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After voter shift, Obama organizing early in Florida

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - President Obama has problems in Florida that he didn't have when he won the prized state in 2008.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - President Obama has problems in Florida that he didn't have when he won the prized state in 2008.

The state's economy is worse than elsewhere. Foreclosures are high. Property values are low. As president, Obama could be blamed.

Voters' shifting attitudes show the degree to which the atmosphere has changed since his first campaign. Florida Democrats made gains in 2008 with Obama on the top of the ticket, but the GOP won big two years later.

All that explains why Florida Democrats are redoubling their efforts to reenergize the rank and file, including at the state party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner Saturday night.

And it's why Obama's campaign team has been on the ground training volunteers 17 months before the election and why the president has been such a frequent visitor to the state.

Over the last 10 months, he has played mini-golf and hit the waves in Panama City Beach, eaten a corned beef sandwich at a Miami Beach deli, visited Cape Canaveral, addressed community college graduates in Miami, and headlined fund-raisers for Florida politicians. He is set to return this week for three more fund-raising events.

Florida has 29 electoral votes, more than 10 percent of the 270 he needs to win a second term.

"The president can win the White House reelection without Florida, but it's certainly easier if he does win Florida," said Steve Schale, Obama's Florida director in 2008.

Florida's unemployment rate was 10.8 percent in April, nearly 2 percentage points higher than the national average. The state has been hit harder by foreclosures and loss in property values than most of the country.

After Florida Democrats made gains in 2008, voters went quickly in the opposite direction in 2010. Republicans won the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat, and three other statewide offices, plus huge majorities in the legislature.

Obama's job-performance rating in Florida has hovered between 44 percent and 47 percent, except for a slight increase to 51 percent in a Quinnipiac University poll after Osama bin Laden's death.

The sluggish economic recovery is to blame.

"Things haven't gotten better," said Christian Ferry, a Republican who was Sen. John McCain's deputy campaign manager in the 2008 presidential race. "And it certainly hasn't gotten better in Florida. He's got some big challenges to explain how it is that his economic messages, his economic plan, is improving the situation in Florida for Floridians who are still struggling."

For all the troubles, Republicans acknowledge that defeating Obama won't be easy.

"The pendulum swings so fast now," said GOP strategist David Johnson in Tallahassee. "You can't underestimate that guy." He added, "He'll . . . come down here on that big blue plane, and that big blue plane excites people."

Democrats hope the GOP wave of 2010 is dissipating. They are betting that voters will be turned off by the conservative agenda Republicans in Florida and Washington have pushed.