President Barack Obama took aim at Mitt Romney on taxes and Medicare in making an appeal to voters in Florida, the biggest swing state prize, while the Republican candidate pressed his case that Obama is hostile to business.
Obama yesterday began a two-day trip through Florida, twinning criticism of Romney’s support for tax cuts to benefit the top earners with a warning that the Republican’s proposals would force those 65 and older to pay more for health care.
“It’s wrong to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare just so millionaires and billionaires can pay less in taxes,” Obama told a crowd of supporters in Jacksonville.
Romney countered with a brief appearance at a truck service firm in his home state of Massachusetts and taped interviews with three Florida radio stations. He repeated the accusation he made earlier this week in Pennsylvania and Ohio that Obama believes entrepreneurs should share credit for their success with the government.
“The president is extraordinarily out of touch with how the American economy works,” Romney said on Tampa station 820 News. “It is a foreign concept to think that government is the center of America’s economy.”
Florida, with 29 electoral votes, plays a central role in the strategies of both presidential campaigns. While Obama won Florida by 2.8 percentage points in 2008, polls show him deadlocked with Romney.
The economy is shaping the race in Florida as it is nationally. The state’s unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in May, down from a high of 11.4 percent in January and February 2010. By comparison, the rate nationally was 8.2 percent in June and hit 10 percent in October 2009. Florida had the second highest number of foreclosures, 92,000, for the 12 months ending in May 2012, behind California, according to the real estate data firm CoreLogic Inc.
Florida ranks 28th in economic health according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States from the first quarter of 2011 through the first quarter of this year. The index is based on the performance of local-company shares, tax collections, home prices, mortgage delinquencies, job growth and personal income.
The Romney campaign sent out an e-mail to reporters listing the number of jobs lost in the four cities the president is visiting.
“Despite a pro-growth governor and legislature that is laser-focused on job creation, Florida -- like the rest of the nation -- is saddled with President Obama’s job-killing and business-discouraging economic policies,” the campaign said in the statement.
Obama, seeking to deflect attacks, said in Jacksonville that he expected the task of reviving growth following the recession that ended in June 2009 would last beyond a single term.
“Over the course of the next four months, the other side will spend more money than we have ever seen in our lifetimes on ads that tell you the same thing you’ve been hearing for months,” Obama said of the prelude to November’s election. “They know their plan isn’t going to sell so all they’ll keep doing is saying ’the economy’s not where it should be and it’s all Obama’s fault.’”
Obama aimed part of his remarks at older voters, a key constituency in the state. Floridians age 65 and above comprise 17.6 percent of the state’s population, compared with the U.S. average of 13.3 percent, according to Census Bureau data, and they turn out to vote at proportionately higher rates than other age groups.
Obama said Romney supports turning Medicare, the government insurance program for those 65 years of age and older, into a voucher program.
“So if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy the health insurance that’s on the market, you’re out of luck, you’re on your own,” Obama said. He said one study said it would mean an additional cost of $6,400 for Medicare, compared with today.
He also sought to assure Jewish voters of his support for Israel in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and instability caused by upheaval in Syria.
“Now’s the time to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect Israel’s security, and I want you to know that that’s something that should transcend politics,” he said in West Palm Beach. “That’s not a Republican or Democratic issue.”
Obama’s itinerary took him to Jacksonville and West Palm Beach yesterday, stops that included fundraisers, and he will be in Fort Myers and Orlando today.
Illustrating the importance of the state, Obama is making his 10th trip to Florida since declaring his re-election bid in April 2011 and his seventh this year. Vice President Joe Biden has been dispatched to the state three times since April. Since declaring his candidacy in June 2011, Romney has visited Florida 13 times.
A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey released July 14 showed Obama with 46 percent of the vote among registered Florida voters compared with Romney’s 45 percent. On the economy, the overriding issue of the election, 35 percent say the president’s policies have helped while 41 percent said they’ve made it worse. The telephone survey of 800 registered Florida voters was conducted July 9-11 and has a 3.5 percentage point margin of error.
Both campaigns are hammering each other with negative ads in the state, according to data from Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks campaign advertising. Obama’s campaign aired 11,586 ads on Florida TV stations in the 30-day period ended July 16, of which 81 percent were negative, and Romney’s campaign aired 4,863 ads on Florida TV stations, of which 4,765 were negative, or 98 percent.
Most of Obama’s better than 2-1 advantage over Romney on the Florida airwaves was offset by Republican-leaning outside groups, including Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a nonprofit group co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, and Americans for Prosperity, which has ties to Koch Industries Inc. executives Charles and David Koch. The two groups together ran ads 4,101 times. Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super-PAC, ran ads 1,523 times.