JACKSONVILLE — On the eve of the 2008 election, candidate Barack Obama made an eleventh hour appeal to voters here by slamming his opponent as out-of-touch on the economy.
“John McCain just doesn’t get it,” Obama said at the time.
“John McCain actually came here, to Veterans’ Memorial Arena, and repeated something he’s said at least sixteen times on this campaign. He said – and I quote – ‘the fundamentals of our economy are strong.’”
McCain’s assessment, Obama said, was “fundamentally wrong.”
Now, as President Obama embarks on a two-day swing through Florida in pursuit of a second term, the tables are turned.
“President Obama has demonstrated that he ‘fundamentally’ doesn’t understand how the economy works and that he doesn’t believe in our free market system,” said Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams.
“After three and half disappointing years in office, President Obama has turned out to be nothing more than an economic lightweight who is incapable of delivering on the empty promises made by Candidate Obama in 2008.”
While the economy has been adding jobs for more than two years, unemployment lingers above 8 percent nationwide — 8.6 percent in Florida — and monthly private sector job growth has slowed through the first half of 2012. Amid stagnant wages and home prices, consumer confidence is now at its lowest level this year.
Voters’ concerns about the state and direction of the economy nationwide weigh heaviest on support for the president, keeping the Obama-Romney race in a dead heat, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll.
A majority – 55 percent – said they disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, up from 48 percent in the same poll in April. A growing number of voters see the economy as headed in the wrong direction, believing it is getting worse rather than better by a 30 to 24 percent margin.
As he stumps across the Sunshine State this week, Obama likely won’t dwell on those fundamental indicators of the economy. But he will emphasize the fundamental differences with Romney, aides say.
“President Obama and Mitt Romney have fundamentally different approaches to moving the country forward,” said Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “And there is no question that Mitt Romney’s plan to voucherize Medicare, give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires and let the housing market hit bottom is fundamentally wrong for Florida families.”
Casting Romney as an unacceptable alternative has been Obama’s modus operandi – seen in a wave of negative advertising and messaging by Democratic surrogates – an effort to convince voters to give the president more time, even if they aren’t entirely satisfied with his term.
Over the next two days, Obama will focus on Romney’s plan to overhaul Medicare, warning Florida’s 3.4 million seniors that receive benefits through the program that putting a Republican in the White House would “end Medicare as we know it.”
“Seniors would likely have to pay thousands of dollars more out of pocket, on average, for their medical care,” said Democratic National Committee chair and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz Wednesday in previewing the president’s message. “I think shredding the social safety net, shredding that health care safety net for seniors is outrageous.”
On stops in Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Ft. Myers and Orlando, the president will continue to draw contrasts with Romney on taxes, immigration, education and health care, the Obama campaign said.
Florida Republicans said they welcomed the contrast and said they expect to be highlighting the same.
“There is a big difference between the two candidates this year,” said Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. “Mitt Romney believes in the free enterprise system and President Obama doesn’t and neither does his party. And though they give lip service to it because the American people believe in the free enterprise system, his policies show us something very different.”
Polls show Obama and Romney deadlocked in the race for Florida’s 29 electoral votes. Both sides expect it will be close through the fall.
“The state of play will be basically tied in the week and months ahead,” said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. “Ultimately, we think that when Floridians compare the president’s economic record to Mitt Romney’s economic record… that they’ll side with the president. But we have no expectation that either candidate will get to a point where they are ten points up or down.”