Retirees in politically prized states such as Florida have often resisted changes in Medicare, one of the government's most popular but costliest programs. But GOP strategists say today's voters realize Medicare spending must be constrained, and Romney is banking on disenchantment with Obama's 2010 health-care law to pave the way for his own proposals.
Romney, who has spent more than a year running almost entirely on the economy and jobs, put Medicare at the campaign's center when he chose his running mate. Rep. Paul Ryan is Congress' chief advocate of significantly restraining entitlement programs.
Ryan did not address his Medicare plan at a campaign stop in Glen Allen, Va., on Friday, a break from the previous day's events in Ohio, where the issue figured prominently in his remarks. But the Wisconsin congressman is expected to revisit Medicare in some depth in Florida on Saturday. He will face voters in a retirement community north of Orlando known as The Villages. Ryan's 78-year-old mother, a Medicare recipient, plans to attend.
"We will not duck the tough issues; we will lead," Ryan told the Virginia crowd.
Romney's willingness to tackle the issue was underscored Thursday when he used a marker and classroom-type whiteboard to summarize his thoughts on Medicare, with hardly a word about the unemployment rate. He said his plans would keep Medicare solvent while Obama's would not, a claim Democrats call absurd.
On Friday, summarizing the political view from the right, the Romney campaign distributed a Wall Street Journal editorial that declared: "By governing so far to the left, Mr. Obama may have neutralized 'Mediscare' and made voters more receptive to center-right solutions. Medicare is already changing because it must."
Obama's campaign has tried for months to tie Romney to House Republicans and Ryan's budget proposal, which would turn Medicare into a voucherlike system for future retirees.
The Obama campaign released a new TV ad Friday defending the president's record on Medicare. It points to the AARP, a group that represents senior citizens and said in a letter to lawmakers earlier this year that Ryan's plan would lead to higher costs for seniors.
Romney's campaign disputed the ad, and repeated its own claim that Obama's plans would siphon spending from Medicare without safeguarding the program's long-term stability.
Obama's Medicare policies are included in his 2010 health-care overhaul, passed without a single Republican vote in Congress. Polls show "Obamacare" to be generally unpopular, though many key components, standing alone, enjoy wide support.
Obama's plan relies heavily on cutting payments to health-care providers.