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Obama seeks to widen support base with Florida seniors, Hispanics

President Barack Obama, left, on stage after being introduced by Viviana Margarita Janer, right, at a campaign event Saturday  at the Kissimmee, Fla., Civic Center.
President Barack Obama, left, on stage after being introduced by Viviana Margarita Janer, right, at a campaign event Saturday at the Kissimmee, Fla., Civic Center.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Kicking off a two-day Sunshine State barnstorm Saturday, President Barack Obama tapped into key parts of what he hopes will be a winning Florida coalition similar to but larger than the one he assembled in 2008.

At stops in Seminole and Kissimmee, Fla., the president, who won the Sunshine State by just 50.9 percent in 2008, targeted the votes of senior citizens, warning that their Medicare benefits would be harmed by a plan put forward by his Republican opponents Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

“I want you to know, AARP, I would never turn Medicare into a voucher,” Obama said at a civic center here, making an explicit play for members of the 50-and-up club. “I believe no American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies.”

Obama lost Florida seniors to John McCain in 2008 but is seeking to do better with them this time around, focusing mainly on appealing to their support of federal entitlements. They’re a lucrative demographic in Florida, having made up 22 percent of the total vote in 2008.

Vice President Joe Biden also brought the “Medicare good, Republicans bad” message to Zanesville, Ohio, where he told a crowd there that Romney and Ryan are “not actually preserving Medicare. They’re for a whole new plan, ‘vouchercare.’"

The Romney campaign pushed back on Biden’s attack on Medicare, saying in a statement that Biden “knowingly and deliberately leveled false and discredited attacks.”

Besides seniors, the president also tailored his pitch Saturday to Hispanic voters, who tended to lean Republican in Florida before 57 percent of them voted for Obama in 2008. Introducing him in Kissimmee was Viviana Margarita Janer, a woman who was born in Puerto Rico but has lived in the United States since she was 6 months old.

Janer urged the audience of 3,000 to register to vote, noting that the website, which Obama frequently hawks on the stump, is also available in Spanish.

“When you put the ‘I voted’ sticker on, you’re going to feel great pride knowing that you gave this man, this great leader, four more years to finish what he started,” she said. 

And earlier in Seminole, Obama praised Hispanic voters as part of the patchwork that gave him a win in Florida in 2008.

“I look out on this crowd, I am reminded you were the change,” he said to a crowd of 10,000 at the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College, noting “folks… from every walk of life -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young, old, gay, straight, abled, disabled,” he said. 

The president blazed through friendly territory throughout Saturday, first in Pinellas County, home to Seminole, where he won 54 percent of the vote in 2008. And Osceola County, where Kissimmee is, gave him 60 percent of the vote.

Kissimmee has special resonance for the Obama campaign given Bill Clinton’s post-convention status as Obama has been putting it “Secretary of Explaining Stuff:” Kissimmee was the first place the two campaigned together after Obama bested Clinton’s wife, Hillary, in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

During that Oct. 30 speech, Clinton, perhaps still a bit raw from the bruising primary his wife endured, praised Obama as a good decision-maker in part because he had the good sense to consult the Clintons during the financial crisis.

“He talked to his advisers — he talked to my economic advisers, he called Hillary. He called me,” Clinton said. “You know why? Because he knew it was complicated and before he said anything, he wanted to understand,” Clinton said, four years before he would get a bear hug from the now-president after delivering one of the strongest defenses ever of the latter’s policies.