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Land of secret recordings and gaffes, Florida is a minefield for Republican presidential candidates

Beware of Florida, Republicans.

When John McCain said "the fundamentals of the economy are strong," the Republican presidential candidate said it in Jacksonville in 2008. The comments were widely viewed as a gaffe so damaging that it helped Obama win the presidency by arguing the Senator was out of touch.

When Newt Gingrich ran in this year's Florida GOP primary, he was scolded by Sen. Marco Rubio for his comments about immigration on Spanish-language radio. It helped kill Gingrich's momentum after his South Carolina win.

When Clint Eastwood ranted at an invisible Obama sitting in an empty chair at the Republican National Convention last month, he was in Tampa. It did little to give Romney a boost from a convention in which he got no apparent bounce in the polls. Almost as many people thought Eastwood's speech was as much a highlight as Romney's speech, but was perceived more negatively than positively in one poll.

When Mitt Romney said last week that President Obama's administration was "sympathetic" and "apologizing" to embassy attackers, he said it in Jacksonville last week. A Pew Research Poll found that, of those who followed the news, only 26 percent approved of Romney's handling of the situation compared to 48 percent who approved. Obama's numbers: 45% approved, 36% disapproved.

And when Romney accused 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes of looking for handouts, he said it at a Boca Raton fundraiser. It was back in May, but the video was leaked yesterday to Mother Jones. He also joked that he wished he were born of Mexican parents because it would make it easier for him to win the presidency.

Romney is now on the defensive, holding a late-night news conference Monday night to explain himself.

"Of course, I want to help all Americans, all Americans, have a bright and prosperous future," Romney said, admitting his "off the cuff" comments at were not "elegantly stated." Romney also challenged the holders of the video to release the entire thing.

They might be, but slowly. Snippets of the closed-door fundraiser video are drip, drip, dripping out. This morning, Romney's campaign is having to explain his comments about Palestinians who, he said, "have no interest" in peace with Israel.

"You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem," Romney said, "and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."

Florida Republicans, already nervous about how Romney has performed in the nation's biggest battleground state, are starting to sound despondent. "Forget Romney," one GOP strategist said this morning, "we need to worry about the rest of the ticket."