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Romney Campaigns In Florida, Obama In California

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Mitt Romney's campaign spent almost the whole month of September in freefall. Almost nothing he did seemed right and almost everything was criticized, at least in part because he was trailing in the polls. That's a perception that feeds on itself. Then came last week's presidential debate, and surveys over this past weekend show the race much tighter. Now we watch to see what happens next.

President Obama was in Los Angeles yesterday for a series of fundraisers, including a gala concert with Stevie Wonder and Katy Perry. Mitt Romney spent the weekend in Florida, talking to voters in what is arguably the nation's most important battleground state.

From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: From St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast to Port St. Lucie on the Atlantic Coast, Romney had a message for Floridians.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MITT ROMNEY: We're going to win Florida. We're going to take back the White House.

ALLEN: In Port St. Lucie yesterday, some 12,000 people turned out to hear Governor Romney, his wife Ann and Congressman Allen West, a Tea Party firebrand who's engaged in his own tight race for re-election. The Republican nominee was still clearly energized by his performance in last week's debate with President Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: You all had the chance to hear his answers, or his non-answers. Now, of course, days later, we're hearing his excuses. And next January, we'll be watching him leave the White House for the last time.

ALLEN: The debate also appears to have given Mr. Romney a boost among voters. Tracking polls show the race has tightened in recent days.

In his stump speech, Governor Romney talks to voters about how he believes President Obama has failed, and about his own five-point plan for restarting the economy. And in recent days, he's also worked to present a more personal side to voters. At every stop in Florida this weekend, he talked about his optimism and belief in the American spirit, giving examples from his personal experience with friends facing tragedies.

He talked about a 14-year-old boy with terminal leukemia he helped counsel as a lay Mormon minister in Massachusetts. He also talked about a friend from graduate school, Billy Hulse, who was paralyzed in an accident, but came to see Romney recently at a campaign rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: So I put my hand on his shoulder and I reached over and I said: Billy, I love you, and God bless you. It was a great occasion to say hi to my good friend. And he passed away the next day.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Aww.

ROMNEY: And I thought what a blessing it was for me to see him on that last day and acknowledge to him my respect for him.

ALLEN: Florida is considered a must-win state for Governor Romney, so every day he can spend here is crucial. In Port St. Lucie, he also previewed a foreign policy speech he'll give later today at the Virginia Military Institute. And he talked about a conversation he had earlier this year with former Polish leader Lech Walesa.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ROMNEY: I sat down, and he said this: Where's American leadership? The world needs American leadership. America is the only superpower on the planet. We need America to lead. And then he spoke about various places in the world, and after each description of one place or another, he would reiterate: Where's American leadership?

ALLEN: While Mitt Romney was working to secure votes in Florida, President Obama was in California working on something else important to campaigns: fundraising.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am so grateful to George Clooney. Give it up for George.

ALLEN: The President attended three high-dollar events in Los Angeles yesterday, including one featuring Clooney and singer Katy Perry.

After his own performance at last week's debate, one criticized even by many Democrats, Mr. Obama ended the week with some positive economic news, as he reminded his supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: After the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes, our businesses have now created more than five million jobs. On Friday, we found out the unemployment rate has fallen from the height of 10 percent down to 7.8 percent, the lowest since I took office.

ALLEN: After last night's concert, President Obama was upbeat enough that he poked a little fun at his showing in last week's debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: These guys and everybody here, incredible professionals. They're such great friends, and they just perform flawlessly night after night. I can't always say the same.

ALLEN: Over the weekend, the Obama campaign reported more good news for the president: It raised $181 million in September, its largest total this year.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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