President Barack Obama took his "ready to go forward" message to Florida voters in his first stop Saturday on a bus tour through the swing state.
The president was introduced by former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was once a Republican but is now an independent and an Obama supporter. Obama said Crist backing proves "the values we are fighting for aren't just Democratic values or Republican values, they're American values."
The president reiterated the proposals on display at this week's Democratic National Convention, including plans to create more jobs, expand energy production and improve educational opportunities in the United States.
"We can gut education like these other folks were recommending," Obama told a crowd of roughly 11,000 at St. Petersburg College. "Or we can decide that in the United States of America, no child should have her dreams deferred ... higher education is not a luxury anymore, it is an economic necessity that everybody should be able to afford."
Valerie Rey, a recipient of student loans and a Pell Grant, teaches sixth grade and said she is supporting the president for the second time because she wants those programs to be available for her students.
"They need to know that safety net will be there," said Rey, who heard the president speak in person for the first time Saturday.
Jason Rock, an attendee at the event, backed Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008, but he is now firmly behind the president because "everything he does seems to work out for us in one way or another."
The first-time homebuyer credit helped him purchase a home, and he received a Hope Grant and a Pell Grant.
But the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said young Americans "are not better off under President Obama."
"It's the next generation that will be stuck footing the bill for President Obama's reckless spending that has led to record high debt," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said. "Mitt Romney will bring true reform to our education system that puts parents and students ahead of special interests and gives every child a chance to succeed."
Obama organizers in the Sunshine State, a key battleground state the president captured in 2008, said they have grown their ground operations, with an increase in field offices. Romney organizers waxed optimistic about enthusiasm for the former Massachusetts governor in the state. Jeff Bechdel, Romney's Florida communications director, said the state campaign plans to contact their 5 millionth Florida voter on Saturday.