JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mitt Romney told voters here Wednesday, "get a friend who voted last time for President Obama to take a good look at what he's done" to the American economy since taking office. But even among voters here who have soured on Obama, the Republican challenger is having a hard time selling himself as a viable alternative.
"Believe me, I am looking for almost any reason not to vote for Obama," said Amy Hayes, a Jacksonville waitress who took on a second job cleaning houses when her tips slowed dramatically. "But I just can't get a good read on Romney. He just seems distant -- almost robotic. Maybe, he can change my mind, but he doesn't have much time left."
The GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., failed to give Romney the type of bounce his aides predicted, making these days on the campaign trail and upcoming presidential debates all the more urgent for the Republican nominee.
The most recent Florida poll, by SurveyUSA, showed Obama ahead by 4 percentage points, with about 8 percent of people undecided. Polls a week ago had shown the race to be deadlocked. Without Florida's 29 electoral votes, Romney's chances to win the presidency dwindle substantially.
Romney used his time in the Sunshine State to criticize Obama for his handling of attacks at the American embassies in Egypt and Libya, calling the administration's response "akin to an apology" in the face of the death of an American ambassador and three other embassy workers.
Though Romney drew criticism from some pundits for ripping the president during a crisis on the international stage, some voters here -- home to the third largest military presence nationwide -- said it enhanced the Republican's commander-in-chief credentials.
"It was a sign of strength," said Trish Stewart, a stay-at-home mom with multiple family members deployed in Afghanistan. "I know this community appreciates that message. It was very presidential."
The Obama campaign has ratcheted up its outreach to military-dependent communities like Jacksonville in hopes of parlaying the president's foreign-policy record -- especially the killing of Osama bin Laden -- into an electoral asset.
But while world affairs dominated the political discussion Wednesday, most experts here agree that the election will ultimately come down to who voters feel can better handle the economy. And that is the issue Romney would prefer to focus on during his final sprint before the election.
Many in North Florida give Romney an edge on the economy and will vote for him if he can earn their trust.
"We're scared to death of what an Obama second term would look like considering his track record," Ronald Owen, a retiree from Jacksonville, said. "But I would like to see Mitt get a little more animated and show some more fire in the belly. He needs that."
Romney was reaching some here, especially those who have felt the sting of the ravaged economy.
"Voting for Obama would be like signing off on failure," Juan Ortiz, an unemployed Floridian, said while asking everyone who passed him on the Jacksonville riverfront if they knew of "any available work."
Betty Wolfe, who attended the Romney rally Wednesday added, "He comes off as such a smart guy. That's all that matters. The rest is hogwash."