TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — President Barack Obama held on to a slim lead early Wednesday over Republican Mitt Romney in the hard-fought swing state of Florida, but the Democratic incumbent did not need the state in his White House victory.
Obama won re-election, despite a weak economy and high unemployment. In Florida, Obama had 49.8 percent of the vote compared with Romney's 49.3 percent with 96 percent of the precincts reporting. With nearly 8 million votes tallied, the candidates were separated by about 50,000 votes.
The state has 29 electoral votes up for grabs — the most of any swing state.
The close race was expected after months of candidate visits, campaign bitterness and some $130 million spent on TV ads.
Florida, with its diversity, wealth and political cache was long seen as a toss-up. Obama won here in 2008 by 205,000 votes, but since then, the state's unemployment and foreclosure rates have remained above the national average.
In other Florida races, voters chose Sen. Bill Nelson over GOP Rep. Connie Mack and picked seats for Congress; the Legislature; whether to retain three state Supreme Court justices; and voters decided on 11 state constitutional amendments.
Turnout appeared to be heavy, with long lines reported in many places, even though more than 4.5 million people out of nearly 12 million registered voters cast ballots early. There were reports of sporadic, but mostly minor problems at the polls Tuesday. One Florida elections office mistakenly told voters in robocalls the election was on Wednesday. Another office lost power for about 45 minutes.
Ashely Bass, 22, voted in her second presidential contest, choosing Romney. The Lee County resident in the southwest part of the state picked Republican Sen. John McCain four years ago.
"I see a lot of Bush in Romney and I really like him. The only thing I don't like is his ideas about Planned Parenthood. I am against abortion, but I am not against birth control," she said.
Others said they liked the president's recent leadership.
"I made my mind up when I saw Obama get that storm response out so quick," said retiree Raymond Tisdale, 77, of Port Charlotte. "I was thinking about voting for Romney, but he just flip flopped too much."
The former building contractor continued said he sees the economy improving.
"Obama had a lot on his plate when he started, like unemployment going up, but now it seems like it has turned in the other direction. We all need to make a living," he said.
Florida's voters are difficult to categorize. It's a transient state, the fourth-largest in the nation. One of every five residents is foreign-born and those born in the U.S. probably came from another state. There are New Yorkers, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, African-Americans and Haitians. There are Southern conservatives, soccer moms, wealthy same-sex couples and still wealthier Midwestern retirees. In rural pockets in the state's middle, there are poor farmers and even poorer farmworkers.
Political preferences break down loosely by region. North Florida is solidly conservative. South Florida generally votes Democratic. Then there's the Interstate 4 corridor, stretching from Tampa in the west to Daytona Beach in the east. Some have called it the most crucial swing region in the most crucial swing state in the nation.
It can't be said enough: Florida is a microcosm of the United States.
Because of this, Obama and Romney — and their wives, vice presidential picks and high profile political supporters — have held dozens of rallies over the last two years. It's also one of the reasons why Republicans chose Tampa as the site of its national convention this past August.
Florida also played a crucial role in the contested 2000 presidential election, which was marred by hanging chads and a lengthy recount. Republican George W. Bush won after the Supreme Court declared him the winner over Democrat Al Gore by a scant 537 votes.
Kathy Wingard contributed to this report. Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush
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2012: PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION STATE-BY-STATE
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