DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kiss by kiss, handshake by handshake, President Barack Obama glides across the perimeter of a small tennis stadium, stooping to embrace white-haired retirees wearing dark sunglasses and extending his arms to shake hands or touch the masses a few rows back.
Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own," the unofficial anthem of the president's re-election campaign, blares over the sound system as Obama crouches to kiss an elderly woman wearing a tan Obama baseball cap, stretches out to touch the fingers of a woman wearing a purple headband. He turns to an aide, Marvin Nicholson, when he reaches a wheelchair-bound veteran, and Nicholson hands Obama a presidential challenge coin, which the president gives the veteran in the palm of his handshake.
Such is life on the Obama "rope line," the latest version of a longtime tradition of politicians literally touching their supporters while walking along low, metal barriers.
For Obama, who visited here last week, this kind of personal contact offers a daily reminder of the voting coalition that sent him to the White House in 2008 and is vital to winning another term.
For many of Obama's fans, it's a glimpse of history, the first black man to be elected president. And it's especially poignant for blacks, who clutch printouts of his official portrait, or wear T-shirts bearing his image.
"We love you," they say. "Good luck." The president responds with his broad, toothy smile: "Thank you," he says. "I appreciate you."
"What's your name? How old are you?" Obama asked when he reached 5-year-old Zion Gray, who wore a blue T-shirt that said, "Future President." Obama placed his right hand atop the black boy's head as he greeted the boy's grandmother, Angeleta Gray, a Delray Beach city commissioner.
Zion was able to say by phone hours later what other boys like him might not have said just a few short years ago: "I want to be president one day."
Supporters pass Obama notes, a newspaper insert with his photograph, even a tote bag bearing images of the Obama family. Aides collect the materials by the armful and the president signs them after the events, leaving them for his supporters to retrieve after his motorcade departs.