Discuss as:

Obama: 'Severely conservative'? Romney says he was 'severely kidding'

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Going into tonight’s vice-presidential debate, President Barack Obama did not mention his vice president during his remarks at the University of Miami. Instead he focused on labeling his opponent, former Gov. Mitt Romney, a flip-flopper.

“When he's asked about the cost of his tax plan, he just pretends it doesn't exist. What $5 trillion tax cut? I don't know anything about a $5 trillion tax cut. Don't pay no attention to the $5 trillion tax cut on my website,” the president joked. 

This was part of a coordinated attack that one Obama campaign staffer previewed earlier today when she said of Romney, “If you’ve been tuned into the race for two years or you simply clicked on his website, you’d be very familiar with his positions that are very similar to the extreme right wing of his party on many issues.”

And this speech made it clear that in the closing weeks of the election, comparing Romney to himself is the tactic the campaign is going to attempt to capitalize on. “He’s trying to go through an extreme makeover. After running for more than a year in which he called himself severely conservative. Mitt Romney is trying to convince you that he was severely kidding,” the president said. 

The president’s tone in the Sunshine State seemed tougher than even his speeches that came directly after last week’s underperformance in the first presidential debate. He bashed Romney’s economic plan and tried to link him to congressional republicans:

"Governor Romney will rubber-stamp the top-down agenda of this Republican Congress the second he takes office, and we cannot afford that future," Obama said. "His plan will not create jobs, it will not help the middle class, it will not speed the recovery, it will slow down the recovery, it will not reduce the deficit, it will not expand opportunity. We can't afford it. We're not going back. We are moving forward."

The president also pushed the start of early voting in Florida, “On October 27th…You can choose whether we go back to the policies that got us into this mess, or you can choose to keep moving forward with policies that have been getting us out of this mess.  That’s the choice.” 

According to the latest NBC News/WSJ/ Marist Poll, the president has a slim 1-point lead in Florida. Among likely voters, Obama is polling at 48% to Romney’s 47%.