President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney fixated on Florida for next two months of presidential campaign

With the election just two months away, Florida can expect visits from the campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to get even heavier and the rhetoric even sharper.

09/09/2012 7:28 PM

09/09/2012 10:13 PM

So goes life in a swing state.

President Barack Obama — buoyed by higher poll-numbers after his Democratic party’s convention — journeyed to Florida for a two-day swing, bouncing from Tampa Bay to Central Florida on Saturday, and then the Space Coast and West Palm Beach on Sunday.

In his wake, former President Bill Clinton will stump Tuesday in Miami and then in Orlando on Wednesday, the same day Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, returns to Tampa Bay.

As the Nov. 6 elections draw near, expect the visits to get even heavier and the rhetoric to get sharper — specifically regarding Medicare and the economy, two key issues in a senior-heavy state menaced by high home-foreclosures and unemployment rates.

Romney accuses Obama of being a “failed president” presiding over a “jobless recovery. And Obama says Romney would hurt healthcare for seniors.

“Their plan bankrupts Medicare over the long term,” Obama said late Sunday afternoon to a boisterous crowd of about 6,000 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. “Our plan strengthens Medicare. I believe no American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies.”

The crowd was in a good mood. Before Obama’s arrival, they danced and sang along to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Obama sang a verse, "I-I-I’m . . . so in love with you . . . ," in January to kick off his re-election campaign.

In a sign of the energy Obama has inspired, a Fort Pierce pizza shop owner named Scott Van Duzer became so excited earlier in the day that he wrapped the president in a bear hug and lifted him off his feet.

The visit was one of several unscheduled stops on Obama’s two-day bus tour — his tenth trip to the state this year.

Obama stayed on message, talking about Medicare. In West Palm Beach and Melbourne, he cited a study that found Romney’s plan would force average retirees retiring at the age of 65 in 2023 to pay $59,500 more over the length of their retirements. New Medicare recipients in 2030 would pay $124,600 more, according to the study, which was authored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a liberal group with ties to Obama’s campaign.

Romney’s campaign promptly dismissed the study as biased blather from Obama’s supporters.

“President Obama’s latest false attacks are a sign of desperation,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement. “Only one candidate in this race has robbed today’s Medicare of $716 billion to pay for Obamacare — Barack Obama.”

The Romney statement went on to blame Obama for higher health-insurance premiums averaging $2,500 for families and for doing “nothing to reform Medicare for the long haul.”

Obama’s healthcare plan, however, did extend the life of a major Medicare trust fund by reducing some proposed future expenditures by $716 billion. The fund is now scheduled to be in deficit in 2024, eight years later than initially anticipated. And Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, had approved of those Obamacare cuts to Medicare in two rival budget plans in the U.S. House.

Obama’s weekend visit to the Sunshine state comes at a crucial ideal time.

A handful of new polls indicate the just-ended Democratic National Convention — and Clinton in particular — gave the president a bounce in the polls. The latest survey, from Gallup, shows Obama leading Romney 49-44 percent nationwide in its daily tracking poll.

That’s a six-point shift in Obama’s favor since the start of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, which produced essentially no bounce for Romney.

There are no new Florida polls yet, but pre-convention surveys indicated Obama was holding an inside-the-margin-error lead over Romney.

Republicans believe that Obama’s numbers will quickly fall as Friday’s jobs report sinks in showing the economy barely added any new jobs. The unemployment rate actually fell to 8.1 percent because more people dropped out of the workforce.

“It is a jobless recovery, if it’s a recovery at all,” Romney said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “It really doesn’t look like a recovery. “If this president’s re-elected you’re going to see chronic high unemployment continue for another four years or longer.”

When pressed by host David Gregory for specifics on his economic proposals, Romney demurred. He said he would cut taxes across the board but that the wealthy wouldn’t pay less in taxes overall because he’d eliminate exemptions.

Romney also said he would keep portions of Obama’s healthcare plan, such as requiring insurance companies to cover some pre-existing conditions.

Romney’s Medicare plan also has relatively few specifics.

Medicare would be restructured to give insurance companies a direct subsidy on behalf of future seniors who could use the voucher-like “premium support” to buy private insurance, according to Romney, who uses Ryan’s plan as a starting point. Another Ryan proposal would allow seniors to remain in a Medicare-managed plan.

The Romney-Ryan plans would only apply to new seniors who become Medicare eligible in a decade when they turn 65, Romney reaffirmed on Sunday. Those 55 and older would continue with the current Medicare system.

Still, the plan ultimately appears to rely on transforming Medicare with a voucher-like subsidy whose growth rate is more tightly capped.

Absent any more details from Romney, Obama and his campaign are filling in the blanks with their own studies that could show a worst-case scenario for seniors.

The president’s Medicare lines drew some of the biggest applause in West Palm Beach on Sunday — as did his mention of the upcoming anniversary Tuesday of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“We know that Al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat, and Osama bin Laden is dead,” Obama said.

In West Palm Beach, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Weston and the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, reminded voters — lest they forget, in the county of hanging chads and butterfly ballots — that their vote matters.

“Who but us knows that one voter can make a difference in a presidential election?” she said. “Does anyone know that better than Florida voters?”

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