* Florida is a big prize in presidential race
* Most recent polls tipped Romney to win key battleground
* Conservative U.S. Representative Allen West trailing
By Tom Brown
MIAMI, Nov 7 Americans gave President Barack
Obama a second term in office, but it still wasn't clear early
on Wednesday whether the president won the key battleground
state of Florida.
The vote in the state, which introduced the terms "hanging
chads" and "butterfly ballots" to the masses in its historic
2000 presidential election, was too close to call long after
Republican challenger Mitt Romney conceded his loss.
Early Wednesday morning Obama was edging out Romney by about
45,000 votes, or 0.53 percentage points, out of a total of 8.27
million votes cast in Florida, with about 99 percent of the
"It's 1:42 in the morning and I just heard there are still
people voting in Miami-Dade County," tweeted Chris Cate,
spokesman for Florida's Secretary of State, who is responsible
for elections. "Kudos to their commitment to voting!"
The head of elections for Florida's Miami-Dade County, which
accounts for about 10 percent of the state's 12 million
registered voters, said final results would not be available
until Wednesday afternoon.
Until then, it may not be totally clear whether Obama won
the state, which he carried in 2008.
At one church in Miami hundreds of voters were still in line
when polls were due to close at 7 p.m.
"I believe that Obama is doing a good job and he's going to
do a better job," said Michele Adriaanse, 59, who arrived to
vote at 6.30 p.m. and finally cast her ballot shortly before
midnight. "If we don't give him the chance, things will
go back to how they were," she added.
Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley told
reporters the delay was due to "an extremely high volume of
absentee ballots" and because long lines forced some precincts
to remain open hours after their official closing time.
Florida accounts for 29 of the 270 votes in the electoral
college a candidate needs to win the presidency. That is more
than any other swing state, and by many accounts the
fourth-largest state was a must-win for Romney.
Most recent polls had given Romney an edge over the
incumbent in Florida, where the economic recovery has been
slower than in other states and long-term unemployment has
reached record highs.
But registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in
Florida by about 5 percentage points and Romney faced multiple
headwinds in the state.
A plan by Romney's vice presidential running mate, U.S.
Representative Paul Ryan, to change the Medicare health
insurance program for seniors was among the factors often cited
as holding back Romney's campaign in the retiree-heavy state.
He also suffered from an inability to make inroads among
Hispanic voters, outside of the state's conservative
Florida propelled former President George W. Bush to a
wafer-thin victory in 2000 when he won the state by 537 votes.
Complaints about voting procedures, long lines to cast
ballots, restrictions on early voting and some possible
irregularities have been heard repeatedly across Florida. There
have been no claims of anything widespread or problematic enough
to cast doubt on the credibility of the Florida outcome.
It also was not immediately whether U.S. Representative
Allen West - the firebrand Republican lawmaker known for his
blistering attacks on Obama and other Democrats - had won one of
the country's most closely watched congressional races.
West, a darling of the conservative Tea Party movement, had
amassed one of the largest campaign war chests among House
Republicans. His known supporters included organizations like
Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political advocacy
group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.
But he faced a tough re-election challenge against Democrat
Patrick Murphy, who had hammered the first-term Republican for
the intransigence that led to gridlock in Washington.
Early Wednesday morning, West, 51, was trailing by 2,000
votes out of the 318,000 ballots cast.
Murphy, a 29-year-old businessman and political newcomer,
had strong backing from party headquarters and was one of the
best-funded Democratic challengers in the country.
A certified public accountant whose father runs a
construction company in Miami, Murphy turned the race into a
referendum on West, calling the Republican an extremist member
of a "do-nothing" Congress.
The battle in Florida's new 18th district was seen as a test
of whether a high-profile - some say polarizing - conservative
could win one of the biggest swing districts in a perennial