SARASOTA, Fla. - It's the first time Mitt Romney has spent 24 hours straight in a battleground state since last week, and it's also his first major campaign stop since the release of a videotape showing the republican presidential candidate at a private fundraiser that's become a lightning rod of controversy for his candidacy.
Speaking before several thousand outside the Ringling Museum along the Gulf coast, Romney showed little signs of backing away from his comments in the video, when he said his job is "not to worry" about the 47 percent of America that he claims is dependent on government handouts and views itself as victims.
The GOP nominee reiterated his support of those with wealth in the U.S.
"I will never apologize for America," Romney said. "This is a land where economic freedom has allowed people to pursue their dreams, and in doing so, achieve success," he said.
While Romney failed to address the video, his speech included a softer message about those in the country who are less fortunate.
"I'm opposed to the idea that the role of government is to take from some people and to give to others," he said. "Now I'm not talking about people in need, of course. We always care. Americans are big-hearted and compassionate people. We care for those in need."
Speaking with a hoarseness indicative of a long campaign of stump speeches and fundraising addresses, Romney tried to show renewed energy and enthusiasm.
He gave the crowd plenty to cheer about with red meat lines about his opponent, President Barack Obama.
"You want four more years where incomes go down every single year?" Romney said, as the crowd yelled out a resounding "no!"
"You want four more years with gasoline prices doubling? Do you want four more years with unemployment at about eight percent?" he exclaimed.
His speech was interrupted by a group of protesters who managed to enter the viewing area in the courtyard of the museum. A Palestinian flag was raised as several people began chanting. They were quickly drowned out by supporters, who began yelling "USA! USA!" over the din of the demonstrators.
"I love a few protesters," Romney said. "Not too many, but a few."
With the latest polling that showed Romney trailing in Florida, his stump speech may have been tweaked to at least provide a small counter to his comments about the 47-percent.
"I support the 100-percent in America," Romney said.
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Ahmed Mohamed, a 15-year old, will graduate from the Fine Arts Magnet program at Blake High School in Tampa in two weeks. He plans on enrolling in the USF medical program this fall.