MANALAPAN, Fla. — 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 on Friday was cutting short a two-day trip to Florida after a stop in Fort Myers. A second event, scheduled for suburban Orlando, was canceled because of the developing story in Colorado, where a gunman opened fire at a suburban Denver movie theater, killing 12 people. Obama was expected to comment on the shooting at his campaign rally in Fort Myers, then return to the White House earlier than originally planned.
The day's tragic events also forced schedule changes for Obama's Republican rival, Mitt Romney, who canceled several radio interviews he was scheduled to tape Friday. But he was going ahead with an appearance in New Hampshire.
Both Obama and Romney offered their condolences and called for prayers and unity after the shooting.
It remained to be seen whether the episode would inject the volatile issue of gun rights — largely missing during the months of heated campaigning — 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.
In Fort Myers, Obama was expected to press 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 keeping his job than creating jobs for others.
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.
The Romney campaign has produced a new TV ad attacking Obama's remarks. The campaign has not said when and where the ad would run.
In an interview with WCTV-TV in Tallahassee that aired Friday, Obama says: "What I said was together we build roads and we build bridges."
He added: "Anybody who actually watched the tape knows that was what I was referring to, and that's the point I've made millions of times and by the way that's a point Mr. Romney has made has well so this is just a bogus issue."
Obama's team has dismissed the line of attack, saying the president's words were taken out of context and intended to distract voters from Romney's business record. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that Obama was "using every tool in his toolbox to advance economic growth" despite resistance to his jobs agenda in Congress.
Obama was expected to address Romney's critique of his economic record on Friday, discussing ways to ensure that entrepreneurs have the tools they need to succeed while arguing that Romney's agenda would hurt small businesses, campaign aides said.
Romney is spending most of the weekend with family at his New Hampshire lake house before heading to California for fundraisers on Sunday and Monday. While he has no public events during the weekend, Romney often uses private time in New Hampshire to discuss campaign strategy with senior staff and family.4 comments on this story
Romney aides have left open the possibility that the Republican could name his running mate by week's end ahead of an overseas trip next week intended to burnish his foreign policy credentials.
The campaign released a fundraising appeal late Thursday from one of Romney's five sons seeking to capitalize on the vice presidential speculation. For $3, donors could win a chance to join Romney and his running mate at a future event.
"There are many incredible men and women who my dad would be lucky to have as a running mate," Craig Romney wrote. "And that's why I'm so excited to invite you to meet him or her on the campaign trail with my dad."
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Boston contributed to this report.
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