SARASOTA, Fla. — Mitt Romney told a Florida crowd Thursday that he — not President Obama — is the real agent of "change" in the 2012 election as the Republican presidential nominee tried to win over voters in a state that's joined Ohio as key bellwethers in presidential elections.
The former Massachusetts governor, who accepted his party's nomination three weeks ago in nearby Tampa, has made a concentrated effort to reach out to Hispanic voters here in recent days, touting his opposition to the Castro government in Cuba and harping about the Hispanic jobless rate hovering at more than 10 percent for 50 straight months.
And in an appeal to the state's older voters, he said Mr. Obama's health care law, muscled through Congress in 2010, siphons $716 billion out of Medicare, the federal health care program for people age 65 or older.
"What he has done to Medicare to pay for Obamacare is wrong," Mr. Romney said. "I will reverse it. I will save Medicare and protect it for our seniors of today and our seniors of tomorrow."
It's all part of the campaign's broader effort to appeal to voters in Florida, a key swing state that has picked the eventual White House winner in the past four presidential elections.
"It's always an important state when you look at the electoral map, so we are going to work very hard to compete and win here," said Kevin Madden, a top Romney adviser.
"That's reflected in our organizational effort. This week, we will make our six-millionth volunteer-voter contact and we have opened 'victory offices' with the RNC all over the state, over 40 of them. That shows you the level of attention we're paying to the state."
Mark J. Rozell, George Mason University political-science professor, said that it would be difficult for Mr. Romney to reach the 270 electoral votes to win the presidency without capturing the 29 that Florida has to offer.
"It would mean that he nearly has to run the table on a number of closely contested states, some of which appear to be uphill climbs for him. To lose Florida just might seal his fate," Mr. Rozell said.
The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Mr. Romney trailing Mr. Obama in the state by 2 points. A Fox News poll released Wednesday carried some warning signs for Mr. Romney, showing that among likely voters Mr. Obama holds a slight edge and the Democrat is more trusted when it comes to improving the economy and creating jobs.
"It is still just nip and tuck," said Susan McManus, a political-science professor at the University of South Florida.
Ms. McManus said that she thinks Democrats could be "breathing a little easier" given the bounce Mr. Obama received from his party's convention — but also said Mr. Obama's hopes could hinge on turning out young voters, who polls suggest are not as excited about voting as they were in 2008.
Mr. Romney, seeking to capitalize on voters' disappointment in Mr. Obama, said the president "threw in the white towel of surrender" on his 2008 pledge to bring change to the nation's capital. He pointed to comments Mr. Obama made at a Univision forum in Miami on Thursday during which he said he learned "you can't change Washington from the inside, only from the outside."
If that's the case, Mr. Romney said, "We're going to give him that chance" by handing him a pink slip on Election Day.
"I can change Washington. I will change Washington," Mr. Romney said, before blasting Mr. Obama for evolving from "from the president of change to the president who can't get change."
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