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Once again, it could come down to Florida

Ann Romney reads menu as crowd watches photographs her outside WrightÍs Gourmet House TampFla. Wednesday Oct. 24 2012. Romney is

Ann Romney reads the menu as a crowd watches and photographs her outside WrightÍs Gourmet House in Tampa, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. Romney is kicking off her bus tour and will campaign around the state for her husband Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Willie J. Allen Jr., Pool)

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Updated: November 26, 2012 7:15AM



BOCA RATON, Fla. — It’s Wednesday night and despite the threat of Tropical Storm Sandy, about 200 people filled the Romney campaign storefront office in a mall here for a pep talk from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

“Mitt Romney cannot be president of the United States unless he wins the State of Florida,” said McCain, urging the crowd to make “that extra phone call” to get out the Romney vote.

Florida in 2012 is reprising its role as a premier presidential toss-up state.

In 2008, President Barack Obama, won with 51 percent to McCain’s 48.2 percent. In 2004, President George W. Bush with 52.1 percent of the vote bested Sen. John Kerry at 47.1 percent. And in 2000, the year of the hanging chad and recount, Bush beat Vice President Al Gore by a mere 537 votes.

Of all the battleground states, Florida is the top prize, with 29 electoral votes. Florida has had a tough go in the past few years; housing values crashed and unemployment was higher here than in other parts of the nation, 8.7 percent in September.

Romney and Obama and their SuperPAC allies are waging a fierce battle on the ground, the airwaves and in mailboxes. Romney is ahead of Obama by 1.8 points, according to the RealClearPolitics.com Florida poll average on Wednesday.

The presidential rivals — and their spouses — have been in Florida a lot and will be in and out through Election Day.

There is also a constant flow of well-known surrogates such as McCain and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for Romney and for Obama, one-time Republican, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Mayor Rahm Emanuel left Florida Monday, working the base and Jewish vote over the weekend.

“It’s the biggest swing state,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, told me. “This is a microcosm of the country, 19 million people. We have people from every walk of life from all around the world.”

There are many Hispanic voters but as Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) told me, they are diverse. “You have very large Colombian, Cuban, Nicaraguan, Dominican, Peruvian, Puerto Rican populations in different parts of the state,” he said.

Retirees can be found across the Sunshine State and they are politically powerful because they turn out to vote. Bob Graham, a Democrat who is a former Florida governor and senator told me, “there are some peculiar issues to Florida, one of which is Medicare,” he said.

Florida has distinct regions:

There is the famous gulf-to-coast “I-4 Corridor” of a growing number of new and swing voters named after the Interstate running east-west from Hillsborough County, which includes the Tampa Bay area through Orlando to Daytona.

Southeast Florida contains folks from or with roots in northern cities and is more Democratic, with most of the state’s Jewish voters living in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.

Southwest Florida has more Midwest transplants and leans more Republican. There are conservative Democrats in the Panhandle and large military populations in northern part of the state — more GOP friendly.

Obama, who on Tuesday headlined a large rally in Delray Beach in southern Florida, along the Atlantic coast, on Thursday touches town in Tampa, on that I-4 contested turf. Ann Romney stumped in Florida on Wednesday and Thursday. Romney works the I-4 with three stops on Saturday — the day early voting begins in the state.

Most of Florida’s African-American voters are registered Democrats, and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a briefing call to reporters on Tuesday, ‘there are 250,000 more registered African-American and Latino voters than there were four years ago when the president won Florida.”

Romney strategist Kevin Madden told me, “We are outpacing where McCain was in the I-4 corridor, which is critical. We’ve had improved numbers with Hispanic voters in the southern part of the state, and we are just seeing improved enthusiasm in places like the Panhandle,” he said.

Over at the Romney “victory center” in east Boca, McCain is winding up; he invokes a famous saying of unclear origin to crank up the troops. Said McCain, “don’t forget the immortal words of the late Mayor Daley of Chicago, ‘Vote early and vote often’.”



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