Barack Obama promised a Florida audience Monday he would halt foreclosures in their tracks and updated a famous Ronald Reagan line to criticize Republican handling of the nation's deepening economic distress.
"At this rate, the question isn't just 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?', it's 'Are you better off than you were four weeks ago?'" the Democratic presidential nominee asked a raucous crowd here of about 8,000.
In an October, 1980, debate with incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter, Reagan asked listeners, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Reagan went on to oust Carter in that presidential election.
With just over two weeks left until Election Day, Obama set aside two full days to campaign across Florida, which twice went for Republican George Bush and now figures prominently in the Democrat's hopes for clinching the presidency.
Obama's swing through central and south Florida was timed to coincide with Monday's opening of early voting statewide.
And he brought along potent weapons. His former Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton has two events on her own and a joint rally with Obama on Monday evening in Orlando.
The candidate's wife, Michelle, also is making her way through Florida, as is another former Obama rival for the Democratic nomination, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is trying to help Obama with the state's Hispanic voters.
Obama's campaign also has parked deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand in Florida, another sign of the importance of its 27 electoral votes, which could ease Obama's path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Persuading Democrats to vote early is key to the strategy.
"Go early. We're going to make sure your vote is counted," Obama said, in an unmistakable reference to the disputed voting here in 2000 that landed Bush in the White House.
Obama noted that anything can happen on Election Day — cars breaking down, emergencies at work — that can keep even a determined voter from the polls. What he didn't say was that anything can happen between now and Election Day in a heated White House race, and that his campaign wants to capitalize on its current momentum.
In Florida, Obama has outspent Republican rival John McCain by about $15 million and has a far larger staff. Earlier, Obama wasn't able to reduce McCain's lead in the state. But since the housing crisis spread recently into a broader financial meltdown, Florida has become a tossup.
Florida has higher unemployment than the national average and one of the nation's worst foreclosure rates. So Obama touted his plans for a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures and for giving bankruptcy judges authority to reduce the interest rates or amount owed on a mortgage for a primary home.
"All across this state, there are families who've done everything right, but who are now facing foreclosure or seeing their home values decline because of bad decisions on Wall Street and in Washington," he said.
Obama was introduced by half a dozen baseball players from the Tampa Bay Rays, who dethroned the defending champion Boston Red Sox to clinch the American League pennant Sunday night and earn a spot in the World Series.
The crowd went almost as wild for them as for Obama. "Tampa Bay! Tampa Bay!" the audience screamed as the players waved from the stage at Legend's Field, the spring training home of the New York Yankees.
Smiling and shaking his head in amazement, Obama exchanged high-fives and bear hugs with the ebullient players.
"When you see a (Chicago) White Sox fan showing some love to the Rays, and the Rays showing some love back, you know we're on to something right here," said the Illinois senator.
He also struck back against the increasingly negative attacks aimed at him by the McCain campaign.
"It's getting so bad that even Sen. McCain's running mate denounced his tactics last night. As you know, you really have to work hard to violate Gov. Palin's standards on negative campaigning," Obama said. "That's what you do when you are out of ideas, out of touch, and running out of time."
Palin did not denounce McCain's tactics, but she did say Sunday that she'd rather campaign face-to-face than use robot telephone calls, which the GOP recently unleashed against Obama in some states.
With battleground states trending his way and a huge campaign bank account, Obama is devoting almost the entire week to states that voted for Bush in 2004. Aside from a brief stop in Wisconsin, plans call for him to travel to GOP states, including Virginia, Iowa, and Ohio.
On Sunday, Obama got the endorsement of Colin Powell, the four-star general who served in several Republican administrations, including as President Bush's first secretary of state.
Obama said that if he wins the White House, Powell will have an advisory role.