By Bob Rathgeber and Ledyard King, Gannett Washington Bureau
President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney aren't moving to Florida, but for the next two months it will seem like it.
Romney was in Tampa last month accepting his party's nomination, then campaigned in Jacksonville two days later.
Obama spent Saturday in Pinellas County and Kissimmee before heading for stops in Melbourne and West Palm Beach on Sunday.
Former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to stump for Obama in Florida on Wednesday.
Florida matters this year, just as it has for decades.
Polls show the race for the state's 29 electoral votes a virtual toss-up, which means the candidates, their running mates and their families will be in and out of Florida, the nation's largest swing state, almost constantly.
"Both candidates will spend a lot of time in Florida," said Peter Bergerson, a political science professor at Florida Gulf Coast University and a longtime political analyst. "I'd say they will be here at least once a week or more, and it will not only be them."
A flood of surrogates for each nominee is expected to hit Florida in the next few weeks.
Among them will be San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a Hispanic and rising Democratic star who had a prominent speaking role at the Democratic National Committee in Charlotte.
"The schedule hasn't been set up but I imagine that I will be in Florida at some point," Castro told reporters Thursday. "Whatever happens, you can tell right away that presidential candidates throughout the years have catered to the Hispanic community in Florida."
Expect to see Romney's supporters spending plenty of time in Florida as well, said Jeff Bechdel, communications director for the former Massachusetts governor's campaign.
"I'm sure they are going to be here a lot," Bechdel said. "Florida is a critically important state."
Democrats have said all week that Romney can win the White House only if he captures Florida. The implication is that Obama could lose the state and still win re-election, but Democrats are reluctant to say that.
The biggest battleground inside Florida is the roughly 136-mile "I-4 corridor."
That area, which runs from Tampa in the west and Daytona Beach in the east and swoops south along Cape Canaveral, is full of independent voters and a fast-growing Hispanic population. An estimated 800,000 to 1.2 million non-affiliated voters live in the eight counties that make up most of the area.
Obama and Romney will be there often. Romney's first campaign appearance after accepting the nomination took place in Lakeland, a city that Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has called "the fulcrum of the I-4 corridor."
"The whole state is important, but certainly the I-4 corridor is critical," Bechdel said. "There are tons of Republicans in Southwest Florida and in the Panhandle. And there are Republicans in the Miami area, too. No question, we have to appeal to independents."
Obama edged Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona by 2.5 percentage points in Florida in 2008. If recent polls are an indication, November's election will be even closer.
A Public Policy Polling survey taken after the GOP national convention found no change in the race in Florida, with Obama leading Romney 48 percent to 47 percent. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
Bergerson of Florida Gulf Coast University said the race in Florida will be too close to call right to the end.
"Of course that is if there are no mistakes ... a blunder or an error along the way," he said.
Gannett Washington Bureau