By Amie Parnes - 07/20/12 10:00 AM EDT
President Obama is facing an uphill battle in convincing voters in Florida to elect him a second time.
Obama, currently on a two-day swing through the Sunshine State, is confronting an increasingly disappointed electorate that has seen unemployment linger above the national average and the housing market remain under water in some parts of the state.
While voters in Florida bought into “hope and change” during the 2008 presidential race, they seem more skeptical now, observers say.
The firm conducted a poll last week finding that Obama had the support of 46 percent of Florida’s likely voters while 45 percent supported Romney. In the same poll, 41 percent said Obama’s policies have made the economy worse.
“The state is very, very divided and very much up for grabs,” added Richard Scher, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. “The economy down here still stinks and many people blame him for that.”
The economy isn't Obama's only problem.
His signature legislative issue of healthcare remains unpopular with the all-important Floridian voting bloc of senior citizens, who worry about cuts to Medicare Advantage.
The poll conducted by Coker’s polling firm for The Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 found that about 52 percent of likely Florida voters viewed the Affordable Care Act unfavorably, with seniors being the largest demographic opposed to the law.
Yet there are reasons to think Obama could pull off a repeat victory in Florida.
The president is working hard to win over seniors by reminding them of Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanReport: Ryan close to endorsing Trump Menendez opposing Puerto Rico debt bill Overnight Finance: GOP makes its case for impeaching IRS chief | Clinton hits Trump over housing crash remarks | Ryan's big Puerto Rico win MORE's (R-Wis.) Medicare proposal from the GOP's budget last year.
At campaign appearances in Jacksonville and West Palm Beach on Thursday, Obama sought to convince Floridians, especially seniors, that he was on their side.
Speaking at a Jacksonville convention center to a crowd of 3,000 people, Obama said Romney plans to roll back healthcare reform, “forcing more than 200,000 Floridians to pay more for their prescription drugs.”
Romney's campaign earlier on Thursday said its candidate's plan would strengthen Medicare. The Romney camp also borrowed a line Democrats have used against Republicans, arguing Obama's plan would "end Medicare as we know it."
Romney campaign policy director Lanhee Chen said Obama would take “hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare to spend on ObamaCare and will leave seniors with fewer choices."
Another advantage for Obama could be Florida Gov. Rick Scott's dismal approval ratings. The Republican's rating has rebounded slightly since a Public Policy Polling poll found it in the low 30s, but remains low. Scott isn't creating the best environment for Romney to tout GOP governance.
Florida's unemployment rate is also falling, which could be good news for Scott and the president.
Obama is fighting tooth and nail for the state’s 29 electoral votes.
Obama, who won Florida in 2008 with a 2.5 percentage-point margin, has been aggressively dominating Florida’s airwaves, spending millions of dollars on ads. He has also been logging hours in parts of the state he lost to Sen. John McCainJohn McCainMellman: Parsing the polls GOP seeks to remove funding to design Gitmo alternative Big-name donors join Trump fundraising team MORE (R-Ariz.) in 2008.
The president spent part of the day on Thursday campaigning in Jacksonville — an area he lost by a narrow margin four years ago. On Friday, he will end up in Orlando — where some of the state's independent voters live — after stumping in Fort Myers, a city that was solid red in 2008, when Obama was rolled by 10 percentage points. But that particular area has fared much better since Obama took office: The housing market has leveled out while unemployment has decreased.
Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of political science at Florida State University, said the Obama campaign is counting on picking up votes in the two areas of the state. “If the president comes close to winning Jacksonville or winning Jacksonville, he will win the state,” deHaven-Smith said. And while he acknowledged that there’s been “a lot of disappointment” in Obama, which in turn leads to low turnout, he added, “I wouldn’t underestimate Obama.
“He’s got a climb — there’s no doubt about it — but he’s also a great campaigner,” he said.
Romney's campaign voices confidence the Republican will take back Florida for his party.
“The president campaigned in Florida in 2008 and said he would help to make things better. And they’re not better. And you can only run on ‘hope and change’ once,” a Romney aide said after ticking off a slew of disappointments in the state, from unemployment to housing.
Obama seems confident, too.
After being greeted at a retirement community in West Palm Beach on Thursday evening, Obama told the crowd, “That’s the most kisses I’ve gotten at any campaign event.”
Later, at the same event, the president told the crowd, “We’ll win Florida, win this election and finish what we started.”