(CBS News) After a week marked by controversy surrounding Mitt Romney's comment about the "47 percent," the Republican presidential candidate's campaign is making a renewed push on Medicare, reiterating Romney's message on the issue through a series of ads and public appearances while rehashing attacks on President Obama's plan.
In a new ad out Thursday morning, Romney supporter Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tells voters that when it comes to Medicare, Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, "get it."
"Medicare is going broke," Rubio says in the ad. "That's not politics. It's math. Anyone who wants to leave Medicare like it is, is for letting it go bankrupt. My mother's 81 and depends on Medicare."
"We can save Medicare without changing hers," Rubio continues. "But only if younger Americans accept that our Medicare will be different than our parents,' when we retire in 30 years. But after all they did for us, isn't that the least we can do?"
Romney will continue to make this case at a rally in Sarasota Thursday, focusing on Medicare in his remarks about building a stronger middle class, and reiterating attacks on what the campaign is casting as Mr. Obama's government dependency.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Ryan will address the AARP - many of whose members likely have a direct interest in the issue.
And the campaign is pouncing on a new CBO report estimating that about six million people will be penalized for not buying insurance.
"President Obama robbed Medicare by $716 billion to pay for Obamacare, and with every passing day, more evidence mounts that Obamacare is a costly disaster," the Romney campaign said in a Thursday morning email blast. "Yesterday, the CBO informed us that even more of the middle-class families who President Obama promised would see no tax increase will in fact see a massive tax increase thanks to Obamacare."
The Obama campaign, however, is being equally aggressive in defense of its Medicare plan, airing television ads in a number of swing states, and sending surrogates like Bill Clinton out on the trail to hammer home their message.
Medicare has become a prominent source of debate on the campaign trail in recent weeks, as Democrats attempt to tie Romney to Ryan's controversial budget plan, which would overhaul the nation's Medicare program to a voucher program. Republicans, meanwhile, have targeted the president for having allegedly "robbed" Medicare of $716 billion dollars. Democrats deny this notion, and point out that Ryan's plan includes the same reductions. (CBS News' fact-check on the claim that Mr. Obama would "rob" Medicare can be found.)
The issue is particularly important in Florida, a critical battleground state for Romney, which boasts the nation's largest proportion of residents over 65 years old.
According to recent polls, President Obama is so far leading Romney on Medicare in the polls: Fox News polls of Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, show the president leading Romney on the question of who would better protect Medicare by 13 percent, 14 percent and 12 percent respectively. Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times surveys out of Colorado, Virginia, and Wisconsin also showed Mr. Obama in the lead, by 5 points, 10 points, and 7 points respectively. A Washington Post poll of Virginia, similarly, showed Mr. Obama leading Romney 52 percent to 39 percent when asked who they trust to do a better job determining Medicare's future.
According to Mike Frank, vice president of government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, the Romney campaign has everything to gain from elucidating its position on Medicare in a clear and convincing fashion - especially since the issue is not going to go away, in this election or afterward.
"Making the case for Medicare reform is the communications challenge of our age," Frank told CBSNews.com. "You can't run away from it on a substantive level -- it's too big of an issue to avoid. And by choosing Ryan as your running mate, you're choosing to aggressively confront it."
Frank concedes that addressing Medicare has been politically "radioactive" for years, but that it could become less so if likeable politicians make it clear that they're not out to hurt seniors. A skilled speaker like Ryan, he argued, could be particularly impactful in delivering that kind of message, as could Romney if he adopts Ryan's rhetorical skills and political angles on the issue.
"The message is very important here," Frank said.
Even if people disagree with that message, Frank argues, Romney and Ryan should get credit "for being willing to tackle such an important issue in the context of a national election."
"If this issue is put forward in the campaign and proves to be radioactive again and the voters are willing to believe the incendiary charges being leveled against it, then what would happen to the country is horrific," he said.