Obama, Biden speak in Tampa for 90 minutes on rail and assorted subjects

To emphasize that he was walking into a sinking financial situation when he inherited the Presidency, Obama listed the unemployment figures for January and February of 2009, a time when he was actually on the job before his stimulus package had yet to be approved by Congress.

After he delivered one of his biggest, most fiery lines that "we will not stop fighting for your future," Obama then picked up what some reporters were probably thinking at that time (okay, this one was).  That the President was trying to find a populist streak to fire up his base,  who at times recently have appeared to be somewhat disillusioned with what's happened on his watch (i.e. the lack of a health care bill).

Obama then commented that after saying a similar line in Ohio last Friday, "the media got all worked up" that he was trying for that populist feeling.  But he denied that was anything new. "I've been fighting for working folks my entire adult life," he said to cheers. "That's why I ran for the state senate in Illinois, that's why I ran for the U.S. Senate, that's why I ran for President." The crowd erupted in a frenzy reminiscent of the 2008 campaign.  In fact, right at that point, he referenced the last time he was in Tampa, 15 days before Election Day 2008 when he spoke at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, "where I said then that change never comes without a fight."

Even though the event was attended by fiercely enthusiastic crowd, there was some controversy when it came around to the question and answers segment of the town hall meeting format.

A University of South Florida student who had the opportunity to ask the first question asked Obama why he spoke about America's support for human rights in his state of the union, "then, why don't you condemn Israel and Egypt's human rights violations against the occupied Palestinian people."  She continued on as boos (and some cheers ) emanated from the crowd.

Obama called on the crowd to settle down, saying that the Middle East situation "elicits a lot of passions."  He then said that it was critical for the U.S. to support the vibrant democracy that is Israel, and "I make no apologies about that. "  He then said it was important for the country to pay attention to the plight of the Palestinian people, and discussed the familiar issues that have blocked a possibility of a Palestinian state.

Obama had to think fast when a woman asked if anything could be done to help out her brother out, who's had problems with the criminal justice system.  Just a bit.  Actually, he's had 33 felonies.  Obama did his best to sound sympathetic, while acknowledging that in a tough economy, a business owner may probably look a little more favorably at an applicant with a slightly cleaner record.

There were protesters at the event.  Dozens gathered at the corner of Kennedy and North Boulevard.  Many were proud Tea Party (or as their critics call them , Tea bag) members.

Sixton Larson from Clearwater called Obama's State of the Union "the same old, same old."  He said it was up to Congress to make meaningful change, which he said was doubtful.

" So either there going to be serious about reducing the deficit, and stop spending, and creating revenues, " he said. " And if they want to create programs that will work in the future, then they need to create wealth, and government cannot wealth. They can present programs and opportunities to have people then create wealth, which creates jobs.  But the government’s not going to do it.”…Tax cuts? “if they do meaning ful cuts, yeah.  But tax credits don’t work.  They don’t generate revenue, they don’t create jobs, if they tax people who are wealthy,and nobody else, then that’s wrong too."

But talking to dozens of people in line to enter the Bob Martinez Sports Center, most people CL spoke to were hanging tough with the President.

Deborah Anderson of St. Petersburg said, " I think he’s got a difficult job and he’s making some progress, but he has a lot of sentiment against him. I hope he makes it work.  I have hope.  I continue to support him strongly."

There were also a number of public officials at the event - all the usual Democratic party suspects (no Bill Nelson, however).  One of the biggest cheers went out for Orlando Congressman Alan Grayson.  Among the local Republicans in the room included St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who spoke highly of the President's State of the Union address because of its call for unity within the country.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the University of Tampa before approximately 2, 600 people this afternoon, including a healthy chunk of UT students.

Looking for some love after a brutal couple of weeks of criticism, starting with the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack, and then the gut punch for Democrats that was the loss of Ted Kennedy's seat in the Senate last week,  Obama came bearing gifts today.  That gift was the $1.25 billion grant that will begin construction on a high speed-rail line that will run from Tampa to Orlando, and that the President joked that he looks forward to riding on it once it's completed.

Making his first public appearance since his much hyped State of the Union address last night in Washington, Obama touched on many of the same themes in his 30 minute speech that he spoke of last night, including his calls to try to address the country's largest problem (and an issue that he's been accused of not focusing enough on), the economy.


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