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Paul Ryan: why taking Medicare message to Florida wasn’t a risk

In his visit to a retirement community in Florida, Paul Ryan pledged to 'preserve and protect' federal health benefits for those at or near retirement. And he brought along his mom to prove it.

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For Ryan, appearing in The Villages was a warm bath, aside from a few hecklers along the edges. Some 50 percent of voters here are Republicans, 25 percent are Democrats, and the rest are independents. Before Ryan’s speech, a few blocks away, Villages’ Democrats held a demonstration, holding signs like “Keep your voucher, I’ll keep my Medicare.” An airplane flew overhead pulling a banner that read “Paul Ryan keep your hands off our Medicare.”

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So far, polls show Ryan’s choice for the GOP presidential ticket is not hurting Romney in Florida as some Republicans had feared. In fact, seniors are his strongest age group in the state. A SurveyUSA poll for WFLA-TV in Tampa showed 53 percent of registered voters in Florida over age 65 have a favorable opinion of Ryan, versus 43 percent of Florida voters overall. A Rasmussen poll got an almost identical result: 43 percent of the Florida electorate sees him favorably, as do 54 percent of Florida seniors.

“That was smart for Ryan to debut in Florida at The Villages,” says Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “They will give him a lot of confidence.”

Across the state, the airwaves are already awash with ads from both sides trying to scare voters into thinking the other guy will destroy the health care system.

Looking at the senior vote statewide, Ms. MacManus predicts it will be “very divided.” But, she adds, seniors tend to come back to their “home party” on Election Day. “They see the ads going back and forth, and in the end, they say, ‘I’ll believe my guy.’ ”

She also points out that seniors in Florida, many of whom have moved here from out of state, tend to be wealthier, healthier, and better educated than seniors in other parts of the country.  

 At the Villages, many in the crowd knew that Romney and Ryan weren’t proposing changes to Medicare that would affect them. “Mediscare” tactics, the GOP term for Obama’s message, wouldn’t work here, they said.

“I’m in complete agreement with everything Paul Ryan said,” said Denis Pecjak, a retired builder who lives here. “It’s nice to see someone from the younger generation who can think ahead.”

Mr. Pecjak doesn’t buy the Democratic argument that the Ryan plan for Medicare would eventually underfund the system and leave seniors paying for more and more of their care themselves.

Eve Eekhof, another Villager, echoed the idea that the Ryan model would add longevity to the system, not kill it. “I want it to be there for our kids and grandkids.”

But not everyone was sold. “My fear is for the 50-year-olds who have worked and paid into the system,” says Bob Weigel, who owns a home here but still votes in Ohio, another crucial battleground state. “Are they going to be thrown under the bus?”

Mr. Weigel came out of the Ryan event still undecided on his vote.

 
 “I’m a lot higher on Romney than I am on Ryan,” he says. And even though he voted for John McCain four years ago, he says he could go for Obama this time.

IN PICTURES: On the campaign trail with the Romney/Ryan ticket

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