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Final push of 2012 presidential campaign cuts through Florida

SANFORD — The presidential campaigns shoved aside polls and predictions for a furious last grab at votes Monday, with candidates and their surrogates spreading across nearly a dozen battleground states that will decide the 2012 election.

Underscoring the scramble was Florida, where Mitt Romney touched down in Sanford for an early morning rally, only to be matched later in the day by first lady Michelle Obama.

In a state that spans two time zones, they campaigned a half hour apart in the Orlando area, a bellwether stretch rich with swing voters. Already, 4.5 million Floridians have voted in advance of Election Day, nearly 40 percent of the overall electorate.

"All of the progress that we've made, all of it's at stake," Mrs. Obama said before 2,600 at Orlando's Southport Park. "It's all on the line. As Barack has said, this election will be even closer than the last one. That is the only guarantee. Just know that."

Romney sounded weary after an 18-hour day Sunday but was loudly greeted by more than 3,000 people who packed an airport hangar — picked so he could easily jet off to the day's next stops: Virginia, Ohio and New Hampshire. (His campaign later announced he'd appear today in Ohio and Pennsylvania.)

"We need every single vote in Florida," Romney said. "We can begin a better tomorrow, tomorrow."

He tailored a more moderate message for the independent voters who populate the area from Tampa to Orlando — the prized I-4 corridor — toning down attacks on Obama, but also saying his rival had not delivered on his promises from 2008.

"The question of this election really comes down to this: Do the people of America want four more years like the last four years?" Romney asked. "Or do you want real change, finally?"

The audience broke into a chant, "One more day, one more day!" Trying to project confidence, Romney made several references to being the president.

"I think you know that the president promised change but he couldn't deliver change. I not only promise change, I have a record of achieving it," he said, holding up his time as governor of Massachusetts. "I'll bring people together. I won't just represent one party. I'll represent one nation."

Barbara Carter, 59, of Winter Park said she expected Romney to not only take Florida but to also exceed expectations across the country. "I've never seen such enthusiasm in all the years I've been voting. I think the American people are finally waking up to the mistakes of this presidency," she said.

Carter said she has seen a transformation among other Republicans in support for Romney. A year ago, she said, "People were like, 'I don't know. He seems kind of lackluster.' Now people come to my house for Romney signs."

The soaring enthusiasm inside the hangar did not overshadow the reality of Romney spending precious time in a state his campaign would have liked to have secured by now, banking 29 electoral votes, as he heads into Election Day behind in what could be the decisive state of Ohio.

A new poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling, a group aligned with Democrats, showed the race in Florida as tight as possible. Obama was leading 50 percent to 49 percent, with 473 respondents choosing Obama and 472 picking Romney. A Jacksonville Times-Union/InsiderAdvantage poll released Sunday night had Romney up 52-47.

Romney adviser Stuart Stevens acknowledged the race would be tight in Florida but predicted victory: "We don't take anything for granted. We're going to work it."

Mrs. Obama got to work at a 6 p.m. rally in Orlando. The inclusion of Puerto-Rican born singer Ricky Martin was acknowledgement of how important the Hispanic vote is for Obama's chances in Florida. Nationally he has a huge lead over Romney with Hispanics, but Florida's Cuban-American voters are solidly Republican and Puerto Ricans are considered swing voters.

Mrs. Obama had a rebuttal ready for Romney's persistent talk about change. "We've been making real and meaningful change — you hear me? — change that has meant something in people's lives."

She told the crowd to keep telling everyone they know to go out and vote, pointing out that Obama eked past John McCain by 236,000 votes in Florida in 2008, which works out to just 36 votes per precinct, she said.

"On this last day, I just have one question: Are you ready for this? Are you fired up? Are you ready to roll up your sleeves for the next 24, 48 hours and work?" she said, to cheers.

Even among the well of support there were signs of Obama's challenges. Nathan Araya, 26, an Orlando town car driver, said he will vote for Obama but "he's got to do better."

"I'm not satisfied," he said. "We need to see a real change."

The president brought out his own star power, Bruce Springsteen, during stops in Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa, the state that launched Obama into the White House in 2008. Jay-Z showed up for the last two stops.

"We have come too far to turn back now," Obama told 18,000 people in Madison, Wis. "Now is the time to keep pushing forward."

Vice President Joe Biden campaigned in Virginia, while Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, hit five states: Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.

"This may be the best that Barack Obama can offer, but this is not the best America can," Ryan said in Reno, Nev.

As the campaigns circled each other, there was growing talk of a drawn-out Election Day, given how tight some states are and problems already being reported at polls. Lawyers have been assembling for days in Florida, Ohio and other key states.

More than 30 million people nationwide have already voted, including in excess of 4.5 million in Florida, where Democrats had a 167,000 lead over Republicans. However, that does not include independent voters, who have trended toward Romney. But the picture remains unclear heading into today.

The one certainty: The weather won't be as nice as recent early voting days.

Bay News 9 forecast a 70 percent chance of rain. Most of the rain will be in the morning and midday. Forecasters also said it will be windy.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Alex Leary reported from Sanford and Katie Sanders from Orlando.

Final push of 2012 presidential campaign cuts through Florida 11/05/12 [Last modified: Monday, November 5, 2012 11:21pm]

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