President Barack Obama dashed from a Navy hangar in Jacksonville to a swanky Miami Beach hotel Monday to buff his image in a recession-weary state and bag $1.5 million to defend the Democratic majority in Congress.
Obama's second trip to Florida since the state helped seal his 2008 election had the feel of an ambitious campaign swing, with stops scheduled in three far-flung cities. On Tuesday he is set to attend the opening of one of the nation's largest solar energy plants in Arcadia, a small town in Central Florida.
The ground Obama plans to cover reflects the changing landscape since the freshly inaugurated president came to Fort Myers in February to pitch his economic stimulus plan. His poll numbers are down, unemployment is up and health care reform hangs in the balance.
And this time, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist -- who has his own U.S. Senate race to worry about -- was not by his side.
A boost for Obama came Monday when Senate Democratic leaders said they'll push legislation with a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers.
"We are closer than we have ever been to passing health care reform," Obama told supporters at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel. But he added, "It's not going to get easier from here on in. It's going to get harder."
The president's layover Monday night in Miami reflects the elite status of the nation's largest political battleground. Obama has spent two days, back-to-back, in the same state only twice since his election, in California and Arizona.
The latest Quinnipiac University survey pegs his approval in Florida at 48 percent, down from 64 percent in February after his Fort Myers visit. Meanwhile, unemployment has risen to 11 percent.
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