Israel.
"Regardless of who gets in, they'll take care of Israel. There's been a lot of hype, but it's not an issue."
Obama's flyaround started in Iowa on Wednesday and included stops in Colorado, California, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, with a stop in Illinois to cast an early ballot — a first for a sitting president — before he returns to the White House tonight.
He said the first lady already has voted: "Michelle says she voted for me."