Older voters look beyond Medicare, Social Security

WASHINGTON — Get in line, Medicare and Social Security. Seniors, like just about everyone else, have money on their minds.

Who wins the trust of seniors, a group that votes at a higher rate than any other, will be a deciding factor in the presidential election. That should be good news for Mitt Romney, because those 65 and older have backed the Republican candidate in both of the last two presidential elections.

Nowhere will the senior vote be as powerful or as prominent as in Florida, where Romney and Obama are competing fiercely.

More seniors say the economy is extremely important to their vote than Medicare, says a poll released Thursday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll shows 7 in 10 seniors say taxes and the federal deficit are important to them.

Even for those well into retirement, a feeble economy affects older Americans in ways you might not realize. Many have had to bail out adult children who have lost their jobs and turned to their aging parents for help. And those who lived through the Great Depression as children relate intimately to the perils of an over-indebted nation.

Just ask Dominic Santoro, an 81-year-old retiree from Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., who said it’s different for seniors than it is for younger Americans, who have years to make up what was lost during the recession.

“That’s very nice, but what about the poor senior citizen that’s no longer working and can’t replace that money?” said Santoro, who plans to vote for Romney.

But if seniors’ concerns extend beyond entitlements, those seeking the White House don’t seem to have caught on.

Although far from a monolithic bloc, seniors by and large have sided with Romney throughout this year’s election and favored the former Massachusetts governor 52-41 in a national AP-GfK poll in September. While Romney has lost his edge among overall voters on handling of the economy, seniors are the holdout, preferring Romney by 10 points over Obama on that issue.

But in competitive states that could determine the election’s outcome, seniors’ attitudes are on the move. Over the past month, Obama has climbed 9 points in Florida and 4 points in Ohio, giving him an edge over Romney in both states, according to a new Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll. It’s the opposite in Pennsylvania, where Obama has lost his edge among seniors and now trails Romney 45-50.

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