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MIAMI — Former President Barack Obama told attendees at a Friday campaign event for Florida's Democratic candidates that democracy can't work when words stop having meaning.
Obama encouraged a crowd of more than 4,000 to vote for gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and others during the event in Miami.
"We need leaders who will actually stand up for what's right, regardless of party," Obama said. "Leaders who represent the best of the American spirit. Patriots who will stand up for anyone whose fundamental rights are at stake."
Obama warned voters not to get bamboozled by misinformation while Republicans allow polluters to poison the environment, give tax cuts to billionaires and take health care away from millions.
"It's like the con where a door-to-door salesman says you need a security system while his buddy sneaks in the back and steals your stuff," Obama said. "But it's not just the practical effect in terms of policy. When words stop meaning anything, when truth doesn't matter, when people can just lie with abandon, democracy can't work."
Besides encouraging Democrats to vote, Obama also tried to bring Republicans to his side.
"It shouldn't be Democratic or Republican to say we're not going to target certain groups based on what they looked like or how they pray," Obama said. "It shouldn't be Democrat or Republican to know that climate change is real and threatens our futures and our kids' futures."
During Obama's speech, a protester shouted that Obama should "denounce ANTIFA" — the protesters who square off against neo-Nazis. Obama responded by citing anger among Trump supporters despite their candidate's win, and asked, "Why are they so mad?"
Obama drew boos from critics, but they were silenced by supporters who chanted "Obama" and "Bring it Home!"
That protester and two others were escorted out of the venue.
Loretta McNeir, a 65-year-old retired civil servant, attended the rally with a group of friends. Like many others in attendance, she had to wait in line under the warm Florida sun before the doors opened.
"I went through the civil rights movement, so this is nothing compared to what my people paid the price for to be able to vote," McNeir said.
She said she has a special feeling about Gillum.
"I haven't found this much excitement since Obama ran," she said.
Gillum asked the large crowd of supporters if they were ready to flip Florida blue.
"We now find ourselves in this moment where we set the precedent of something great — something transformational in our state," he said. "(We have) the opportunity to put the voice of everyday working people of our state at the centerfold of public policy and decision making — and results inside Tallahassee."
Gillum said he wanted voters to give him the chance to provide pay raises for the state's teachers. He said he wants to fight climate change and outlined his plans for Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reform. He also called for stricter background checks for gun buyers.
Nelson said Republicans are attempting to undo the legacy of President Obama. Citing the cutting of environmental regulations and medical coverage spending for citizens, he claimed that both he and Gillum could successfully direct the state into a progressive direction.
"Now more than ever, the country, indeed Florida, needs people that they can trust," Nelson said.