Equal time: Minneapolis' mayor comes to Tampa Bay to tout President Obama

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Touting 22 months of job growth, the auto industry bailout (he says the president had "the guts to make a controversial decision"), getting out of Iraq and the slaying of Osama bin Laden, Rybak says, "We're going to use Ronald Reagan’s old line, 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?'"

But didn't the president himself admit last October to ABC News that the American public wasn't better off than they were four years ago?

"The president is a lot more modest about his record than I am about his record," Rybak says.

R.T. Rybak is enormously popular in Minneapolis, having served as mayor there since 2001. He's currently involved in serious negotiations with the Minnesota Vikings and his own City Council to allow for construction of a new stadium for the NFL squad, paid for primarily through existing sales taxes — no referendum is necessary for the public to weigh in, he says. The public can throw him out of office next time around if they don't agree with his approach, he says.

Minneapolis/St.Paul hosted the Republican National Convention in 2008. Any advice for Tampa residents about what to watch for this summer?

"Don't leave town," he says, adding that the pure theatricality of the week will be fun for all, regardless of one's political persuasion.

Rybak is a true believer in Obama, part of a group of Democrats who were pushing for the then freshman U.S. Senator from Illinois to get into the race in early 2007, a time when many other establishment Democrats believed it was way too soon.

He's not naive that the re-election will be a dogfight, but says an advantage his guy has over Mitt Romney or whoever is the ultimate GOP nominee is in organization, referring to the 11 statewide offices already set up in Florida, as well as more campaign offices in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire than any of the Republicans have.

But what about the enthusiasm gap? Although the Democrats may be well-armed, there certainly has been a disappointment factor among a certain percentage of their base, and, unlike 2008, there isn't that historic nature to the election. Right?

"Sure, people are disappointed that even more didn’t happen," Rybak admits. "But nobody anticipated the economic circumstances, and we all underestimated the incredible cynicism of the radical faction of the Republican Party."

Rybac says 2012 will be a different kind of election — maybe not as much "adrenaline" but more unity. And he acknowledges that it's up to surrogates like him to fire up the base.

"If people think we’re going to re-elect the president by sitting on the sidelines and being color commentators, we're wrong. Barack Obama did not win the last election. Millions of people, doing millions of little things, won that election." And he insists that even though the campaign will try to raise more than the $740 million that it cost to win in 2008, "This is a grassroots campaign that needs to be won in a grassroots way."

Everyone needs a hobby. For many Americans, and not a few politicians, that hobby is golf. For Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, it's trying to re-elect the current president of the United States.

Recently named vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rybak visited both sides of Tampa Bay on Saturday to pump up the candidate who won't be on the ballot this Tuesday in Florida — Barack Obama.

Rybak's big event of the day was the christening of the new Obama for America office in St. Petersburg on Central Avenue. But the DNC was more than willing to make him available for any media outlet that desired him. The party was looking for some equal time to balance out the Republican candidates who have crisscrossed Florida over the past week, often criticizing the president — though happily for Democrats, making more headlines by bashing each other.

"The thing with Romney is," Rybak says at CL's Ybor City offices Saturday morning, "if you go to a dance and everybody on your side of the room collapses, and this woman across the room finally comes over and says, ‘I guess I’ll dance with you, because you’re the only one left,' it doesn’t make you Casanova, right?"

Like the rest of the Democratic establishment, Rybak isn't too hung up on dissing Newt Gingrich. The DNC has been targeting Romney all week in Florida, but Rybak is happier to extol Obama's first three years in office.

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