CORAL GABLES, Fla. — President Obama mocked Republican rival Mitt Romney on Thursday as a candidate who was "kidding" when he proposed large tax cuts and other conservative agenda items in the GOP primary.
A week after their first presidential debate, Mr. Obama again accused the Republican nominee of dodging his positions in their first face-off.
"The centerpiece of Gov. Romney's economic plan is a $5 trillion tax cut that favors the wealthiest," Mr. Obama told thousands of cheering supporters at the University of Miami. "Gov. Romney has been pitching this plan for almost a year now. You wouldn't know this from listening from the latest version of Mitt Romney. He's trying to go through an extreme makeover. After saying he was severely conservative, Mitt Romney is trying to convince you that he was severely kidding."
It was Mr. Obama's fifth visit to a college campus since he "had a bad night," in his words, in the first presidential debate against Mr. Romney. The president urged young voters to take advantage of Florida's early-voting law, which allows voting to begin on Oct. 27.
"Everything we fought for in 2008 is on the line in 2012," Mr. Obama said. "I'm going to need you fired up. I need your help to finish what we started."
The president spoke of ending the war in Iraq, and said "al Qaeda is on the run." But he made no mention that the U.S. suffered a terrorist attack at its Consulate in Libya on Sept. 11.While the vice-presidential debate took the limelight on Thursday, the president will face off against Mr. Romney again on Tuesday at Hempstead, N.Y.
The president called Mr. Biden from Air Force One on the flight to Florida to wish him "good luck" in the debate, aides said.
Mr. Obama has now traveled to Florida 12 times this year, holding 23 campaign events. Polls show him essentially tied with Mr. Romney in the Sunshine State.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the president wants to remind voters Mr. Obama "who the real Mitt Romney is."
"If you just tuned in to the race over the last two weeks, you would ... be seeing a Mitt Romney who seems to have no familiarity or recollection of his own positions," Ms. Psaki told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One. "If you've been tuned in to the race for two years, or you simply clicked on his web site, you'd be very familiar with his positions that are very similar to the extreme right wing of his party on many issues. If he's not willing, and his team's not willing to tell the truth about his own record, we will."
She said Democrats in Florida have a 450,000-person advantage in voter registration over Republicans, and over the last three months Democrats have registered 15,000 more Florida voters than Republicans. Ms. Psaki said 44 percent of new registrants are under age 30.
At this point in 2008, she said, Republicans outnumbered Democrats among absentee mail ballots by more than 240,000.
"We've narrowed that gap, that margin, so that now it's just over 70,000," Ms. Psaki said.
However, a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Miami Herald poll showed Mr. Romney surging into the lead in Florida, partly as a result of his winning debate performance.
The survey released Thursday found 51 percent of likely Florida voters supporting Mr. Romney, 44 percent backing Mr. Obama and 4 percent undecided. The same poll a month ago Mr.Obama leading 48 percent to 47 percent.
Republicans called attention to Florida's still-woeful housing foreclosure situation ahead of the president's latest visit. The state leads the nation in foreclosures.
State Rep. Daniel Davis, a Republican who is executive director of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, called the state's ranking "a sad, stark reminder of President Obama's failed policies."
"But what else would you expect from a president who promised that he would 'not roll out an aggressive housing plan'?" Mr. Davis said. "The president is in Florida today, but don't expect to hear his housing plan in Miami, either. The people of Florida know what real leadership looks like, and they simply haven't seen it these last four years. Florida needs a real recovery that gets our economy moving again, and with Mitt Romney, we'll get just that."
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