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Pres. Obama, Mitt Romney both see reasons to worry in Florida

By Julie Pace

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2012 3:10 p.m. MDT

These are among the persuadable voters Obama, Romney and their top surrogates are courting as they make weekly campaign stops in Florida. Both candidates are expected to visit next week as the latest public poll — an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist Poll released Thursday — shows Obama with a 49 percent to 44 percent advantage over Romney.

Democrats caution that the numbers could change. And some party insiders who expect the race to come down to three states — Florida, Ohio and Virginia — say it's still Florida that concerns them the most given the state's unpredictable voting patterns. Republican George W. Bush won the state twice, including in the 2000 recount, before Obama won it four years ago.

"Even with all of the missteps by Romney, Obama hasn't been able to put it away," said Steve Vancore, a Florida-based Democratic pollster. "There's still time for this to change."

Romney aides argue that convincing voters Obama is to blame for the state's weak economy is the Republican's best chance of winning Florida. To press its economic message, Romney is running an ad here that emphasizes the housing crisis and argues that Florida voters aren't better off than they were four years ago. More ads are expected on housing and the economy through the fall.

Romney's team doesn't mention that Republicans governed the state before, during and after the recession.

"What is somewhat troublesome is that, with the economy the way it is, Romney isn't doing better," said Alex Patton, a Republican consultant in Florida. He suggests Romney broaden his pitch to other issues, saying: "He needs a little extra push."

That may come in the form of more TV ad dollars.

Obama's campaign hopes to counter that GOP cash infusion with an extensive registration and get-out-the-vote operation that includes more than 80 field offices across the state. Romney's campaign has 47 offices in Florida.

But Democrats worry that their efforts could be hampered by the legal wrangling in Florida over early-voting and voter-registration laws. Florida voters across the state will probably be limited to no more than eight days of early voting, down from 14 days in 2008. Obama's advantage among people who voted early was one of his keys to victory.

The state's GOP-led Legislature and Republican governor also instituted new requirements on voter registration drives, including a 48-hour deadline for turning applications in to election officials. A federal judge recently blocked that provision, but same Democrats say it had already slowed their registration efforts.

Democrats also are concerned about holding their advantage with Hispanics, particularly the Puerto Rican population that's growing rapidly along the swing-voting Interstate-4 corridor in central Florida. Romney is trying to chip away at Obama's advantage with Hispanics — the Democrat carried them with 57 percent of the vote in 2008 — by accusing him of breaking his promise of comprehensive immigration reform.

Obama backers say Romney may have an easier time softening the president's support among Jewish voters in Democratic-friendly South Florida, some of whom question Obama's commitment to Israel. The GOP has fodder, including the Democratic convention fight over including a reference in the party platform to Jerusalem being Israel's capital, an apparent split between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Iran, and the tumultuous events at U.S. embassies in the Middle East.

Democrats had been hoping to narrow the GOP's advantage among seniors after Romney chose Ryan as his running mate. The Wisconsin congressman is the architect of a controversial budget proposal that includes an overhaul of Medicare. But strategists in both parties say Republicans appear to have mitigated that risk by aggressively countering Democratic criticism on Medicare just after Ryan was picked.

Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC.

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