With tight race, focus turned to key state that will host last debate.
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama greet each other as they attend the 67th annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a charity gala organized by the Archdiocese of New York, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.
DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. - In advance of Monday's final presidential debate set for Florida, the candidates and their top surrogates converged on this key swing state, where a prize of 29 electoral votes could determine who wins in November.
The focus on Florida comes as the race for the White House enters its final stretch, with polls showing President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney neck-and-neck in the Sunshine State.
Vice President Joe Biden and Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, spent the day rallying supporters in Florida, with Ryan's campaign jet at one point rolling across the tarmac in Tampa past Biden's Air Force Two.
Ann Romney and First Lady Michelle Obama also have events scheduled for South Florida in coming days.
With the economy still the key issue in the race, Obama got some potentially good news on Friday: New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the unemployment rate dropped in 41 states last month, including many of the top swing states. Those include Florida, Colorado and Iowa. Yet Florida's rate, at 8.7 percent, remains higher than the national average, and unemployment is still high across the country.
Romney prepared for the debate in the morning in New York before flying to Florida for an evening rally. It was the 10th straight week that the campaigns have had a presence in Florida.
The contest for the state has been competitive for most of the year, with Obama's mid-September edge now apparently gone. There also has been significant variability in polls taken after the first presidential debate, with a Mason-Dixon poll showing Romney up 7 percentage points and an NBC-WSJ-Marist poll showing Obama up only 1 percentage point.
According to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted in Florida after the second presidential debate, the race is virtually tied. Romney has the support of 49 percent of likely voters, with 48 percent backing Obama -- a margin that is within the poll's sampling error.
'Smaller and smaller things'For Romney, the stakes couldn't be higher since his quest for 270 electoral votes will be much more challenging without a Florida win. On Thursday, he nabbed the endorsement of the Orlando Sentinel, which endorsed Obama in 2008. "Romney has a strong record of leadership to run on," the editorial said. "He built a successful business. He rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics from scandal and mismanagement. As governor of Massachusetts, he worked with a Democrat-dominated legislature to close a $3 billion budget deficit without borrowing or raising taxes, and pass the health plan that became a national model. This is Romney's time to lead, again."
Obama, meanwhile, picked up the endorsement of the Tampa Bay Times. "This is not the time to reverse course and return to the failed policies of the past," the editorial said.
Romney and Ryan teamed up to headline an evening rally in Daytona Beach, Fla., where a raucous crowd of thousands cheered their accusation that Obama is running a campaign with no second-term agenda. "They've been reduced to petty attacks and silly word games," Romney said, saying his opponent keeps talking about "smaller and smaller things."
The Republican rally was capped with fireworks; many were in town for the annual Biketoberfest, a gathering of motorcycle riders, and several people in the crowd left after they became ill.
Obama on Friday continued to press his case to women voters, this time in the battleground state of Virginia. He said Mitt Romney would "turn back the clock" on women's rights, would favor the wealthy and accused him of developing "Romnesia" by forgetting his most conservative positions.
'We've got a cure'
"Mr. Severely Conservative wants you to think he was severely kidding about everything he said over the last year," he said in a stump speech unveiled just 18 days before the election. "We've got to name this condition that he's going through. I think it's called Romnesia."
The crowd of nearly 10,000 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., hooted.
Obama then a series of what he called Romney's position changes, focusing on women's issues. "You know, if you say you're for equal pay for equal work, but you keep refusing to say whether or not you'd sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work, you might have 'Romnesia,'" he said. "If you say women should have access to contraceptive care, but you support legislation that would let your employer deny you contraceptive care, you might have a case of 'Romnesia.'"
He added: "Here's the good news: Obamacare covers preexisting conditions. We can fix you up. We've got a cure. ... This is a curable disease."
The candidates were then stepping off the campaign trail this weekend for debate preparations ahead of Monday's final face-off in Boca Raton, Fla. Romney was staying in South Florida to practice, while Obama and top aides headed to Camp David to prepare for the foreign policy-focused debate.
The New York Times and Associated Press contributed to this report.