Obama kicks off Fla. visit by criticizing Romney on Medicare

President Barack Obama campaigns at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday, July 19, 2012. Obama is spending two days in Florida campaigning. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Barack Obama campaigns at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday, July 19, 2012. Obama is spending two days in Florida campaigning.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
(CBS News) JACKSONVILLE, Florida - Severe thunderstorms delayed President Obama's arrival for a two-day campaign swing through the Sunshine State, and he apologized for keeping 3,000 supporters waiting at his first rally.

"Even Air Force One has to fly around the thunder," he explained to an understanding audience, demonstrably happy to see the president under any circumstances.

Along with Virginia and Ohio, Florida is the 3rd battleground state Mr. Obama has visited over the past week - each of them essential to his strategy to win a second term.

He won Florida in 2008 by a narrow 51 to 48 percent margin, but recent polls show him running neck-and-neck with Romney for the state's cache of 29 electoral votes.

Making his 19th visit to Florida since taking office and his 7th visit this year, the president used his kick-off speech to reach out to the politically significant population of senior citizens.

He said Mitt Romney threatens their Medicare coverage by advocating it be turned into a voucher program.

"If that voucher isn't worth enough to buy health insurance that's on the market - you're out of luck," said the president, eliciting groans and boos from the audience.

He said Romney would use Medicare so as to provide tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. And he cited an "independent non-partisan study" that calculated seniors would have to pay nearly $6,400 more for Medicare than they do now.

"Now Florida, that's the wrong way to go," said the president. "It's wrong to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare just so millionaires and billionaires can pay less in taxes."

"We shouldn't be squeezing more money out of seniors who are just barely getting by right now."

He said his plan is to "squeeze more money out of the health care system by eliminating waste."

Mr. Obama portrayed himself as on the defensive against an onslaught of Republican money paying for more TV ads targeted against him.

He said the ads say the economy is not where it should be and it's his fault.

"I've been outspent before and counted out before," but he also said the American people give him hope to win another four years in the White House.

Mr. Obama's stop in Jacksonville also included a campaign fundraiser at which 25 well-heeled supporters were paying $10,000 each to attend. As is usual at such events, it was closed to press coverage.

He then headed to West Palm Beach to attend another campaign rally and fund-raiser. His schedule tomorrow takes him to Ft. Myers and Orlando.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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