Florida continues to look good for Mitt Romney. The Republican holds a 6-point lead in the state essential to his hopes of defeating President Barack Obama, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll.
The poll shows slight tightening, with Romney's 51-45 lead down 1 percentage point from the Times' statewide poll a month ago. Other Florida surveys show a tighter contest and both campaigns are blanketing the state with appearances geared toward scraping together every last vote.
Still, nearly every key indicator in the Times' pre-Election Day poll reveals Romney's advantage in a state Obama won four years ago.
Florida voters trust Romney more to fix the economy and give him an edge, 50 percent to 48 percent, on who will look out more for the middle class — a stark turn from past months when Obama and his allies unleashed a barrage of TV ads portraying Romney as an out-of-touch corporate raider.
Romney even has a slight advantage on foreign policy, with 2 percent more voters saying they trust him over Obama, who has faced criticism over the fatal attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya.
"Florida typically is a little bit more Republican than the rest of the country," said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, which conducted the poll for the Times and its media partners.
In 2008, Sen. John McCain "only lost by 3 points here and he lost by 7 nationally," Coker added. "Three points is not a lot of ground to make up in Florida for a Republican, particularly when the president's popularity is mixed, at best."
Only 42 percent of voters have a favorable view of Obama versus 49 percent who have an unfavorable opinion. Romney has a 53 percent favorable rating and a 34 percent unfavorable rating. Floridians had a favorable opinion of Obama as late as September.
"I think Obama did a bad job and he needs to be out of there," said Redetha Banfield, a 77-year-old Democrat from Fort Pierce who said she had already voted for Romney and agreed to be interviewed after participating in the poll. "Maybe the other one won't do any better, but I think we need a change."
Romney has been campaigning on the change mantle for the past week, trying to latch onto the mantra that carried Obama four years ago, while also projecting a more moderate message. "I will bring change and real reform and a presidency that brings us together," he said Wednesday in Tampa.
Obama's message: Give me more time.
"I remember clearly how the country was just about to go into a severe depression, and I think people forget that," said Reda Shihadeh, 40, of Jacksonville, who has already cast his vote for Obama. "And I think that he's been working very hard on restoring the economy despite the challenges that we've had."
The telephone survey of 800 registered Florida voters — all likely to vote in the November election — was conducted Tuesday through Thursday for the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9, Miami Herald and Central Florida News 13. The poll, which included respondents using land lines and cell phones, was conducted by Mason-Dixon, a nonpartisan, Jacksonville company. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Romney is winning in every region of the state except Democrat-rich southeast Florida, where Obama has a 54 percent to 40 percent advantage. That puts added pressure on Obama's ground game effort to ensure his base makes it to the polls. To that end, Obama will campaign Sunday in Broward County, a Democratic hotbed.
Romney returns to the Orlando area on Monday. Florida, with its 29 Electoral College votes, is critical to Romney's chances. Obama, despite his troubles, still has an easier path to the 270 needed for victory and so far holds the advantage in the grand prize of 2012: Ohio.
Romney's lead in Florida is built on a lopsided advantage among men and by Obama's slide with women voters. The president holds only a two percentage point lead among women, down from 14 in July, according to the poll. Women tend to tune into elections later, focusing instead on their families, but did so in time for Romney's commanding first debate performance in early October.
Romney is also capturing more Democratic support than Obama is taking Republicans, chiefly in rural North Florida.
Among the vital independent voters, Romney leads 49 percent to 43 percent, with 8 percent still undecided. Romney is also favored among every age group except voters ages 18 to 34, a key to Obama's 2008 success.
Steve Smith, a business owner in New Port Richey and Republican, said he voted for Obama in 2008 but will not stick with him.
"If something doesn't work, you don't stay with it and keep throwing money at it."
Smith, 53, said he isn't so sure about Romney's plans for Medicare but said something must be done. "I have two kids. They're adults, 27 and 25. I worry about them. Medicare is an unsustainable plan because they're spending more than they're taking in. I don't know if the vouchers are the way to go."
Medicare is another advantage-turned-liability for Obama. The poll asked, "Whose plans do you think are more likely to do more long term harm to Medicare — Barack Obama's or Mitt Romney's?" Fifty-two percent said Obama; 44 percent said Romney.
Republicans have been pounding away in TV ads that Obama "cut" $716 billion from Medicare to pay for his health care plan.
The attack, though apparently successful, is also misleading.
The new law limits payments to health care providers and insurers with the goal of slowing the growth of Medicare spending.
Hurricane Sandy pulled Obama off the campaign trail for a few days and so far he has received high marks for his leadership.
"I love the fact the president went back to Washington during the hurricane and acted as our leader and executive," said MaryEllen Becher, 51, of Boca Raton, who voted Friday for Obama. She said she believes in budget tightening but also says there is a role for government.
"The state of New Jersey is a perfect example," she said. "They couldn't handle Hurricane Sandy themselves, so they had to turn to FEMA, which happens to be the federal government."
Times staff writers Tia Mitchell and Brittany Alana Davis contributed to this report. Contact Alex Leary at [email protected]