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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is pitching a plan for boosting U.S. tourism near Orlando, just as Republican presidential candidates prepare to blanket Florida with an anti-Obama message ahead of the state’s Jan. 31 primary.

Thursday’s trip is the latest attempt by the White House and Obama campaign to steal a share of the spotlight from Republicans in the midst of their nomination fight. Obama held a live video conference with Iowa voters during the Republican caucus, Vice President Joe Biden held a similar event with voters in New Hampshire as primary votes there were being counted, and next week Obama will travel to Nevada, which follows Florida on the primary calendar.

Obama’s high-profile trip to Florida – the president will speak at Walt Disney World – could help him counter attacks on his record lobbed by Republican presidential candidates during stops across the state, and in television ads already running in Florida. And it allows Obama to lay the groundwork for the general election campaign in Florida, a key political battleground he carried in 2008.

The White House said Obama would unveil a new strategy to boost tourism and travel during his speech at Disney. The announcement is part of the president’s “We Can’t Wait” initiative aimed at promoting executive actions Obama can take without congressional approval.

Tourism is a key component of the economy in Florida, which is burdened by 10 percent unemployment and rampant home foreclosures.

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney already has been testing economic attacks on Obama in Florida. A campaign mailer sent recently to Florida Republicans said: “Our economy has fallen flat. Who’s to blame?” Another proclaims that Romney is the strongest to lead the country out of economic turmoil, arguing, “With conservative leadership, America can be first in the world in job creation again.”

A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed the president in a near-statistical tie with Romney in a head-to-head matchup.

The White House insists the president’s trip to Florida is not purely political. Obama spokesman Jay Carney said that if the White House couldn’t travel to any state with a primary, “that would make it impossible for us.”

From Florida, Obama will fly to New York City for four glitzy campaign fundraisers, including an event at the famed Apollo Theater featuring performances by Al Green and India Arie. Tickets to that fundraiser start at $100.

The president also will attend a $35,800 per ticket fundraiser at the home of director Spike Lee, and two small fundraisers at Daniel, an exclusive Manhattan restaurant. Tickets start at $5,000 for the first restaurant fundraiser and $15,000 for the second.


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