By STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — With the election 10 days away, Mitt Romney is calling for more partisan cooperation in Washington as he rallies supporters in Florida.
The Republican presidential candidate said on Saturday that this is not a time to divide the country or demonize political opponents.
"We have to build bridges to people in the other party," Romney told an estimated 10,000 supporters who packed the Pensacola Civic Center.
It was the first of three Florida stops Romney had planned for Saturday.
Romney has been toning down conservative rhetoric in recent weeks as he courts women and independents — a critical slice of the electorate that tends to favor bipartisanship — in the election's final days.
But the moderate tone did not last long as he assailed President Barack Obama's leadership in the same speech.
"He is shrinking from the magnitude of the times," Romney told the rowdy Pensacola crowd.
The comments come at a pivotal moment for Florida, a key swing presidential battleground which began allowing in-person early voting on Saturday.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who introduced Romney, reminded the crowd to head to the polls immediately after the rally. But he did not call for bipartisanship, as Romney did.
Rubio, a Cuban-American, likened Obama's policies to "the ideas of countries that people come here to get away from."
When pressed later in the day to detail which countries he meant, Rubio said he was talking about Mexico and other Latin American countries, not Cuba. He told reporters aboard Romney's campaign plane he was referring to, "any big government country in the world. They're all over Latin America. Mexico's a country that for many years has been, had a government that dominates the economy."
The Obama campaign seized on Rubio's comments and warned voters not to trust "a word Mitt Romney says on his promise of bipartisanship."
"Over the last six years he's been running for president, he hasn't stood up once to the most extreme voices in the Republican Party. In fact, he catered to them," said Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith, referring to Romney's continued silence on an Indiana GOP Senate candidate's recent statement that pregnancies resulting from rape are "something God intended."
Rubio suggested that Richard Mourdock's comments would not significantly impact the election, despite continued criticism from Democrats: "Ultimately, the issues people are thinking about on a daily basis are the issues of our economy, job creation and how to move our country forward."
And Rubio predicted a Romney victory in the state: "In Florida, I'd rather be us than them," he said.
After coming off the stage at a Romney campaign rally in Kissimmee, Rubio was told his 12-year-old daughter was injured Saturday in an accident and airlifted to a Miami hospital. A Rubio spokesman, who offered few details, reported that the girl is in stable condition. Rubio campaigned with Romney at two Florida rallies on Saturday and was scheduled to attend a third before being picked up by a state police cruiser along Romney's motorcade route.
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