Romney Works to Build Momentum in Florida, a State Critical to Victory - New York Times
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Seeking to capitalize on his commanding debate performance last week, Mitt Romney tried to turn the enthusiasm of large crowds during a three-day visit to Florida into momentum to carry a state that, by all accounts, is crucial to his path to the White House.
His effort to capture a state that President Obama won in 2008 came on a day when the usual pattern of the race was reversed: while Mr. Romney has been criticized by some Republicans for spending too much time raising money off the trail, he was the one on the multiple-day campaign swing this time, with Mr. Obama starting a fund-raising jaunt through California.
“It may be a little cloudy today, but the sunshine is coming through, guys,” Mr. Romney told more than 10,000 supporters in a light rain here on Sunday.
All three of his rallies, beginning on Friday in St. Petersburg, were in counties that Mr. Obama won in 2008. Those contributed to his victory over Senator John McCain by three percentage points, a landslide in Florida terms.
“We’re playing on their side of the 50-yard line,” said Rich Beeson, Mr. Romney’s political director. “We’ve got to ratchet up Republican voters, but we’ve also got to get people who voted for the president in 2008.”
Beyond scheduling frequent visits to the state by Mr. Romney and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republicans have mounted an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort. Volunteers knocked on over 150,000 doors in Florida on Saturday, nearly 60 times as many as in 2008, Mr. Beeson said.
The effort was part of a national “Super Saturday” turnout day that, according to the Republican National Committee, benefited from enthusiasm for Mr. Romney’s debate performance. In the days after the Wednesday debate, volunteer rosters jumped 60 percent nationally, the committee said.
“Are you getting a lot of feedback on the debate?” Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife, asked during a visit to a campaign office in Orlando on Saturday. Volunteers erupted in shouts of “Yes!” Mrs. Romney placed a couple of calls herself, telling one startled voter: “Dan, this is Ann Romney calling. How about that? I know, it’s for real, too!”
As Mr. Romney campaigned here, Mr. Obama started his fund-raising swing through California. He met donors at a small gathering with President Bill Clinton at the home of Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of DreamWorks Animation, before holding much larger events, including one at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles with the actor George Clooney.
With polls showing the race even tighter in Florida than in other battleground states, Mr. Romney tailored his message for maximum appeal, including by painting “Obamacare” as a threat to Florida seniors who rely on Medicare. The health care overhaul would mean “$44 billion of cuts right here in Florida” to Medicare, Mr. Romney said, offering an interpretation that Democrats strongly reject. He added that about “540,000 of our seniors that have Medicare Advantage would lose Medicare Advantage here in Florida.”
Two of Mr. Romney’s three rallies were along the Interstate 4 corridor that bisects the state and is home to some of its most swing-prone counties.
Central Florida around Orlando has seen a large influx of Hispanics, especially migrants from Puerto Rico, and Mr. Romney’s campaign has tried to make inroads, running Spanish-language television ads recorded by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Luis Fortuño, the governor of Puerto Rico. On Friday night, Mr. Romney visited a Cuban restaurant in Tampa.
But demographics alone give Mr. Obama an edge. The state’s Hispanic electorate, which was 12 percent of registered voters in 2008, is now 13.5 percent, and polls show that Hispanic voters favor the president by the same overwhelming margin as four years ago. Meanwhile, the share of white registered voters has declined to 67.5 percent from 69.
Mr. Obama’s campaign is also running a fierce get-out-the-vote effort, with more than 100 field offices. Democrats registered 10,000 new voters a week ago Saturday, the campaign said.
For Mr. Romney, the road to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency is highly unlikely without Florida’s 29. No Republican has won without Florida since Calvin Coolidge.
And that may explain why Mr. Romney chose the state to add a new chapter to the attempt to project a more compassionate side of his personality that was first introduced at the party convention in Tampa five weeks ago.
In all three Florida appearances, he offered personal stories that showed a tenderness toward people who had died. In one he described a 14-year-old boy whose bedside he visited, and in another he described a paralyzed former classmate who attended a rally of his on the day before his death.
Suggesting that personal revelation still comes unnaturally for Mr. Romney, in some renditions the accounts elicited a gasp and an “ohh” from the crowd. At other times, there was no reaction.
But even though he may not have touched hearts, the crowds cheered wildly when he told them, “I’m counting on Florida to win this for me on Nov. 6.”