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'You have seen hardship,' Obama tells Fort Myers

FORT MYERS -- President Barack Obama was greeted with an energetic ''Yes we can!'' chant when he took the stage in Fort Myers Tuesday morning, joined by Gov. Charlie Crist.

''It's good to be in Florida, especially in February,'' Obama said, then talked about the importance of bipartisan support of his $825 billion economic stimulus plan.

''When the town is burning, you don't check party labels. Everybody needs to grab a hose,'' Obama said.

Crist, a Republican, introduced the president by telling him Florida has worked hard to balance its budget, but ``it's getting harder every day.''

''To be candid, it's getting harder every day. We know it's important that we pass the stimulus package,'' Crist said. ``It is important that we do so to help education, to help infrastructure and to help healthcare for those who need it the most.

''This issue is about helping our country, helping America and reigniting our economy,'' Crist said.

Before the president's arrival, about 1,500 people inside the Harborside Event Center rose for the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, performed by students from local schools.

The Senate was poised to vote on its version Tuesday and then compromise with the House bill.

Obama chose Lee County as one place to talk with residents about the economic plan because the county's unemployment has jumped to 10 percent and its foreclosure rate leads the state. Of the 255,000 Floridians who lost their jobs last year, about 12,000 of them were from the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area, according to the White House.

Hundreds of people who received free tickets to the speech -- many of whom camped out since Sunday to get them -- filed into the venue, beginning at 10 a.m. Many came dressed to the nines in suits and Sunday dresses, others wearing Obama campaign T-shirts and pins, and some were singing a song about ''Obama, our president'' as they stood and waited for his arrival.

Obama came to Florida after a stop Monday in Elkhart, Ind., where the unemployment rate has tripled to 15 percent in the past year.

''I wanted to visit all of you in Fort Myers because you have seen hardship as well,'' Obama said Tuesday. ``We're not just talking about faceless numbers. We're talking about families. We're talking about your neighbors, your friends.''

Obama has said his plan, which includes spending and tax breaks, will create jobs or save four million jobs across the country. He also said the plan will address the foreclosure crisis.

''I know Fort Myers had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last year,'' Obama said Tuesday. ``I know entire neighborhoods are studded with foreclosure signs, and families across this city feel like they're losing their foothold in the American Dream.

``So we are going to do everything we can to help responsible homeowners here in Fort Myers and other hard-hit communities stay in their homes.''

After his visit to Fort Myers, Obama will continue to Peoria, Ill., on Thursday to talk about his plan for the economy.

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