Sunday, May 20, 2018
Politics

Crowds and post-DNC poll numbers buoy Obama in Florida

WEST PALM BEACH — 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 that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, heads to the Tampa Bay area.

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 health care 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 had sung a verse, "I-I-I'm … so in love with you," last January to kick off his campaign.

In a sign of the energy that Obama has inspired among some of his supporters, Fort Pierce pizza shop owner 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.

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 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 health care 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 anticipated. And Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, had approved of those Obama­care cuts to Medicare in two rival budget plans in the House.

Obama's visit to the Sunshine State comes at a crucial time.

A handful of new polls indicate the just-ended Democratic National Convention — and Clinton in particular — gave the president a bounce. 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 preconvention surveys indicated Obama was holding a very slim 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 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.

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 health care plan, such as requiring insurance companies to cover some pre-existing conditions.

Romney's Medicare plan has relatively few specifics. Medicare would be restructured to give insurance companies a direct subsidy on behalf of future seniors who could use the voucherlike "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. Still, the plan ultimately appears to rely on transforming Medicare with a voucherlike subsidy whose growth rate is tightly capped.

Absent more details from Romney, Obama and his campaign are filling in the blanks with their own studies. The president's Medicare lines drew some of the biggest applause in West Palm Beach — as did his mention of the anniversary Tuesday of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "We know that al-Qaida 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 asked. "Does anyone know that better than Florida voters?"

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