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Politics / Issues

Tampa and Orlando Mayors on the Election: As Goes Central Florida, So Does the Nation

Naples Daily News

All week long, Florida Democrats have heard how important their state is in the coming election.

On Wednesday, it was time to get more specific.

The Naples Daily News is reporting the mayors of both Tampa and Orlando, the two major cities that punctuate the Interstate 4 corridor spoke at the breakfast meeting of the Florida delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

With North Florida and Southwest Florida solidly Republican and South Florida reliably Democratic, the middle of the state will decide who wins Florida and by extension, who wins the presidency, Wednesday's speakers surmised.

The Democratic and Republican parties in recent presidential elections have targeted the I-4 corridor, perceived by both as having higher numbers of undecided voters compared to other parts of the state.

"There is no path to the White House for Mitt Romney that does not include winning Florida," said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. "I feel like we're the most important state in the whole country."

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was direct. "If we win the I-4 corridor, we get four more (years)," he said.

Buckhorn joked about being the only Democrat to speak at the Republican National Convention held last week in his city.

"I was looking for the trap door up on stage," he said. "If I said anything that sounded like hope and change, I was going down."

Then he got serious about the business of winning Florida through activism and volunteer work.

"You've got to get your walking shoes on. You've got to get your dialing fingers ready. We are going back to Florida and we are going to win the I-4 corridor," Buckhorn said.

Jennifer O'Malley Dillon, deputy campaign manager for President Barack Obama, gave the group an insider's view of the Florida contest.

"We feel good about where we are but we know this is going to be an incredibly close race," she said.

Polls show that neither side has gained much of advantage or lost ground in recent weeks, she said.

Both the president and Republican Mitt Romney are known and voters have mostly made up their minds. That leaves a small percentage of undecided voters up for grabs.

O'Malley Dillon characterized the race as one between big-spending Republicans and a grass-roots effort by Democrats.

"There's no way we're going to be able to compete with their Super PACS but we don't have to," she said. "Our greatest advantage is the grassroots organization we have."

Repeating the theme that Romney can't win the presidency without winning Florida, O'Malley Dillon warned Democrats. "We know he (Romney) is not taking (Florida) for granted. He's going to work very hard."

Mickey Gargan, chairwoman of the Collier County Democratic Executive Committee attending the convention, said O'Malley Dillon and the other speakers were getting through.

"They're giving us some very strong messages to go home with, and that's what I came for," Gargan said. "I think we're unified. We won't be herding cats anymore. We'll be focused."

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