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President Barack Obama wooed senior citizens in Florida today, vowing to protect their Medicare, as challenger Mitt Romney focused his attention on white working class voters in Virginia with appeals to religion and the military.
“I will never turn Medicare into a voucher system,” Obama said in Seminole, Florida. Republicans’ idea of reform is “just dumping the cost on seniors,” Democrat Obama said.
The two candidates are grappling for an advantage with voters, trading long-distance barbs through some of the most tightly contested states.
With the post-convention phase of the campaign now officially under way, Obama is making his way through Florida on a bus tour as Romney rallies supporters in Virginia at a Nascar race.
Speaking to 11,000 supporters at St. Petersburg College’s Seminole campus, Obama pledged to “keep the promise of Social Security” and “not by turning it over to Wall Street.” Obama also said Romney’s call to repeal the health-care expansion known as “Obamacare” earns its own nickname: “Romneydon’tcare.”
Obama opened his Florida bus tour with promises to defend the middle class, saying Romney supports policies that might further harm the economy. The two counties Obama is visiting today are Pinellas and Osceola, which backed Obama in 2008 and Republican President George W. Bush in 2004.
In Seminole, Obama was introduced by Charlie Crist, the former Republican Florida governor who is now giving his support to Democrats. Crist was chided in his own party for hugging Obama early in his presidency and he lost a 2010 Senate bid to Marco Rubio. Today, the Democratic crowd cheered as Crist and Obama hugged on stage.
Obama said he will reduce the deficit “without sticking it to the middle class” while Romney would reduce regulation of Wall Street and give priority to more tax breaks for wealthy Americans.
At the Kissimmee Civic Center, in Kissimmee, Florida, a city with a concentration of Puerto Ricans, Obama was introduced by a Puerto Rican-born woman, Vivian Janer, who said the president is committed to programs that help Hispanic Americans and women. Kissimmee’s population is 58.9 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census.
The heavily Hispanic crowd of 3,000 responded so enthusiastically when Obama appeared that he joked, “I just want to say ‘thank you’ and leave the stage.”
Obama defended his economic stimulus, saying, “We’re expanding ports and infrastructure in Florida precisely because we can export more.” The crowd responded with a chant of U-S-A.
The president said “don’t get sick” is the Republican advice for people who can’t afford health insurance. Obama also told the crowd that the only way Romney can expand tax breaks for wealthy Americans without increasing the deficit involves “gutting education,” “voucherizing Medicare” and “maybe, to top it off” increasing taxes on middle-class families.
While Obama only touched on yesterday’s disappointing jobs report, Romney, in Iowa yesterday, hammered the president over the nation’s 8.1 percent unemployment rate and a jobs report that the Republican nominee called “simply unimaginable.”
The U.S. Labor Department reported the economy added 96,000 jobs in August, down from a revised gain of 141,000 in July and fewer than forecast. While the unemployment rate fell from 8.3 percent in July, the report showed 368,000 Americans left the job market and the share of the working-age population in the labor force slumped to 63.5 percent, the lowest since 1981.
The president is looking to former President Bill Clinton, who gave a prime-time speech at the Democratic National Convention on Obama’s behalf, to help make the case in battleground states that Obama’s economic policies are working. Clinton will campaign for Obama in Florida next week, the campaign said, with a Sept. 11 stop in Miami and a Sept. 12 event in Orlando.
Along with Florida, both campaigns are focused on Virginia, a state the president won four years ago that polls show is up for grabs today.
Speaking to supporters in Virginia Beach today, Romney attacked Democrats for cutting the word God from their party platform at their convention. Delegates later voted to restore a statement about the “God-given potential” of Americans.
“I will not take the word God out of the name of our platform,” he said today in Virginia Beach. “I will not take God off our coins and I will not take God out of my heart.”
No major political figure, of either party, has proposed removing the motto “in God we trust” from the American currency. Aides said the reference was intended to illustrate Romney’s commitment to religious principals in U.S. government and wasn’t aimed at Obama.
Before the rally, Romney met with Pat Robertson, a televangelist with a following among evangelical Christians. Robertson ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988.
Romney’s trip though the state, which included a stop at a Nascar race, is designed to expand his advantage among white working class voters. Romney aides see support from this demographic, particularly working class men, as offsetting Obama’s advantage among black and Latino voters in swing states such as Ohio and Virginia.
At his rally today at the Military Aviation Museum, Romney described possible defense cuts that will happen in January if Congress and Obama fail to cut a budget deal as “unthinkable to Virginia’s employment needs.”
Almost 14 percent of Virginia’s gross domestic product stems from defense spending, according to a November report by Bloomberg Government.
“If I’m president of the United States we’ll get rid of those sequestration cuts and rebuild America’s might,” he said.
The automatic spending cuts totaling about $1.2 trillion through 2021 were part of a deal between the White House and Congress after talks failed last year on a bipartisan plan to curb the nation’s increasing debt.
In an interview scheduled to be broadcast on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Romney called the cuts “a big mistake.”
“I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it,” Romney said in an excerpt of the interview provided by NBC. “I think it was a mistake for the Republicans to go along with it.”
While Romney, the Harvard-educated son of a former Michigan governor, leads in polls of working class voters, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum consistently performed better with white working class Republicans during his unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination last spring.
During a visit to the Daytona 500 earlier this year, Romney put himself more in the league of Nascar owners than fans, telling a reporter that he had “some great friends” who own teams. Democrats used the remark to paint him as wealthy and out of touch with average Americans. Romney amassed a $250 million fortune from his work as a private equity executive at Bain Capital LLC.
Romney got another chance to court the largely white audience of the sport tonight when he attended the Sprint Cup Series Nascar race at the Richmond International Raceway.
As rain pounded down on the track, Romney shook hands, signed helmets, and handed out hot dogs in a tent sponsored by his campaign. Supporters wearing ponchos emblazoned with the slogan “race car drivers 4 freedom” handed tee-shirts for Romney to sign. And he posed for photos with drivers Jeff Burton and Paul Menard in front of a race car covered with a Romney campaign logo.
“There’s a lot of drivers I like,” he told reporters.
John Stanley, a Romney supporter attending his fifth race of the year, said Romney seemed at ease at the raceway.
“He seems like that kind of down to earth guy,” he said.
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