Marc Caputo: Romney’s missteps won’t be enough to win Florida for Obama

09/23/2012 7:17 PM

09/23/2012 7:38 PM

The latest statewide poll by The Miami Herald and its media partners shows a virtual tie in the presidential race in Florida. And it came as a shock to liberals and Democrats.

From the economy to foreign policy to Medicare questions, The Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald/Tampa Bay Times survey released over the weekend showed President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney neck-and-neck on the issues — or the Republican within striking distance.

Obama and Romney are basically tied, 48-47 percent overall.

Liberals couldn’t understand how this could be true, considering all the self-inflicted wounds of Romney and his campaign.

But the data are the data. The poll reflected how people feel, not how partisans think they should feel. And the poll results remind us that there are other data out there — all bad for an incumbent president — that underpin the entire election in the nation’s biggest battleground state.

In short, it’s the economy, stupid. Plus a little immigration, foreign policy and healthcare.

The data:

•  330,000: the number of homes in foreclosure in Florida. Almost half of all homes are underwater, meaning the owner owes more on the mortgage than the home’s value.
•  67.6 percent: this year’s second-quarter Florida homeownership rate, which hasn’t been this low since about 1999, when 15 percent fewer people lived in the state.
•  8.8 percent: the state’s official unemployment rate, higher than the national average.
•  800,000: the number of people counted within the unemployment rate.
•  399: the number of callers on hold when a Herald reporter recently called to check the waiting time of the state’s “customer service” department for jobless claims.
•  9.8 percent: what the unemployment rate would be if all labor-force-eligible workers who haven’t found work in Florida were counted.
•  60.1 percent: the labor-force participation rate, which hasn’t been this low since 1986.
•  29,000: the amount Florida’s labor force shrank in July.
•  715,000: the number of jobs lost during the 18-month recession.
•  1.4 million: the number of undocumented immigrants deported under President Obama.
•  55-41: the Senate vote that killed the DREAM Act sought by advocates of limited immigration amnesty.
•  4: the number of foreign-service workers, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, killed at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.
•  1979: the last time an ambassador of the United States was killed overseas, in Afghanistan.
•  $716 billion: the estimated reductions in future increases — commonly called “cuts” — to Medicare under the president’s affordable healthcare act.
•  $16 trillion: the current size of the national debt.
•  18 percent: the proportion of Floridians on Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor.

The parade of horribles goes on, and largely began under Republican leadership.

George W. Bush was president when the recession started and budget deficits ballooned amid unfunded wars, tax cuts and a Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

Republicans have controlled Florida for years. And Gov. Rick Scott and his fellow Republicans made it tougher for people to get jobless benefits. That increases 1) the level of frustration and/or 2) the likelihood people don’t get their checks and spend them quickly.

But George Bush isn’t on the ballot. Rick Scott isn’t. Yet.

Obama is. He promised hope and change, and a better economy. His healthcare program is unpopular in Florida. So he and Romney are viewed as near-equals over managing Medicare, the poll shows. It also shows that Democratic voters are far less likely to blame Obama for the shape of the economy, while Republicans are far more likely to do so. Independents are in the middle.

When it comes to immigration, Obama’s campaign has been tougher on the undocumented than Bush was — despite the conservative talking point that Obama has “failed” on immigration.

Obama also failed to make good on his promise to pass the DREAM Act.

“My biggest failure is that we haven’t gotten comprehensive immigration reform done,” the president said Thursday during a forum with Univision at the University of Miami.

He also seemed to backtrack on whether he could change Washington. And he ducked a question about whether the Benghazi consulate was ready for an attack.

The day before, Romney sat in the same seat with Univision, but might have played it smarter.

The Republican gave the show and its liberal-leaning hosts — who were anything but easy on Obama — 35 minutes instead of the hour Obama gave. Romney played out the clock at times and was largely able to coast through with a loud cheering section he brought along.

The crowd even jeered Univision’s host, Jorge Ramos, for having the audacity to ask a tough question.

The next day, Democrats started to complain that the Romney campaign had rigged the system.

It’s an interesting argument coming from those who support an Obama campaign that brags about its organizational “ground game.” But it got outplayed on the ground.

As the polls tighten, that sound from the left is called “whining.”

It was the same sound that conservatives made about news stories chronicling Romney’s repeated stumbles — from having angry old man Clint Eastwood arguing with an empty chair at the GOP convention to Romney initially botching his criticism of the president’s handling of the embassy and consulate attacks to Romney disparaging half the public as moochers.

None of that helped Romney. Arguably, it hurt him.

While explaining himself, Romney hasn’t had the time — or the inclination — to adequately explain the specifics of his plans or why he feels they’re superior to Obama’s.

But none of the above statistics help Obama, either. Arguably, they have hurt him. Floridians are hurting in this economy — 51 percent say they are not better off than they were four years ago.

All of this — the Romney gaffes plus the bad economy under Obama — makes for a tight race.

You don’t need a poll to tell you that.

Just call the unemployment-benefits hotline to find out. If you have the time.

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