He criticized his rival's plan to transform Medicare into a voucher program.
JACKSONVILLE, FLA. - President Obama opened a two-day campaign swing through Florida on Thursday as he tried to build support in this deadlocked battleground state by presenting his opponent, Mitt Romney, as a bad choice for seniors.
After weeks of focusing on Romney's private-sector business deals, Obama turned to another front by assailing Republican plans to repeal his health care law and transform Medicare into a voucher program. Democrats have long used Medicare as a wedge issue to galvanize older voters in Florida against Republicans.
"Shredding the social safety net, shredding the health care safety net for seniors is outrageous," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman who was traveling with Obama. "President Obama opposes Romney's plan to voucherize Medicare. He knows that Medicare is a sacred compact with Florida's 3.4 million seniors who earned it after a lifetime of hard work."
'Out of touch'
Romney, campaigning in Massachusetts, scheduled three interviews with Florida radio stations to counter the president's visit. "The president is extraordinarily out of touch with how America's economy works and how individuals pursuing their dreams in this country have built America," he told a Tampa station. "The president thinks that it's government that should take responsibility for all the successful businesses in this country. And the truth is, it is not government."
Obama has found it difficult to gain traction in Florida, according to recent polls, and Republicans greeted him with TV ads accusing him of trying to distract attention from high unemployment and mediocre economic growth.
"Barack Obama can't run on his failed economic record, so his whole strategy is trying to put his opponent through the shredder -- and even that's failing because his attacks are misleading," said Jonathan Collegio, communications director for American Crossroads, a group broadcasting one of the ads.
Obama's trip is his third to the state in recent weeks and the seventh of the year. After Jacksonville, a city that just elected its first black mayor and that sits in a county that Obama lost by just 8,000 votes four years ago, the president addressed seniors in West Palm Beach. On Friday, he travels to Fort Myers and Orlando.
Obama and Romney are effectively tied in Florida, whose 29 electoral votes are considered potentially decisive. A poll conducted for the Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and other news organizations last week found that 46 percent of likely Florida voters support Obama, and 45 percent support Romney. Particularly worrisome for the president: More Florida voters than not believe his policies have made the economy worse and want his health care law repealed.
The president is trying to argue that his policies have made significant if insufficient progress in rebuilding an economy wracked by financial crisis and that the health care law benefits older Floridians. Seniors saved an average of $600 last year on prescription drug costs because the health care law helped close the doughnut hole in coverage, the Obama campaign said.
As for Medicare, the president took aim at Romney's support for a plan advanced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which would overhaul Medicare by providing vouchers for insurance on the private market. Obama argued that the vouchers would never cover the full cost, and so the plan would cost seniors thousands of dollars a year.
Wasserman Schultz said: "We have demographic groups that I think are going to be particularly moved by the dramatic contrast between Mitt Romney's record and his proposals, and President Obama's record and the direction he wants to continue to move this country in."