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In Miami and Tampa, Mitt Romney stays positive onstage, appeals for storm-help

Mitt Romney campaigned Wednesday in Miami and Tampa where he largely delivered his standard campaign speech, with two notable exceptions.

Romney called on people to aid the survivors of Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast. And he never mentioned President Barack Obama by name and shied away from ostensibly attacking the Democrat.

“This is a quite a time for the country, as you know,” Romney said in both Tampa and Miami. “We’re going through trauma in a major part of the country…. It’s interesting to see how people come together in circumstances like this.”

Romney’s toned-down approach underscores the difficulties of criticizing the nation’s commander in chief after a disaster.

But, with Vice President Joe Biden campaign sharply criticizing Romney and running mate Paul Ryan, the chances are that the Republican campaign won’t stay too positive for too long.

Romney’s positive tone also indicates his status in Florida: He’s ahead, albeit narrowly, according to numerous polls. Add in absentee-ballot and early vote numbers and the race is as close as ever. Frontrunners usually stay as positive as they possible.

As of Wednesday morning, Democrats held an advantage over Republicans in total pre-Election Day ballots cast: 49,000. But Republicans pointed out that, compared to 2008, Democrats aren’t in the position to rack-up a major early vote lead.

Part of the reason for that: the GOP-led Legislature last year cut early voting days to eight in Florida, down from 14 in 2008.

In all, Democrats edged Republicans by 118,000 early vote ballots over the last four days, but Republicans extended their absentee-vote lead to more than 69,000.

Nearly 2.7 million ballots have been cast out of a total 12 million registered voters, 75 percent of whom are expected to vote. That means about 30 percent of the ballots could already be in.

To juice up Election Day turnout in Florida’s most-Democratic county, President Obama plans to visit Broward on Sunday.

Romney, however, is likely to return to Florida as well. Because of the Electoral College map, Romney needs to win Florida. Obama doesn’t need it as much.

With an unemployment and home-foreclosure rate higher than the national average, Florida has been receptive to Romney’s promise to create more jobs. While avoiding Obama by name, Romney still pointed out the high number of people on food stamps, anemic job growth and the low number of new-business startups.

As part of his Sandy-oriented stump speech, Romney drew a connection between the aftermath of the storm and the tight presidential contest.

“People coming together is what’s also going to happen on Nov. 7,” Romney said, referring to the day after the election. “I will bring change and real reform and a presidency that brings us together.”

The tie between the storm relief and the presidential contest was an inevitable side effect of Romney’s decision to continue campaigning while the Northeast reels from Hurricane Sandy. Romney canceled campaign appearances Tuesday but did hold a quasi-campaign/relief event in Ohio.

President Barack Obama has not campaigned since Monday and will tour storm damage in New Jersey today. Biden did campaign at a noontime rally in Sarasota and former President Bill Clinton is campaigning on Obama’s behalf.

Romney was joined in Tampa and Miami by the Republican Party’s biggest Florida stars, former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Republican Senate candidate Rep. Connie Mack IV also attended.

Romney, noting he was governor in the heavily Democratic state of Massachusetts, said he knows how to work with people of the other party.

At the same time in Miami, Romney’s campaign was sharply negative in a Spanish-language ad that noted the positive statements made about Obama from Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro’s niece.

Romney mentioned none of that in his speech.

“We've got to come together,” Romney said.