By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press
MANALAPAN, Fla. (AP) — President Barack Obama is warning Florida retirees that Republican challenger Mitt Romney would undercut the new health care law and alter Medicare, a play for voters in one of the nation's top swing states.
Obama wraps up a two-day trip to Florida on Friday with stops in Fort Myers and suburban Orlando, where he is pressing the case that retirees would be hurt by Romney's opposition to the health care law and by Republican-led efforts to turn Medicare into a "voucher program." Romney is keeping his focus on the economy, charging that Obama remains more concerned about holding onto his own job than creating more jobs for Americans.
Romney was also stepping up his criticism of Obama's remarks about entrepreneurship and the supportive role government plays n a new ad. Obama, in an interview aired Friday, denounced the attack as a "bogus issue."
The day's events were unfolding against a tragic backdrop in Colorado, where a gunman opened fire at a suburban Denver movie theater, killing 12 people. Both Obama and Romney issued statements of condolences and called for prayers and unity in the aftermath of the tragedy.
It remained to be seen whether the episode would inject the volatile issue of gun rights — an issue largely missing throughout the months of campaigning so far — into the election debate. Obama said his administration would support the people of Aurora and called for the nation to "come together as one American family." Romney called the shootings "senseless violence" and called for the perpetrator to be "quickly brought to justice."
In pre-convention summertime campaigning, Obama and Romney are locked in a tight contest and seeking advantages in about a dozen toss-up states that could help decide the election. None is more prominent than Florida, which narrowly decided the 2000 election and could provide a major boost to whoever prevails here.
Obama, addressing elderly residents of a sprawling South Florida condominium complex on Thursday, jumped on Romney's opposition to the health care law. He said repeal of the law, which was recently upheld by the Supreme Court, would force more than 200,000 Floridians to pay more for their prescription drugs.
The president charged Romney with seeking to turn Medicare into a voucher program, drawing jeers from retirees at West Palm Beach's Century Village, home to thousands of reliably Democratic voters.
"So if that voucher isn't worth enough to buy the health insurance that's on the market, you're out of luck," he said. "You're on your own."
Romney would offer subsidies — Democrats dismiss them as vouchers — to help future retirees buy private insurance, or give them the option of traditional Medicare, with a gradually increasing age to qualify for benefits. Current retirees would not be affected.
Romney has criticized Obama's health care law, saying it calls for $500 billion in cuts to Medicare. But Obama would make most of those cuts by reducing payments to service providers such as hospitals and nursing homes, not beneficiaries.
"(Obama) has offered no serious plan of his own to save Medicare and is content to use it as nothing more than a political issue," said Lanhee Chen, the Romney campaign's policy director.
Romney pointed to new government figures showing that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose by 34,000 last week, a figure that may have been skewed higher by seasonal factors.
The former Massachusetts governor is finishing off a week of aggressive anti-Obama rhetoric with a campaign stop in Bow, N.H., on Friday, where he is expected to renew his economic critique of the president.
Romney has faced repeated criticism for his record running Bain Capital and for refusing to release several years' worth of tax returns. He has tried to go on the offensive, seizing upon comments last week in which the president said, in part: "Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." Romney said the remarks showed a lack of understanding about how small businesses operate.