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Mitt Loosens Up, Tries to Seal the Deal

By Tom Bevan

mittfl.gifSWEETWATER, FL - Mitt Romney bounded on stage yesterday afternoon looking like a vacationing tourist instead of a candidate for President. Dressed in a white Guayabera - a traditional Cuban shirt given to him by one of the survivors of the Bay of Pigs - Romney pounded home his message on the economy before an enthusiastic crowd of about 200 supporters at the Jorge Mas Canosa Youth Center in Sweetwater.

Romney is on the cusp of a big win in Florida, and it's clear he knows it. He was remarkably animated as he ran through his standard stump speech, obviously energized by the excitement in the crowd - a group that interrupted his fifteen-minute long remarks on five different occasions with chants of "Go, Mitt, Go!"

In many ways the last few days have been tough ones for his campaign; John McCain, in addition to racking up key endorsements from Senator Mel Martinez and Governor Charlie Crist, has been blasting Romney with the accusation that the former Massachusetts Governor supported "secret time lines" for withdrawal from Iraq - going so far as to compare Romney's position to that of Senator Hillary Clinton.

Romney insists the charge is untrue - and in fact most of the media organizations that have fact checked McCain's claim find it highly misleading - and has publicly called for McCain to apologize. But despite being knocked off stride by McCain's attacks, Romney continued push forward with a focus on the economy, and it seems to be paying off as the latest round of polls show him with upward movement.

At a press conference after the rally held on a little league baseball field behind the youth center, Romney sought to defuse a question about the ongoing tussle with McCain, calling it "yesterday's news" and suggesting it was a diversion from a rival who doesn't want to talk about the economy. "He's doing everything he can to try and divert the attention away from his lack of understanding of the economy," Romney said.

As the race in Florida enters the final forty eight hours, Romney has much riding on the outcome. A win on Tuesday will give his candidacy a significant boost and set him up for a big night on February 5th. A second place finish in Florida, however, will make his task of stopping John McCain from winning the nomination that much harder, if not impossible.

Romney is not the only one who knows what's at stake. As he strode away from the press conference, Ann Romney emerged from the youth center along with son Craig, carrying his young baby, and Craig's wife. "Don't worry," a woman cheered in a heavy Spanish accent as the family walked by, "we're going to win on Tuesday." As the woman turned to leave she said quietly, to no one in particular, "we have to win on Tuesday."

(Photo: Mike Segar, Reuters)

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com

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