February 9th, 2009
11:57 PM ET
11 years ago

Obama to talk economy in GOP stronghold

Florida’s troubled real estate market has been one symptom of the state’s economic woes.

Florida’s troubled real estate market has been one symptom of the state’s economic woes.

(CNN) - When Air Force One touches down in Fort Myers, Florida, Tuesday morning, the weather will be different than northern Indiana. Little else will be.

President Barack Obama won't see anyone in earmuffs at the airport or remnants of dirty snow along the motorcade route to the town hall meeting. But like their rust belt compatriots in Elkhart, residents in Lee County are among the hardest hit by the economic downturn.

Fort Myers restaurant manager Debbie Kendall sees it every day.

"People are very nervous," she said of her customers. "Maybe even scared. Everything is so up in the air."

The cold, hard numbers: Unemployment in the Gulf Coast community was 2.3 percent at this time in 2006. By last winter, it was 6 percent. The latest numbers put the jobless rate in Lee County at 10 percent. That translates to 28,396 people looking for work.

The numbers were different Monday morning, but very telling. Hundreds lined up outside the Harborside Event Center waiting for tickets to the president's town hall meeting. They began waiting in line over the weekend. Many camped out overnight, with tents and sleeping bags springing up near the front door.

When she arrived for early Monday, a convention center worker said it was "line upon line upon line." It took less than an hour for all the tickets to be given away.

The huge turnout won't completely be a sign of support for the new president. This is a county where candidate Obama wasn't the rock star during the campaign. He didn't visit Fort Myers, and he lost Lee County by ten points to John McCain. Then-vice presidential candidate Joe Biden held an economic roundtable there in September, in the same convention center where Obama speaks Tuesday.

The White House, trying to take the debate over the stimulus out of divided Washington with these campaign-style events, paints the Florida gathering as bipartisan. They announced the state's popular Republican governor, Charlie Crist, will attend the town rally and introduce the president. Obama said in a statement, "we agree that we can't allow politics to get in the way of urgent relief for the millions of families and small businesses that need it."

But not all politics will be overshadowed. The event is in the district of Republican Congressman Connie Mack, who voted against the stimulus bill in the House and will not be there Tuesday. His spokesman said he will be in Washington for votes. She said that Mack was "informed about the town hall but not invited."

Mack wrote an open letter to President Obama, published Monday in two newspapers in the district. In it, Mack wrote, "History has proven that we can't spend our way to prosperity. Our children and grandchildren deserve better than to inherit a future of more government, more spending and more debt. ...

He added, "Mr. President, listen to the people. Take their message to heart. And let us go down the road to economic prosperity through less taxing, less spending, less government and more freedom."

At Clancey's, a busy restaurant along McGregor Boulevard, Kendall said politics and the economy are daily topics.

"Historically this is a very Republican area. But people are hoping some of the ideas (Obama) is bringing in can turn things around," she told CNN by phone. Some voters who in November didn't vote for Obama, she said, "are giving him the benefit of the doubt."

Filed under: Florida • President Obama • stimulus plan
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. FrankP

    Obama is in way over his head. His Obamamania doesn't work in the major league beltway so he's headed back for some triple A play for a feel good rush. His fear mongering really translates to fear his hollow brand of hope. The man needs to lead- not run from office.

    February 10, 2009 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  2. Crocklet

    you are doing a grand job Obama! greatest President ever !!

    February 10, 2009 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  3. Common Sense

    I trust President Obama to do the right thing. Finally someone in DC cares about the regular worker who wakes up everyday and puts in his time. I support my president

    February 10, 2009 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
  4. Art Moon

    I am seeing significant differences which tell me that Barack Obama is going to be much different kind of president than the last one. First of all, he goes to people and areas that did not support him politically. George Bush always pandered to his "own kind." Secondly, admission to these town meetings, both in Indiana and Florida, seems to be on a first come, first served basis. That is markedly in constrast with George Bush, who seemed to specialize in speaking to audiences whose entrance/access was tightly controlled. Third, Barack is not afraid of admitting mistakes or hearing criticism. Bush strenuously avoided any transparency or potential negative vibrations about him, his administration, or his policy decisions. Thus, he spoke to military personnel (how much controversy can be expressed in that kind of meeting?), VFW-American Legion groups, etc. It is good to see democracy restored in our own country.

    February 10, 2009 01:00 am at 1:00 am |
  5. Steve

    A president who visits areas that didn't vote for him, and holds town halls where he takes questions from people who haven't been pre-screened to make sure they agree with him.

    What a concept! 🙂

    February 10, 2009 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  6. Arturo E Gonzalez

    This stimulus bill os the President Obama it do not work do not have concernig with the reality

    February 10, 2009 01:24 am at 1:24 am |
  7. Matthew, Detroit

    Barack, we need to pay down our national debt. Cut back on spending. These spending bills are a big mistake. We will never get out from under all the debt. Let the market correct itself.

    February 10, 2009 01:52 am at 1:52 am |
  8. Pam Holt Los Angeles, CA

    Fort Myers is my hometown, and I appreciate the President giving them attention. I have many friends that have fallen victim to unemployment, and contractors that haven't had a job in 6 months, and realtors that haven't made a sale in over a year in Fort Myers. It makes me sad for such a beautiful place. I hope Obama can help them!

    February 10, 2009 02:08 am at 2:08 am |
  9. Jenny of Ft. Myers

    We've heard him talk before. Talk is cheap.

    Wish he would stop talking and actually start doing something about the economy...and I don't mean blaming the republicans. Geez, can't he say something without blaming them every two words in his sentences?

    February 10, 2009 02:13 am at 2:13 am |
  10. Rob in Detroit Mi.

    Obama is right! take your message to the people and we will wait and see the republicans sweat.

    February 10, 2009 02:41 am at 2:41 am |
  11. Jeff in Illinois

    Looks like Ft. Myersian's precious trickle-down economics and tax cuts for the rich are working out well for them.

    February 10, 2009 03:16 am at 3:16 am |
  12. Mike

    Congress has a job,so what do they care.Obama needs to talk to the people, because at least they truly understand.

    February 10, 2009 03:19 am at 3:19 am |