THE VILLAGES, Fla. -- For the first time this week, something was notably missing from Mitt Romney's Florida stump speech: any mention of Newt Gingrich.
In sixteen minutes on the stump here at his final public appearance before Florida's primary votes are counted Romney criticized President Obama, joked about Medicare and even led a singalong, but never even alluded to his closest rival here, Gingrich. At his afternoon stop in Dunedin, Romney mentioned the former speaker less than one minute into his remarks, accusing him of "flailing" in his attacks on Romney.
Now, with more than 600,000 early and absentee votes already cast, and polling places set to open tomorrow morning in this pivotal primary state, Romney appears to be resting on a comfortable lead -- which four recent polls all peg between eight and sixteen percent.
But a hoarse, visibly tired Romney was not completely restrained here tonight -- joking with the crowd of almost exclusively retirees here that he knew "some of them" were probably on Medicare.
And after long making a recitation of the lyrics of "America the Beautiful" a hallmark of his stump speech, Romney tonight led the crowd in a singalong of the "patriotic hymn," as he refers to it.
After three events today, and with each crowd larger than the one before it, Romney will return to Tampa tonight, where he will hold his primary night party on Tuesday. An event tentatively scheduled for Tuesday morning was scrapped tonight, and Romney's next public appearance will be on stage tomorrow night, after the votes are cast.