Medicare A Hot Topic As Romney, Ryan Hit The Trail

Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan campaigned in different states on Monday. Ryan was in Iowa, where President Obama was also campaigning. Meanwhile, Romney was in the important battleground state of Florida. Some analysts believe that Ryan's budgets proposals — which make major changes to Medicare — could hurt the Romney/Ryan ticket in Florida, especially among older voters.

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The two men on the Republican presidential ticket have flown off in different directions to campaign in two swing states. While Congressman Paul Ryan headed to Iowa, Mitt Romney flew to Florida. Polls there suggest President Obama has a slight edge and Democrats are feeling even more optimistic about winning Florida now that Ryan is on the Republican ticket.

NPR's Ari Shapiro is travelling with Mitt Romney as he tries to beef up his Florida support.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: It's a sticky, steamy morning on the Flagler College campus in St. Augustine. This part of Florida is less South Beach more Deep South. Spanish moss dangles from live oak tree branches and a rockabilly band is getting the crowd fired up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: The crowd here is not exactly college age. There's a lot of white hair in the audience. Retirees are one reason the Obama campaign is feeling more optimistic about Florida than they were a week ago. Democrats believe that Paul Ryan's proposals to change Medicare will drive older voters away from the Republican ticket. Under Ryan's plan, people under 55 would get money to buy health coverage on the private market. And retiree John Lochran(ph) thinks it's great.

JOHN LOCHRAN: I hope those of us who have gray hair are not scared by the threats to Medicare and Social Security because if we don't do something about those two programs, they're going to dissolve anyway.

SHAPIRO: That was the overwhelming sentiment among seniors here. Of course, these are all people who decided to come to a Romney rally, like Lila Taylor.

LILA TAYLOR: They keep saying you have to sacrifice. Well, you know, if we have to sacrifice a little, we will. But I know that most of us have raised our children well enough that they would never let us go without drugs or whatever we needed.

SHAPIRO: Data from the Pew Research Center show that seniors overwhelmingly rejected Ryan's voucher proposal when he first announced it. Seniors are more likely than others to oppose any change to entitlement programs according to Pew and Democrats see an opening there. But Judy Myes(ph) is a senior they cannot win over. She's decked out in all red, white and blue.

JUDY MYES: They are trying their best to put fear. I understand Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. They are not going to put me on the street.

SHAPIRO: Everyone here said they're excited about Paul Ryan on the ticket, but several confessed that he was not their first choice. They wanted native son Marco Rubio, the senator who spoke first this morning.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: We have had a great 72 hours.

SHAPIRO: Less great for Rubio who was passed over for the VP spot. But today, he was stalwart.

RUBIO: What we have learned over the last three days is that this election's not just going to be choice between two parties or two people, but it's literally a choice about our identity as a nation and as a people.

SHAPIRO: The Romney campaign tried to lower expectations for this event. After a weekend of huge rallies with both Ryan and Romney, this is the presidential candidate's return to solo campaigning. But as his bus rolled through the historic Spanish architecture of this campus, the line of people waiting to get in still wrapped far around the block.

MITT ROMNEY: Now, I understand there are even more people outside those barricades than inside here so the people way out there, thank you for coming today.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

SHAPIRO: Romney knows that entitlements could be a weak spot for his ticket here in Florida, so he accused President Obama of trying to shrink the health care program for seniors.

ROMNEY: The president's idea, for instance, for Medicare was to cut it by $700 billion. That's not the right answer. We want to make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare.

SHAPIRO: The Congressional Budget Office says the president's health care law would save $700 billion over a decade through new revenues and spending cuts. The president's supporters argue that Paul Ryan's plan would cut Medicare more deeply without the expanded insurance coverage. And those are the battle lines in the fight for the senior vote this fall. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, travelling with the Romney campaign.

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