Pa. Seniors Focus On Finances, Wars Ahead Of Vote

President Obama has recently invested time in an effort to rally young voters, but he hasn't spent as much time with older voters.

Polls show they are by far the likeliest age group to turn out in next month's midterm elections. According to a survey by the senior lobbying group AARP, more than two-thirds of all voters are likely to be older than 45.

According to Census projections, about 15.5 percent of the population in Pennsylvania is 65 or older — one of the highest proportions in the nation.

The 12th Congressional District in southwestern Pennsylvania has the highest percentage of elderly voters in the state. Its largest city, Johnstown, has been hard hit by the economic downturn. Many of the downtown shops are vacant.

Older Americans are much more likely to vote in midterm elections, as recent turnout figures show.

In the years 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006:

— The turnout among voters 65 and older averaged 61 percent.

— The turnout among voters 45-64 years of age averaged 55 percent.

— The turnout among voters 25-44 averaged 36 percent.

— The turnout among voters 18-24 averaged 19 percent.

Source: AARP's October 2010 report on The Voting Behavior of Older Voters.

Buck Naugle, 74, and his wife, Janis, stroll through a nearly deserted city park, looking at Halloween decorations. They are both Democrats and say they will be voting on Election Day. Their biggest concern: the cost of health care.

"We're on Medicare, but we also have an HMO with Blue Cross and it's getting ridiculous," Buck Naugle said. He says their bills had been $183 each, but are now up to $205.

The Naugles' concerns over their finances are not unique among older voters.  Many mentioned that for the second year in a row they won't receive a cost-of-living-adjustment in their Social Security checks.

Jon Delano, who teaches policy and politics at Carnegie Mellon University, says most seniors are concerned with these bread-and-butter issues.

"I think those are concerns that are shared at all generational levels, but I think that older folks in particular feel more sensitive to the issues of the economy when it comes to their own Social Security, their retirement security and the like," he said.

In fact, Democrat Joe Sestak, who is campaigning for Senate, has made a very distinct pitch to senior voters, running an ad accusing Republican Pat Toomey of wanting to privatize Social Security.

Toomey's response is that he believes younger Americans should be given a choice of investing some Social Security funds into private accounts.

Obama narrowly lost this district in 2008. Nationally, those 65 and older were one of the few demographic groups to support Republican John McCain. It's unclear whether Obama is doing much better among them now.

John Lacko, 69, may be emblematic of the culturally conservative voters in southwestern Pennsylvania. Although he didn't vote for Obama in 2008, he doesn't hold him responsible for the current state of the economy.

"Everybody blames Obama, but I think President Bush left a lot of paperwork on his desk for him, and he's trying his best but it's hard," Lacko said.

Eugene Russell Hydenthal, 74, also didn't vote for Obama in 2008, nor does he blame him for the state of the economy. He raises one issue few Americans of any stripe seem to be talking about this campaign season: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I'd like to see the country get straightened the hell out ... and bring our boys and girls home that are over there dying for somebody else," Hydenthal said.

Still, Hydenthal, like other senior voters, was optimistic that things would turn around, providing, he said, you find the right people.



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