DELRAY BEACH—Home of the infamous 'hanging chads' of the 2000 election, Florida is a top prize in any presidential contest. From the retired senior population along the I-4 corridor to Cubans in Miami to the Deep South sentiment in the north, the Sunshine State is as diverse a region to campaign in as any.
President Barack Obama claimed victory here in 2008, topping his Republican opponent John McCain by about 240,000 votes out of the more than 8 million cast. But his challenger this time around, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is looking to capitalize on the rightward shift the state's electorate took in 2010 in electing Tea Party-supported businessman Rick Scott as governor.
Romney has launched a major advertising campaign, hitting Obama on $716 billion in cuts to Medicare, a hugely important issue for seniors. The Obama campaign has countered with ads highlighting the plans Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, have to transition the program into one that cuts checks in fixed amounts to pay for senior health care, called subsidy support by Republicans but vouchers by Democrats.
Cindy Kelly of Ormond Beach says Medicare is a top concern, but so is the country's massive debt.
"People are worried about Medicare, they're worried about social security," she says. "Most of the people I know are retired, so it's a concern. Another concern is getting the economy back on track so our grandchildren and our children have a better future."
Kelly, a Romney supporter, was at a rally in Daytona Beach where more than 12,000 turned out to see the Republican.
But up the Treasure Coast in St. Augustine, at a rally headlined by Vice President Joe Biden, Dianna Isam says she and her friends are concerned about where a Romney-Ryan administration would leave them.
"I'm concerned they are trying to get rid of things that have been working for a long, long time," she says. "People are very afraid of that—that they'll all be out on the street with no money."
Romney is also hoping to turn out Cuban voters in South Florida, taking advantage of the popularity of one of his top surrogates, popular conservative Sen. Marco Rubio, who is Cuban American. Unlike Hispanic voters whose families immigrated from Central and South America, Cubans are typically Republican voters.
Voters in a crowd gathered to see Rubio recently in the Miami suburb of Hialeah say they fear Obama is a socialist and will take America "the way of Castro."
One couple, who declined to be identified, said they left communism in Cuba and don't want to see their children grown to be dependent on the government here, something they fear under Obama and the persistent struggling economy.
Florida's unemployment rate is sitting at 8.7 percent, higher than the national average of 7.9 percent. The state was one of the hardest hit by the housing market crash and construction suffered a major blow as a result of the downturn in demand.
State polling gives Romney the edge in Florida: He's got a 1.8 percent lead over Obama, according to an average compiled by RealClearPolitics.com. But as with other states, the Obama campaign is hoping the ground game it has laid out will maximize their campaign's voter turnout and help overcome Romney's advantage. On the first day of early voting, which began on Oct. 27, polling places saw heavy turnout, expected to be good for the president.
And though Obama supporters acknowledge this election doesn't carry the same historic weight or excitement as four years ago, they say the president has done more than enough to earn their vote again.
"He had a historic election in 2008 where people were caught up in the movement, but this time around I feel is just as important," says Willie Farrington of Delray Beach, just before Obama took the stage at a recent rally there.