NORFOLK, Va. - President Barack Obama wrapped up his "Road to Charlotte" tour in Virginia on Tuesday with a rally in front of more than 11,000 people at Norfolk State University, encouraging a supportive crowd to get their friends and family to vote if they want to make a difference this election.
"You've got to call them. You've got to let them know what is at stake _ that we can close the gap between what America should be and what it is right now," Obama said.
The president made Norfolk his last stop ahead of the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina. Polls in Virginia show Obama with a slim lead over Republican Mitt Romney, but with Romney narrowing the margin.
Four years ago, Obama became the first Democrat to win Virginia in a presidential race since 1964. The president was seeking to shore up support from the loyal crowd at the historically black campus, which he noted busted his NCAA basketball bracket when the Spartans beat Missouri.
"But I want you to know I've got no hard feelings. Let's just say you owe me one," Obama said.
Obama spoke on a steamy day on Madison Hall Quad near the university's football stadium. Supporters waited for hours in the hot sun for his arrival, but the heat did little to diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd.
"I think it was a historic event," said Mary Weaver, a Norfolk State University employee who attended the rally. "I thought it was great. I think he pumped us up to get ready to go out there and vote and to be sure we're registered and be willing to stand with him."
Among other things, Obama touted his health care plan, which his campaign says has provided more than 837,000 Virginia Medicare beneficiaries with preventive care services.
That coverage is one of the primary reasons Norfolk retiree Richard Butts said he would vote for Obama again.
"I hope it doesn't change," he said. "So I'm going to rally around this guy because he seems concerned with people at a lower level, a grass- roots level. Everybody's not millionaires."
Obama was also in Virginia last Wednesday, when he appeared in Charlottesville on a tour of college towns in toss-up battleground states.
This was his second appearance in the Hampton Roads region since July, when he gave speeches at high schools in Hampton and Virginia Beach.
As he did at those stops, Obama made a point of reaching out to members of the military as well as veterans. The Hampton Roads region plays host to all five branches of the military, including the world's largest naval base.
"This November you get to decide the future of the war in Afghanistan. By the end of this month I will have brought home 33,000 troops. I've said we will end this war in 2014. Governor Romney last week didn't have a word to say about Afghanistan. He said the way I ended the war in Iraq was "tragic." Listen, I promised I'd end the war in the Iraq and I did. I said we'd take out bin Laden, we did," Obama said in reference to the Virginia Beach-based Navy SEAL team that killed the terrorist leader.
Obama also greeted a small crowd at Naval Station Norfolk, where his plane landed. Among the group that welcomed him was Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, deputy commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command. Howard made history last month when she became the first black woman to earn a three-star-rank in the U.S. military.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis
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