Mitt Romney, after spending recent days on the defensive, was given a fresh opening to attack President Obama in battleground Florida Thursday when Obama admitted to shortcomings in changing how Washington operated and to failing to fix a broken immigration system.
After Obama told a Hispanic crowd at a town hall in Miami, "You can't change Washington from the inside; you can only change it from the outside," the Romney campaign pounced, looking to remind voters of the clarion call of hope and change on which Obama rode into office -- and the gridlocked nature of Washington politics today.
Romney made Obama's admission the focus of a campaign rally in nearby Sarasota, Fla, accusing the president of waving the "white flag of surrender" on his pledge to transform the gridlocked and partisan nature of Washington.
"His slogan was 'Yes, we can.' His slogan now is 'No, I can't.' This is the time for a new president." Romney said to thunderous applause.
Obama gave his Republican critics more ammunition by conceding that his inability to push through immigration reform -- as he promised -- marked the biggest failure of his White House thus far. Typically, the president has cited deficiencies in communicating his vision to the American public as his biggest failure.
The president enjoys a wide lead over Romney among Hispanic voters, but any waning support in that voting bloc could imperil his re-election efforts in Florida and other swing states with lots of Latinos.
However, Obama was eager to keep the spotlight on Romney for suggesting at a private fundraiser months ago that nearly half the country was dependent on the federal government and taxpayer-funded benefits.
"When you express an attitude that half the country considers itself victims, that somehow they want to be dependent on government, my thinking is maybe you haven't gotten around a lot," the president said at the Miami event.
Some analysts said Romney needs to spend more time sharpening his economic pitch in swing states like Florida to boost his political prospects.
"There's still this sense that he hasn't really shown how much he cares about Florida, that he's not here enough," University of Miami political scientist Christopher Mann said. "People may be a little spoiled, but with all the media markets here, you might as well be in Kansas if you're in a different part of the state."
Romney's campaign team announced this week they would focus more on campaign events in battleground states amid concerns from some Republicans that the former Massachusetts governor has focused too much on fundraising and not enough on reaching out to voters.
Romney will travel to Nevada on Friday, and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan will return to Florida on Saturday. The duo will launch a bus tour in Ohio at the start of next week.