On Nov. 6, voters will decide whether Florida will swing Red or Blue.
The Sunshine State is the most important of the battleground states where this year’s presidential election will be decided. Naples Daily News reporters and photographers have fanned out across Florida, talking to elected officials and ordinary people about their concerns, the issues that will determine how they vote, and grassroots efforts to sway the undecided.
How is the state leaning this year? This is a series of Daily News reports on Florida as a Swing State.
See the results »
View previous polls »
LAND O’ LAKES — On the first day of early voting in Florida, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hit events in three key Sunshine State regions Saturday, capping his trek with an evening speech at the 50-yard line of a high school football field north of Tampa.
Surrounded by an estimated 15,000 supporters, who filled bleachers and nearly covered the field at Land O’ Lakes High School, Romney appealed to Central Florida’s independents, seniors and young voters, promising bipartisanship in office, protection of Medicare and better economic conditions for college graduates. He urged Floridians to cast ballots early ahead of the race to Election Day on Nov. 6.
“At the Obama rallies, they chant ‘four more years.’ I think our chant ought to be ’10 more days,’” Romney said, drawing roars from the crowd.
In his 20-minute speech, Romney described a bleak economy under President Barack Obama and promised a path to lower government spending that spurs growth for small business. Standing at midfield, Romney invoked the mantra of “Friday Night Lights,” the high school football television show that has provided him with a popular campaign slogan.
“I’m convinced that at this critical time, the American people have very clear eyes. They can see the truth, they know what America needs,” Romney said. “They have full hearts, because we, the American people, love our families, love our country, love our faith. Clear eyes, full hearts, we can’t lose.”
As Obama campaigned in New Hampshire, Romney made three stops Saturday in Florida, where 29 potentially campaign-defining electoral votes remain up for grabs. In Land O’ Lakes, Romney asked the crowd how many people already had voted, drawing a decently resounding cheer and raising of hands.
“We want to make sure that you get a chance not just to vote, but to get other people to vote, so we can get every vote we need to make sure Florida is in our column,” Romney said.
Romney started his day in Republican-friendly Pensacola, followed by an afternoon trip to Democrat-rich Osceola County, where the GOP watched a 5-point win in 2004 turn into a 20-point Obama victory in 2008. Finally, he ended in Pasco County, located about 20 miles north of Tampa, off the coveted Interstate 4 corridor.
Long considered a bellwether area, Pasco County leans Republican — there are about 120,700 registered Republicans to 108,000 Democrats — but Obama has made gains there. Then-President George W. Bush earned a 10-point victory in Pasco County in 2004, but Obama cut that to a roughly 4-point Republican win in 2008.
At his final stop, Romney brandished his bipartisan credentials, reminding voters of his time as governor of Democrat-dominated Massachusetts and deriding the Obama administration as one of the most partisan in history.
“When I become president, I’m going to meet regularly with Democratic leaders and Republican leaders, talk about our challenges and find places of common ground,” Romney said.
Romney’s reach-across-the-aisle message drew a rebuke from the Obama campaign, which earlier in the day said Romney “hasn’t stood up once to the most extreme voices of the Republican Party.”
“Mitt Romney’s empty promises of bipartisanship might sound nice, but they’re not to be trusted,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. and Senate hopeful Connie Mack joined Romney at all three events Saturday, tailing the campaign as he works to unseat incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Mack, who trails in most polls by several percentage points, has largely hitched his election hopes to Romney and the Republican surge in Florida.
“This election is about big ideas, about big things, about turning this country around,” Mack said. “It’s about doing things like repealing Obamacare. It’s about doing things like making sure our military is the strongest in the world.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined Romney and Mack in Pensacola and Kissimmee, but left short of Land O’ Lakes to be with his 12-year-old daughter, who was hospitalized in fair condition Saturday after a car crash in Miami.
With early voting started, Romney no longer needs to convince Floridians like Nicholle Henning, a 38-year-old nurse from Wesley Chapel, located a few miles east of Land O’ Lakes. Henning and her husband, Earl, spent an hour in line Saturday to cast early ballots for Romney and other Republicans, later attending the Pasco County rally.
Henning’s support for Romney stems from her opposition to the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and the impact it would have on her 16-year-old nephew with special needs.
“With Obamacare, it scares me a little bit that it cuts Medicaid and Medicare,” Henning said. “It’s not only going to affect the older population, but also the disabled and special-needs population.”
For 22-year-old college student Kenny Frosch, who attended with his brother and parents, Romney’s promise of a sunnier economy will earn his vote.
“There are internships out there right now, but as far as paid work, it’s not that great right now,” said Frosch, a Palm Beach Atlantic University student seeking a job in accounting or finance. “I just think Romney knows how to get Americans back to work, knows how to create jobs. These last couple years have just gone backward.”