Obama courts Florida as Romney plays religion card

US President Barack Obama was to woo Florida voters Sunday after Republican Mitt Romney thrust religion to the center of the White House race as he sought to underscore the rivals' different approach to traditional values.

Obama planned to meet with supporters in Melbourne and West Palm Beach as he pursued his strategy of winning over undecided voters in so-called battleground, or swing, states.

Florida is one of 12 states that don't have a pronounced political preference and whose voters will likely determine the outcome of the November 6 election.

Obama spoke Saturday in St Petersburg where he was introduced by Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor of the Sunshine State, who says he was driven from his party after losing a Senate primary to Tea Party-backed Marco Rubio in 2010.

"The values we are fighting for are not Democratic values, they are not Republican values, they are American values," Obama said, as his campaign flexed organizational muscle and turned out 11,000 people.

The president renewed his attack on Romney over what he calls "trickle-down" Republican economics that have demonstrably failed and would risk igniting a new financial crisis.

"Tax cuts, tax cuts, gut a few regulations," Obama said in characterizing Romney's agenda.

"More tax cuts, tax cuts when times are good, tax cuts when times are bad. Tax cuts to lose a few extra pounds, tax cuts to improve your love life."

The president won some laughs at a packed restaurant, where he was introduced to a boy born in his home state, Hawaii.

At a bustling eatery Gator's Dockside, Obama sidled up to a table of 10 people including five children, at which a woman signaled to Obama that one youngster was born in Hawaii.

"You were born in Hawaii? You have a birth certificate?" Obama joked to the boy, whose table burst into laughter.

The president long has been a target of "birther" theorists who have suggested his Hawaii birth certificate was fake, and he was perhaps ineligible for high office.

Meanwhile, Romney appeared with televangelist Pat Robertson in Virginia, and seized upon the row at last week's Democratic convention sparked when delegates removed language about God from their platform.

After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Romney told the crowd: "I will not take God out of... our platform. I will not take God out of my heart. We are a nation that's bestowed by God."

Romney said Americans needed a new president who will "commit to a nation under God that recognizes that we, the American people, were given our rights not by government but by God himself."

The former Massachusetts governor also appeared to imply that Democrats wanted to remove the phrase "In God We Trust" from US currency.

The Obama campaign swiftly responded to Romney's rhetoric, describing it as a "Hail Mary" pass -- a desperate long throw in the dying moments of an American football game when defeat is nigh.

Spokeswoman Lis Smith accused the Republican nominee of launching "extreme and untrue attacks against the president and associating with some of the most strident and divisive voices in the Republican Party."

The Romney team shot back that it was Obama's campaign, not Romney's "that pits people against each other."

The new ripple in the campaign comes amid signs of a polling bounce for Obama out of his convention last week, as he climbed a point into a 49-45 percent lead over Romney in Gallup's daily tracking poll.

His approval rating as measured by Gallup held steady at 52 percent, its highest mark since he ordered the operation to kill Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

Romney enjoyed no discernible benefit in the polls from his convention.

Republican campaigns have frequently used religious and cultural issues to drive up turnout in close elections, and now as a veiled attack on Obama, who has frequently felt compelled to point out that he is a practicing Christian.

With both candidates seeing the votes of white, working-class voters in battleground states as critical, cultural and religious issues could take on added importance ahead of the November 6 election.

Romney also courted the blue-collar vote on Saturday, glad-handing NASCARautomobile race fans and posing for pictures with drivers, but a rain delay denied the Republican White House hopeful a chance to announce: "Drivers, start your engines!"

It was Romney's second trip of the year to a stock car race. In February at the Daytona 500 race, he admitted he wasn't the most dedicated of NASCAR fans, but said he had "some friends who are NASCAR team owners."

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