ORLANDO -- With some Florida polls showing the presidential race tightening in the final fortnight, Democratic nominee Barack Obama tried to lock down the nation's largest battleground state with a flurry of early-voting pep rallies and a coast-to-coast tour that wraps up Tuesday night in the heart of downtown Miami.
Knowing Florida's soft spot for Hillary Clinton, Obama dispatched her to the Democratic stronghold of Broward County on Monday and joined her later that day in a rare joint appearance here in Central Florida.
Citing estimates by law enforcement officials, the Obama campaign pegged the crowd in Orlando at 50,000 — the largest at a modern-day Democratic campaign event in Florida.
Republican John McCain follows them to the state's most contested region later this week, with a visit to Sarasota Thursday.
The Obama campaign is counting on the image of the first black presidential nominee standing arm in arm with the nation's most successful female politician in front of tens of thousands of people to resonate as a powerful show of Democratic unity.
Though Obama has led in most statewide polls since late September, a Rasmussen Reports survey released Monday showed McCain with 49 percent of the vote, compared to Obama with 48 percent. The poll also found voters split down the middle on which candidate they trust to fix the economy, a pivotal issue in a state leading in jobs lost and running second in foreclosures.
"At this rate, the question isn't 'Are you better off than you were four years ago?' '' Obama said, in both Tampa and Orlando. "It's 'Are you better off than you were four weeks ago?' ''
Obama also decried the Republican Party's negative tactics by pointing to remarks that McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, made Sunday about the GOP's nationwide blitz of automated anti-Obama calls. Palin described calls made by both sides as ''draining'' and said she wished she could spend more time talking to voters in person.
''It's getting so bad that even Senator McCain's running mate denounced his tactics last night,'' Obama said. "As you know, you really have to work hard to violate Governor Palin's standards on negative campaigning.''
The McCain campaign issued a response that said Obama ''completely mischaracterized her position.'' Campaign officials also went after Obama for his record-setting fundraising, arguing he should go farther than federal law requires and post information about donors who give less than $200.
In a telephone call with reporters in Florida and other states, McCain's political director, Mike DuHaime, said Obama was trying to "buy the election . . . to run up the score and early vote.''
The Obama campaign has made no secret of its goal to send voters to the polls in droves before Nov. 4., and the visit to Florida was timed to coincide with the start of early voting. Michelle Obama will carry the early-voting pitch across North Florida this week, while Gov. Bill Richardson will hit predominantly Hispanic communities across the state.
Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com.