Obama at UNF: 'Focus on the real choice'
President appears at UNF Arena on Thursday
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Five days before Election Day, President Barack Obama appeared before more than 7,200 people at the University of North Florida Arena to encourage people to vote for Hillary Clinton.
After doing the UNF Swoop and saying, "It's good to be in Duval," Obama launched into a speech, which mostly echoed Obama's other recent speeches on college campuses. It included a list of things accomplished over the past eight years, sometimes in a call-and-response exchange with the enthusiastic audience.
"We've got to finish what we started," Obama told the crowd. "We don't have to go backward. We can go forward."
Obama's speech was punctuated by cheers from the crowd and a pep band, whose drums would roll during applause lines.
"I'm a proud Democrat, but we are not Republicans or Democrats first. We are children of God, we are human beings, we are Americans first," Obama said.
The president praised Clinton's qualifications and questioned those of her opponent, Donald Trump.
"When I ran against Mitt Romney in 2012, I disagreed with him on many, many things. I thought I would be a better president. I did not think that our democracy would be injured by him taking office," Obama said. "The actual choice could not be clearer. Donald Trump is uniquely unqualified, temperamentally unfit."
When the crowd reacted, Obama added: "Don't boo. Don't boo. He can't hear your boos. He can hear your votes."
Before taking the stage at the arena, Obama entered an overflow area in the adjoining gymnasium, to the cheers of between 800 and 1,000 people waiting to watch his speech on a television.
"I'm so sorry that we can't fit everybody in, but I just wanted to come by and say thank you; thank you. I'm proud of all of you. I'm so grateful for everything you've done to support me," Obama told the crowd.
Obama emerged from Air Force One at Jacksonville International Airport with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Democratic Senate candidate Patrick Murphy, who is running against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. During his remarks, Obama urged people to vote for Murphy to help Clinton get the job done in Washington.
IMAGES: President Obama at UNF
People began arriving for the event about 1 a.m. Thursday, even though doors to the arena didn't open until noon and the program didn't begin until 2 p.m. Florida State University student Alexis Kmiek was one of the first in line Thursday.
“I love President Obama. I'm a huge fan,” Kmiek said. “I wanted to be the first one. It's my first time ever seeing him ever ... live. It's my first time ever seeing a president, and I wanted to be in front.”
There was a festive mood in the 1.5-mile line of supporters, who seemed prepared for the long wait.
Democratic elected officials, party leaders and candidates for office spoke while people waited for the president's remarks.
Steve Schale, an Episcopal High School graduate who served as state of Florida director for Obama in 2008 and Florida senior advisor in 2012, said the excitement at the event was exactly what the Clinton campaign wanted.
"We're actually here eight years to the day from his last rally in 2008 in Florida. And he's here for the same reason today as he was then -- and it's to excite voters, to get them out," Schale said.
After leaving the stage and handing hands and posing for selfies for about four minutes, Obama made his way back to Air Force One and took off at 5:15 p.m. for his return to Washington.
Jacksonville Pastor John Newman described the event as "phenomenal."
"We had a sellout crowd. The president hit all the right points, all the right notes. (There was) tremendous energy in the room, and he certainly showed the contrast as to why Hillary Clinton is the most qualified candidate in the race," Newman said.
Just hours before Obama was set to take the stage on the Southside, Trump appeared at a rally on the Equestrian Center on the city's Westside, telling that crowd, "Why isn’t he back working? He’s campaigning every day."
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