Campaigns refocus energy on critical interest groups
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The presidential campaigns moved Saturday toward translating the energy of their respective party conventions into shoring up support among critical interest groups they will need to turn out at the polls in big numbers.
President Barack Obama launched a two-day bus tour Saturday through the heart of Florida, the largest swing state, making an appeal to Hispanics, as well as senior citizens he hopes are turned off by the Republican position on Medicare.
GOP nominee Mitt Romney, meanwhile, campaigned in Virginia Beach, Va., with a patriotic pitch in a region rich with military families, hoping to reassure them amid criticism that he failed to mention U.S. troops in Afghanistan during his nomination acceptance speech in Tampa the week before.
Speaking at the Military Aviation Museum, Mr. Romney said he would "rebuild America's military might" and restore proposed cuts to defense programs.
The $100 million worth of defense and non-defense cuts were part of a deal reached by the White House and House Republicans last summer to force lawmakers to rein in the national debt. Mr. Romney has pinned the blame on Mr. Obama, citing excerpts from a new book by Bob Woodward to support his assertion that the proposed cuts were the president's idea.
"Our troops have been stretched to the breaking point in the conflicts they've been enduring, and our hearts go to those that are in far-off places today, particularly those in Afghanistan who are in harm's way," Mr. Romney said. "We love them, we respect them, we honor their sacrifice. ... I will not cut our military. I will maintain our military commitment."
Mr. Romney also played to Christian conservatives by breaking into the Pledge of Allegiance and noting, in a dig at Democrats, that the pledge includes the phrase "under God." Democrats had not included a reference to God in their convention platform this past week in Charlotte, N.C., until Mr. Obama instructed them to do so. "I will not take God out of ... our platform," Mr. Romney said. "... and I will not take God out of my heart."
Hoping to blunt momentum his rival picked up in Florida since the GOP convention, Mr. Obama opened his bus trip in the Interstate 4 corridor, which cuts through the center of the state from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic, with a rally for 11,000 in St. Petersburg.
His campaign has attacked Mr. Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for their plan to partially privatize Medicare. Mr. Obama's aides have said they believe Florida's sizable elderly population will reject that path. "I will never turn Medicare into a voucher system," the president told the crowd. "No American should have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. People should retire with the dignity and respect and the care that they have earned."
Meanwhile, during a campaign swing through the Appalachian area of south-central Ohio, Vice President Joe Biden also attacked what he described as a Republican plan to cut the benefits of 30 million Medicare recipients. The Romney-Ryan plan, he said during a stop in Zanesville, "would immediately cut the benefits of 30 million people on Medicare as I speak. It would cause the Medicare trust fund to run out by 2016."
The Romney campaign said Mr. Biden's claims didn't hold up to fact-checking.
As proposed, Mr. Ryan's Medicare plan would not apply to anyone receiving Medicare or older than 55. It would allow future Medicare-eligible people to take the "premium-support plan" -- a subsidy to pay for private insurance -- or choose traditional Medicare. Mr. Biden said the premium-support plan is a voucher that means "Mom" will have to pay for her care partly out of her own pocket.
"This is a fact, I say to the press, fact-check me," he said. "...What they're proposing will actually cost the Medicare trust fund to run out of money by 2016, and the most important thing they did not tell you, they're not for actually preserving Medicare, they're for a whole new plan, Vouchercare."
First Published September 9, 2012 12:00 am