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McCain, Obama make a last pitch to Florida voters

After nearly two years of roller-coaster campaigning, a billion dollars in campaign spending, and the most diverse slate of major candidates ever, this historic presidential election comes to a close today.

Polls open in Florida at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

Given the importance of Florida's 27 electoral votes, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama both hit the state Monday for one last pitch.

"We will win Florida, and we will win this race. There is one day left until we take America in a new direction, my friends. We need your help and we will win," McCain told nearly 1,200 supporters outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Monday morning. "The pundits may not know it and the Democrats may not know it, but the Mac is back. We're going to win this election."

Obama drew more than 7,000 to a rally in Jacksonville, a Republican stronghold that also holds searing symbolism for Democrats who remember tens of thousands of African-American votes invalidated in the 2000 election.

"Don't believe for a second this election is over,'' the Illinois senator said. "Don't think for a minute that power will concede anything for a minute without a fight. This is going to be close here in Florida. We have to work like our future depends on it in the next 24 hours, because it does. This is about who wants it more."

The candidates, their spouses and their running mates roared through more than a dozen battleground states, their paths underscoring the challenge facing McCain. Of the seven states where he campaigned, only Pennsylvania went Democratic four years ago.

Obama campaigned in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, each of which Bush won in 2004. Until this year, North Carolina and Virginia had been safe Republican states.

In Tampa, McCain was joined on stage by Gov. Charlie Crist and Sens. Mel Martinez and Joe Lieberman, and was introduced by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers fullback Mike Alstott.

"We can trust John McCain to put his country first because that's what he's always done,'' said Alstott, a registered Republican.

The Arizona senator hammered Obama as unready and sure to raise taxes.

"Sen. Obama is running to be redistributionist in chief. I am running to be commander in chief,'' said McCain, periodically interrupted by chants of "Nobama!" and "USA!"

The crowd size was not a great sign for McCain, however. On the Sunday before the 2004 election, President Bush drew nearly 15,000 to a rally across the street.

On Monday night at a rally for Obama, comedian George Lopez joked to a crowd of about 300 at the Cuban Club in Ybor City that he had thought Obama was going to pick him as a running mate, while poking fun at McCain running mate Sarah Palin.

"I'm well qualified, I told Obama. I can see Mexico from my front porch," Lopez joked.

The crowd cheered loudly and waved signs saying "Hispanics for Obama. Turn Florida Blue."

Through Sunday, 358,000 more Democrats than Republicans had cast ballots in Florida, but Buzz Jacobs, McCain's Florida campaign manager, said he is confident the early vote results are stronger for McCain than many people assume.

"I expect it to be a very long night Tuesday. I think it's going to be a razor-thin victory for us,'' Jacobs said.

Obama appeared at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, the same site where McCain in September declared "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." On Monday, Obama focused on the economy and his promise that no one earning less than $250,000 a year will see their taxes rise.

"That includes 98 percent of small businesses. And 99.9 percent of plumbers," Obama said to laughter.

The grueling schedule is apparently taking a toll, with Obama at one point referring to being in Ohio rather than Florida.

Steve Schale, Obama's Florida campaign manager, said he feels confident.

"We're where we want to be in terms of turning out voters and talking to undecideds," Schale said. "The hardest thing right now is this next 36-hour period. We've put our game in place, but now it's up to voters."

Times staff writer Elisabeth Dyer contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com or (727)893-8241.

McCain, Obama make a last pitch to Florida voters 11/03/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 3:54pm]
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