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McCain aims for crucial senior vote

Obama now leads in states with many older voters.

By Staff writer / October 14, 2008

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barach Obama spoke at the Seagate Convention Centre in Toledo, Ohio, on Monday.



Now, it’s all about the seniors. In a presidential race that is marching daily – but not irreversibly – toward the election of Democrat Barack Obama, Republican John McCain unveiled proposals Tuesday aimed foremost at benefiting older Americans hit hard by the gyrations of the stock market.

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Seniors represent a critical voting bloc in states that Senator McCain has to hold onto to win the election – including Florida, Ohio, and Indiana – and that have been moving toward Senator Obama. Senior citizens are also crucial in blue states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Obama now has double-digit leads and which McCain has worked hard to sway. He announced what he calls his Pension and Family Security Plan at an event in Blue Bell, Pa.

The plan includes a reduction of the tax rate on withdrawals from IRAs and 401(k)s to 10 percent. McCain also repeated his proposal to suspend tax rules that require seniors to begin selling off equities when they reach age 70 1/2. Obama announced his own economic plan on Monday, including tax credits for job creation and a moratorium on home foreclosures. But it is McCain who needs a dramatic shift in momentum, and his emphasis on seniors is telling: These are voters that McCain should be winning handily, and any sense that they may be drifting away from him is a warning sign.

“The bulk of the media’s attention has been on younger voters, not older; but older are the high turnout voters,” says Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “Some feel like their concerns have not been addressed by the candidates.”

In Florida, Obama is up by an average of five points – by no means an insurmountable lead, but if McCain loses Florida, he loses the election. Pollster Brad Coker says white seniors are McCain’s strongest group in Florida, aside from registered Republicans, as of Oct. 6. And he needs them to counteract the other demographics that are leaning toward Obama. Mr. Coker, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based president of Mason-Dixon Polling, agrees that McCain needs a clear, simple plan to offer voters that he can lay out concisely.

“He needs something comprehensive and coherent that he can explain in 15 or 20 seconds,” says Coker.

In Pennsylvania, another key state with a large population of seniors, Obama now enjoys a solid double-digit lead. And the fact that McCain is doubling down on winning the support of seniors is a sign that he’s waging a battle in his own backyard.