15,000 fill Pasco football field to see Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney speaks at a rally at the Land O’Lakes High football field Saturday night.
Mitt Romney speaks at a rally at the Land O’Lakes High football field Saturday night.
Published Oct. 28, 2012

LAND O'LAKES — Democrats like to chant "Four more years!" at their Barack Obama campaign rallies, but on Saturday fired-up Florida Republicans offered up their own rallying cry.

"Ten more days! Ten more days!" thousands of people chanted as Mitt Romney joined them at the Land O'Lakes High School football field Saturday night.

The boisterous and optimistic Tampa Bay crowd of an estimated 15,000 provided a stark contrast to four years ago, when John McCain struggled to generate large Florida crowds in the final days of the campaign.

"When we win Florida, we win the White House," said Romney, who also campaigned on Saturday in Pensacola and Kissimmee.

"Big things are at stake. We have big opportunities as a nation. We have big challenges. People want big change," Romney said. "The president, he keeps making the election about smaller and smaller things."

Romney had been scheduled to appear Saturday evening alongside Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., but Rubio instead rushed to Miami after learning his 12-year-old daughter Amanda had been injured in a golf cart accident. Rubio's office said she had been airlifted to Miami Children's Hospital and was in stable condition.

"Gov. Romney spoke with Sen. Rubio and expressed his concern and hope for Amanda Rubio's quick recovery," said Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

As part of the critical Tampa Bay area, Pasco County receives plenty of attention from the campaigns, but Romney's visit was the first rally with a presidential nominee since 2004 when President George W. Bush campaigned in New Port Richey.

Once considered a bellwether county, Pasco is now reliably Republican, and Obama lost it by 4 percentage points four years ago. This year Republicans hope to widen their advantage closer to the 9-point victory Bush earned in Pasco eight years ago.

Carrying American flags and donning Romney T-shirts, people started arriving at the high school hours before the 8 p.m. event. Some walked miles to get to the football stadium because of scarce parking.

"When the country is in bad shape, Florida is in bad shape," said Rob Steffens, 52, of Spring Hill. "We need people to come down from Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania."

Steffens and his wife, Sandy, moved from Ohio eight years ago. "I kind of wish we were in Ohio still because it's a little closer up there."

"Florida, I think he wins it hands down" he said. "No hanging chads this year."

Romney has been moving aggressively to the middle lately, and he sounded a bipartisan note Saturday in Pasco.

"If I become president — when I become president — I'm going to meet regularly with Democratic leaders, Republican leaders, talk about our challenges, look for places where there's common ground," Romney said, noting that as Massachusetts governor he worked with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.

Democrats scoffed.

"The American people shouldn't trust a word Mitt Romney says on his promise of bipartisanship," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith.

"Over the last six years he's been running for president, he hasn't stood up once to the most extreme voices in the Republican Party — in fact, he catered to them," she said. "Just last week, he was even too weak to take down an ad endorsing a right-wing Senate candidate who said it's God's will if a woman gets pregnant as a result of a rape."

Earlier in Pensacola, Rubio hit back at Obama, saying the president was advancing "the ideas of countries that people come here to get away from." Pressed later on what countries he was referring to, Rubio said, "any big-government country in the world" and specifically referred to Mexico and Latin America.

The race looks like a dead heat nationally, but as the candidates prepare to hit swing state after swing state in the final days, they face an additional unpredictable development in Hurricane Sandy. How a potentially devastating storm along the East Coast might affect the political landscape and tone of the campaign is uncertain, but Sandy already is prompting schedule changes.

Romney canceled plans to campaign in Virginia today, and instead will head to Ohio. Obama, scheduled to campaign in Orlando with former President Bill Clinton on Monday, moved up his flight from Monday to today because of Sandy. He also canceled a Virginia stop Monday and a stop in Colorado on Tuesday to be at the White House to monitor the storm.

Romney told a crowd of 4,000 in Kissimmee on Saturday afternoon to keep in their hearts the Americans in the path of the storms. "You know how tough hurricanes can be," he said.

In Florida, a RealClearPolitics average of state polls has Romney clinging to a 2 percentage point lead over Obama, 49 percent to 47 percent.

Many of those cheering Romney Saturday night, though, expressed no doubt he would carry Florida's 29 electoral votes.

"I'm optimistic," said Michelle Menley, 42, who drove 45 minutes from Valrico. "Four years ago, there were a lot more Obama signs than there were McCain signs. Now, it's 90 percent Romney."

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.