WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is trying to keep the pressure on Republican rival Mitt Romney, opening two days of campaigning in Florida in search of military veterans, seniors and unaligned voters in the state's crucial midsection. Romney's wife said no more of her husband's tax information would be made public.
Obama was appearing Thursday in Jacksonville and West Palm Beach as his campaign urges Romney to release more years of his tax returns and keeps a sharp focus on the former Massachusetts governor's tenure as the head of a private equity firm.
"We've given all that people need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how we live our life," Ann Romney told ABC News in an interview broadcast Thursday.
Romney had planned a quiet day of private meetings Thursday at his campaign headquarters in Boston, but abruptly changed his plans and scheduled a campaign stop nearby to coincide with Obama's first event in Florida. After several days of aggressive anti-Obama rhetoric, the Republican's campaign was showing no signs of letting up.
Florida is the largest and most coveted of the nation's Election Day toss-up states, a place where Romney could severely damage Obama's chances of winning re-election. Republicans are holding their national convention in Tampa in August in hopes of giving themselves an edge in the state.
Yet, if Obama can lock down Florida's 29 electoral votes, it would be difficult for Romney to mount enough support elsewhere to capture the White House.
Polls have shown Obama and Romney in a dead heat in the state, which has struggled with an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, above the national average, and a still-recovering housing market. Florida provided the deciding margin in George W. Bush's victory in 2000 and the state has been closely contested ever since. Obama carried it in 2008.
Obama aides noted that since 1992, Floridians have cast more than 32.5 million votes during the past five presidential elections and only 57,000 votes have separated the two parties in those campaigns. "Florida's always a close state and we don't expect that to change between now and November," said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
Both sides are jockeying for an advantage.
Obama has repeatedly criticized Romney's private equity firm, Bain Capital, arguing that it promoted the outsourcing of jobs to countries like China and India. And Democrats want Romney to make public past tax returns, noting that the one year for which he has released returns showed investments and offshore accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.
Several Republicans have joined in the call for more transparency, including several GOP senators and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who challenged Romney for the GOP nomination earlier this year.
In an interview aired Thursday on WTOL-TV in Toledo, Ohio, Romney said one reason not to release more of his returns was that "the Democratic party and the opposition has all these people that comb through and try and find anything they can to distract from the issues people care about, oftentimes in a dishonest way."
In recent days, Romney has pointed to Obama's record on the economy and noted that the Democrat hasn't met with his jobs council in more than six months. Romney was in Massachusetts Thursday, before an event Friday in Bow, N.H.
Romney's team sees an opportunity to seize on what they say is another Obama misstep on jobs. At the White House briefing Wednesday, press secretary Jay Carney said there was "no specific reason" why Obama and the jobs council haven't met for six months "except that the president's obviously got a lot on his plate."
Romney, under attack for days over his record running Bain Capital and over his tax returns, went on the offensive this week and lashed out at Obama for saying: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." At a town hall in Ohio on Wednesday, Romney asked audience members who had built or were running a business to stand. "Take that, Mr. President," he said as the crowd cheered.
The Republican candidate was expected to highlight that comment again Thursday.
The president was beginning his campaign day in Jacksonville, home to a large swath of veterans and military members connected to Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Before military audiences, Obama has talked about his efforts to bring home U.S. combat troops from Iraq, end the conflict in Afghanistan and press Congress to promote job opportunities for veterans.
Obama is expected to make a pitch to seniors in West Palm Beach, where he'll visit Century Village, a condominium complex home to thousands of retirees, long a bastion of reliable Democratic voters. Obama and Democrats have warned that Romney would seek to implement a budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that includes an overhaul of Medicare that would change it into a voucher-like program for those who retire in 10 years.
"Under the Romney-Ryan budget, Florida seniors would be left on their own," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
Obama was holding events on Friday in Fort Myers, along Florida's southwest coast, and in Orlando, the heart of the state's Interstate 4 corridor, which is home to many independent voters.
After his event in the Boston area, Romney was expected to attend a private fundraiser in the Boston area and campaign in New Hampshire on Friday. He was spending the weekend at his lakeside vacation home in New Hampshire.
While his vacation home is usually reserved for family and relaxation, Romney often holds campaign strategy sessions there with senior staff and family members.
Despite the light schedule, speculation about Romney's selection of a vice presidential candidate looms large. Romney said Wednesday that he has yet to make his choice. Aides say a decision could come this week.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in Boston and Kasie Hunt in Washington contributed to this report.