Obama Courts Fla. Seniors, An Important Voting Bloc

At Century Village in West Palm Beach, Fla., President Obama made an appeal to senior citizen voters. It's a group he struggled with in the 2008 election. Seniors make up about a fifth of the state's population but nearly a third of registered voters.

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. We are gathering information at this hour out of Aurora, Colorado, where there are reports of a mass shooting - a multiple shooting at a movie theater. The theater was playing - among other things - the premiere of the new Batman movie, early hours of this morning, when shots rang out. Witnesses describe hearing a large number of gunshots.

We have a variety of reports on casualties. One of them comes from the police chief in Aurora, Colorado, who's telling a local TV station he believes there is a minimum of 10 dead, dozens injured. We do have many reports of injuries going in to local hospitals - although we should stress, it is very, very early here; and all facts are approximate, at best. A University of Colorado hospital spokeswoman describes a number of wounded, injuries ranging from moderate-severe.

Again, this happened in Aurora, Colorado, where a Batman movie was premiering, in the early hours of this morning. Now, we're going to cover other news here this morning, as we continue chasing that story.

President Obama was campaigning last night in Florida, which is one of the major swing states in this fall's election. And NPR's Greg Allen reports from West Palm Beach.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: For Democratic candidates running for office in Palm Beach County, the road usually runs through Century Village. Countless county commissioners and state legislators have visited this retirement community; also, Joe Biden and John Kerry. Last night, President Obama found his visit also involved running a gauntlet of grandmothers.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now first of all, I just want to say, that's the most kisses I've gotten at any campaign event.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

ALLEN: Nearly 700 people packed into the retirement community's clubhouse. David Israel, a resident who introduced the president, said there's a good reason why Century Village was chosen for the campaign stop.

DAVID ISRAEL: Last presidential election, Democrats pulled 69 percent of the vote here.

ALLEN: Right here in Century Village?

ISRAEL: Right here. Sixty-nine percent of the Democratic vote, here in Century Village.

ALLEN: A little more than four years ago, Barack Obama had some supporters here. But another Democrat running for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, was even more popular. Israel says in this Democratic stronghold, he sees far more enthusiasm among seniors for Mr. Obama now, than four years ago. As for the issues, Israel says among the seniors that he knows, Medicare is at the top of the list.

ISRAEL: Number one because people are very concerned about their health-care coverage. It's critical in here. And most people in here are fixed income - Social Security. You know, where's the money going to come from, if that safety net goes away?

ALLEN: That's a theme President Obama is only too happy to emphasize, especially Mitt Romney's support for Congressman Paul Ryan's plan that would cap Medicare benefits through a voucher program.

OBAMA: One independent, nonpartisan study found that under a similar plan, seniors would have to pay nearly $6,400 for Medicare, than they do today. Where you going to get that from? Where you going to get it from?

ALLEN: Four years ago, although Barack Obama won Florida, he lost the senior vote in the state to John McCain. Dave Aronberg is a former Democratic member of the Florida Legislature, who represented this district. He expects President Obama to do better among seniors in Florida this time, in part because he doesn't think Romney has the connection with senior voters that McCain did.

DAVE ARONBERG: Also, I think that the senior community has seen President Obama's policies, and are more comfortable with him. He was - you know, he was brand-new four years ago. And now, I think people realize that he's there to protect Medicare and Social Security. And I think they'll vote for him, at the end of the day.

ALLEN: At the same time, the last four years have not been kind to Florida. The recession, and the collapse of the housing market, brought this state's growth-based economy to a standstill. Retiree Dan Stifter says that was a blow to seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes and have their nest eggs in their homes. Still, Stifter says he doesn't agree with those who say the president hasn't done enough to restore the economy. And in his neighborhood, he says, homes are beginning to sell.

DAN STIFTER: Well, I think it's getting better, you know - I mean, slowly but surely. This thing took awhile to develop. It's not going to be cured in just four years, and maybe not even eight years. Maybe not even for 12 years. But eventually, I think it'll all come back.

ALLEN: In Florida, senior citizens are an important voting bloc because there are so many of them - and they all vote. Seniors make up about a fifth of the state's population, but they comprise nearly a third of registered voters. Aronberg says that's why seniors - along with the fast-growing Hispanic population - may determine the outcome of the race in Florida.

ARONBERG: Those votes are up for grabs. It's going to be a close election. And that's why the president, I expect, will be back here several times more, before the election - because Florida could decide the election yet again, and it is going to be razor-thin.

ALLEN: The president continues his Florida swing today, with stops in Fort Myers and Orlando. But the Sunshine State will be seeing even more of Mitt Romney next month, when he accepts his party's nomination at the Republican Convention in Tampa.

Greg Allen, NPR News, West Palm Beach, Florida.

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