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President Barack Obama’s ground game delivers in Florida

Ground game matters. Organization matters.

That’s the biggest takeaway from President Obama’s strong showing Tuesday in Florida, a state with such high unemployment and home-foreclosure rates that it was primed for a Republican win.

But, with thousands of votes still out Tuesday night, Obama appeared close to winning the nation’s largest battleground state, thanks to a mammoth grassroots campaign. It appeared to kill Mitt Romney’s chance of unseating the incumbent.

Obama led Romney 50-49 percent in Florida, according to Edison Research’s exit poll that exactly mirrored the results of the actual vote as of Tuesday night.

With voters casting ballots well into the night, the final tally for Florida won’t be clear until at least Wednesday afternoon, when Miami-Dade County plans to announce its final results. More than 18,000 absentee ballots turned in Tuesday have yet to be counted.

The race could be close enough to trigger a recount — unless it is waived by Romney, who likely lost the overall election to the president, according to exit polls.

Obama’s strength: Liberal Southeast Florida, where early vote returns showed the president nursing a double-digit lead. Romney did well in conservative North Florida.

For the first time ever, a Democratic presidential candidate won absentee ballots — typically a Republican strength — in Miami-Dade County, with Obama eking out a 382-vote margin. That was a leading indicator of Obama’s strong grassroots campaign, which involved 200,000 unpaid volunteers who helped register 320,000 new voters this year.

Obama won big with the fastest-growing segment of the electorate: Hispanic voters, who voted for the Democrat, 60-39 percent, the exit poll showed. That’s better than Obama did in 2008.

Obama’s Hispanic-vote margin came despite a massive Hispanic-outreach effort by Romney, who struggled at times in the general election because of the hardline immigration policies he espoused during the Republican primary. Obama won big in Osceola and Orange counties, home to a burgeoning Democratic-leaning Puerto Rican population that’s starting to counterbalance Cuban-American Republicans in Southeast Florida.

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