TAMPA — The line outside the St. Pete Times Forum started forming early Wednesday morning. By 10 a.m. it wound around the building. People young and old, black and white, parents and children.
More than 15,000 people turned out to see Sen. Barack Obama in his first Florida campaign rally since the Democratic presidential candidates boycotted the state during the primary season. With a less-than-capacity crowd, worries about parking and traffic snarls proved unfounded, and by 11:30 a.m. people moved swiftly through the 25 metal detectors at the entrance.
Spectators streamed in clutching cameras and snacking on hot dogs, nachos and sodas from concession stands while speakers blared a playlist that included a heavy dose of Stevie Wonder tracks.
As Obama made his way to the podium just before 1 p.m., the cheers reached rock-concert decibel levels.
"It's good to be back in Florida," Obama told the enthusiastic crowd, who occasionally chanted "O-bam-a! O-bam-a!" before and during the 35-minute speech. "I know you guys have been holding down the fort."
Supporters screamed out, "We love you," and Obama answered, "I love you back." They booed at the mention of George Bush. They stood and cheered wildly when he promised to unite the country. And they pumped their fists in the air and chanted "Yes we can" when Obama pledged to bring together all Americans — black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay and straight.
Though the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination continues, Obama spoke as if he were already the winner.
He commended Hillary Rodham Clinton for running an outstanding campaign, and predicted the party would unify by November.
obama in kissimmee: