SARASOTA — Pundits and conservatives in Washington may be second-guessing Mitt Romney's campaign, but there was no sign of skepticism in Sarasota on Thursday.
At least 4,000 people braved 90-degree heat on the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art to cheer the Republican nominee, who promised that, unlike President Barack Obama, he can usher bipartisanship into Washington.
"We face a Washington that's broken, that can't get the job done. The president today threw in the white flag of surrender again: He said he can't change Washington from inside, he can only change it from outside," Romney said, referring to a comment Obama made earlier Thursday in Miami, suggesting that major change only comes to Washington when the American people are mobilized and demand it.
"I can change Washington, I will change Washington," Romney said, scoffing at Obama. "We'll get the job done from the inside. Republicans and Democrats will come together. He can't do it. His slogan was 'Yes, we can.' His slogan is now 'No, I can't.' This is time for a new president. He went from the president of change to the president who can't get change."
The day highlighted how much in play Florida is. Romney concluded a two-day swing through the state with fundraising receptions in Sarasota, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, while Obama hit Miami before a fundraiser in Tampa. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is scheduled to hold rallies Saturday in Orlando and Miami, and the pace of visits will only increase as November approaches.
Anyone hoping that recent criticism would produce a new, bolder Romney would have been disappointed by his 18-minute Sarasota speech.
The former Massachusetts governor mostly repeated vague goals of improving education, helping small business, getting a grip on the deficit and expanding trade and energy production.
But among the throngs of people feverishly fanning themselves with "Defeat Obama" and "Romney-Ryan" fans, pessimism about Romney was scarce.
Nancy and Alan Arnold of Sarasota follow the campaign closely and don't see that Romney's in any danger.
"I don't think he ever got off track," said Nancy Arnold, 62.
"I think he has to define a little more what he was talking about in the welfare state," said Alan Arnold. "He needs to talk more about creating an environment for business to thrive."
Alan attributes polls showing Obama inching ahead to the convention bounce.
"That would have to happen," he said. "It always does."
Recent polls show Obama narrowly leading Romney nationally, as well as in the key battleground states. In Sarasota, Romney fans weren't buying it.
"I don't think it's true," said Dave Carter, a retired pharmacist from Longboat Key. "I think there's going to be a landslide against Obama."
Dave Carter, 66, said he thinks Romney is still losing the personality contest.
"He's got to get people to — unfortunately — like him as a person. Play the game that Obama plays," he said.
Alison Denboggende, 42, a homemaker who lives in Lakewood Ranch, said she thinks the numbers will turn in Romney's favor when undecided voters hear his message.
"I think they're waiting for the debates," she said.
Romney again criticized the president for using more than $700 billion in reduced Medicare spending to help pay for the Affordable Care Act.
"I hope the people of Florida understand this: He cut Medicare by $716 billion, and if I'm president of the United states, we're going to put that $716 billion back into Medicare, back into the care of our seniors," Romney said.
He neglected to mention that his running mate supported the same reductions to the growth in Medicare spending, and that without that reduction, Medicare would be insolvent by 2016, rather than 2024.
Romney noted the few dozen protesters outside the event.
"I love a few protesters — not too many, but a few — and they had signs that said, 'Four more years,' " Romney said.
"If I'd had had a little more time I would have said, 'Do you really want four more years where only half the college graduates can get a job or a job consistent with a college degree? You want four more years with 23 million people out of work or underemployed? You want four more years where incomes go down every single year? You want four more years with gas prices doubling?"