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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Striking a front-runner's tone, Mitt Romney focused his criticisms Thursday squarely on President Barack Obama as he sought to shore up support in politically powerful Florida.
The former Massachusetts governor struck familiar themes, pledging to cut the deficit, abolish the health care law and restore American prosperity. He made no mention of his rivals in the Republican presidential primary.
"The president, it seems, wants to make us more like a European-style welfare state," Romney said, bringing the loudest boos of the midday event, which brought several hundred people to the Palm Beach County Convention Center. "I don't want to transform America, I want to restore to America the principles that have made us the hope of the earth."
The crowd, at times, chanted "Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!"
Romney is coming off victories in the Iowa caucuses, where he narrowly defeated former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and the New Hampshire primary.
Romney spoke before a large "Florida is Romney Country" banner, and polls show that may be true, with him ahead of competitors as the Jan. 31 primary approaches. Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Republican Party of Palm Beach County, said Romney is also far ahead in organizing in the state, airing commercials, garnering volunteers and sending mailers.
"He's going to outspend the other guys, he may outspend them all put together," said Dinerstein, who is remaining neutral in the primary. "It's going to be the smackdown between Newt and Mitt, but Newt will be the underdog," he said, referring to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was also in the state for events Thursday and Friday.
Romney was to appear Thursday night at a fundraiser at the Palm Beach home of Miami Dolphins owner Steven Ross. He was introduced at the afternoon event by state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who urged those gathered to vote early by absentee ballot.
Atwater also said, "Your governor wishes he could be with you today," though Gov. Rick Scott has not yet made any endorsement in the race.
A spokesman for Scott, Lane Wright, said "Gov. Scott has not endorsed anybody yet. He's thinking about it, if he's going to. But he hasn't made a decision one way or another."
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