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After Convention, Obama Hits The Campaign Trail


On a Monday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Over the weekend, two very different approaches to campaigning by President Obama and Mitt Romney.

INSKEEP: The Republican challenger was mostly out of sight, preparing for next month's presidential debates. Romney did, however, appear on Sunday morning TV shows and we'll have more on that in a moment.

MONTAGNE: Let's go first to President Obama, who was on a bus tour across Florida. There were some big events with big crowds, but possibly just as important were the small, unannounced informal encounters with voters.

NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea went along.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: After two high energy rallies, Saturday in St. Petersburg and Kissimmee, the president was in the city of Melbourne near the Atlantic coast Sunday morning


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: How's it going, Florida?


GONYEA: Cape Canaveral is not far away and the president spoke of a new direction for NASA, a major concern here now that the space shuttle program is over.

OBAMA: Here on the Space Coast, we've started a new era of American exploration that is creating good jobs right here in this county.


GONYEA: He'd like to pick up some votes in a part of the state he lost four years ago, but events like this one were only part of his mission. The president's very first stop yesterday was at a bakery and cafe in the city of Cocoa, where he chatted up a group of teachers.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Our class is going to be so excited. We're studying the election. We've been talking about it.

GONYEA: But one table over, a man gave the president a firm handshake and said he's voting for Romney. The exchange was very friendly.

Driving down I-95, there was another unannounced stop yesterday, and it provided one of the strangest moments of this long campaign. The president walked into Big Apple Pizza and Pasta, where he was greeted by the owner, 46-year-old Scott Van Duzer. The two seemed to be old friends.

OBAMA: How are you? Yeah. What's going on, man?

GONYEA: Van Duzer, who has the body of weightlifter, was wearing a tight gray T-shirt and long workout shorts. Caught up in the moment, he wrapped his huge arms around the president and then lifted Mr. Obama a foot off the ground.


OBAMA: Look at that. Look at that.

SCOTT VAN DUZER: Man, I'm so excited.

GONYEA: Customers seated at nearby watched, eyes wide. Turns out Mr. Van Duzer is a Republican who voted for the president in '08 and says he'll do so again. The two men had never met. I asked him if he worried about how the Secret Service agent would react to his bear hug


DUZER: He said I was alright as long as I didn't take him away. So...


GONYEA: The Obama campaign is actively looking for ways to have him interact one on one with voters. They feel it's a contrast with Mitt Romney. It also shows that the president's awkwardness at bowling alleys and working class hangouts from back in 2008 is a thing of the past.

Saturday night he surprised patrons at a sports bar in Orlando. He ordered a beer, sang Happy Birthday to one little girl, and teased a six-year-old boy born in Hawaii about whether he has his birth certificate.

Yesterday afternoon, after leaving Mr. Van Duzer's place with a stack of pizzas in hand, the president delivered them to an Obama campaign office in Port St. Lucie.

OBAMA: We brought everybody a little food 'cause I know you guys are working so hard.


GONYEA: He then sat down at a table do so some phone bank work on his own behalf.

OBAMA: Hi. Is this Barney? Barney, this is Barack Obama


OBAMA: It is.


GONYEA: With the cheering volunteers and what seems to be renewed energy for the candidate, this weekend started to feel a bit like 2008 for the campaign. The rallies aren't as massive but they are growing, and those in attendance share a common goal and a readiness to work. To that end, thousands of them broke out in song in West Palm Beach at yesterday's final event, as they waited for the president to take the stage.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Let's stay together. I want you whether, whether times are good or bad and happy or sad...

GONYEA: The Al Green hit was once sung a cappella by the president himself at a campaign fundraiser. Yesterday, the crowd sent its own message.

Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.