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Wasserman Schultz: Fla race is close but Obama's edge will be with seniors, Hispanics

The race for president may be close in Florida but President Barack Obama will "not cede any ground to Republicans," said DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.

That may explain why Obama's two-day trip to Florida Thursday and Friday will include trips to Jacksonville, where he lost narrowly in 2008 and to Lee and Collier counties, where he lost badly before winning the state with a 2.5 percentage point margin.

Wasserman Schultz, a Democratic congresswoman from Weston, noted that the president announced the Recovery Act legislation in Fort Myers and "planted the flag in the South" by setting the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC. (History buffs will note, however, that the president also planted a hug on former Gov. Charlie Crist during that same Fort Myers visit, helping usher in Marco Rubio into the U.S. Senate.)

The president will also visit Century Village of West Palm Beach, the senior citizen retirement haven that remains a reliable but shrinking stronghold of Democratic senior citizens.

To the 3.3 million senior voters in Florida -- some of the most dependable in the electorate -- Obama has an edge, Wasserman Schultz claimed. The president will focus on underscoring his approach to Medicare and Mitt Romney's, which she called a voucher plan under the U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal, during his visit. The Romney/Ryan plan, she said, would strip some 2.6 million Florida seniors of the preventative care they now receive under Obama and would shred "the health care safety net."

Romney's repeal of Obamacare would also lead to the re-emergence of the so-called prescription drug "donut hole," the coverage gap that left many seniors with steep out-of-pocket costs, Wasserman Schultz said.

In the past, Romney has fired back against these claims, noting that no president has ever cut Medicare for seniors and that polls show that seniors opposed the health-care reform law in large numbers. A recent poll by Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll found that only 43 percent of voters statewide support the Affordable Care Act and 52 percent oppose it, with 5 percent undecided.

Wasserman Schultz said the other constituency in which Obama has an edge in Florida is among Hispanics, who comprise 13 percent of state voters. Romney's supports the "Tea Party extremists who refuse to support immigration reform,'' she said, while Obama's policies are focused on "closing the achievement gap with the Hispanic community by investing in education and health care."

Jeff Bechdel, spokesman for the Romney campaign in Florida, called it "just another dishonest attack from one of the most dishonest presidential campaigns in modern history. " He said Romney has been consistent that he wants to improve the legal immigration system "in a way that doesn’t reward illegal immigration or encourage future illegal immigration." 

A new national poll by Latino Decisions, a Latino polling and research firm, found that Obama has a 70-22 lead over Romney among Hispanic voters.

Both Wasserman Schultz and Ben LaBolt, Obama campaign spokesman, dismissed recent polls, including the Herald/Times/Bay News 9 poll last weekend that showed the candidates in a virtual tie. They expect the race in the nation's biggest battleground state to go down to the wire, as it has in every presidential contest in the past two decades.  

"We have no expectation that either candidate will get to the point of 10 points up or down,'' he said. "We think this will be close and competitive right up until the election and that's why we're building the largest grass roots campaign in history."

Bechdel, from Romney's team, said that the president's visits, and those of his surrogates, along with an estimated $19 million in television advertising have done little to move the dial since his first fateful trip to Fort Myers, where the unemployment rate has remained steady.

"It's three years later and this is where we are now,'' he said.