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Florida Retirees Wary of Old President

Monday, 24 Mar 2008 08:20 AM

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With health care and taxes on their minds, Florida's growing population of retirees are not keen on electing the first woman or African American to the White House, but are even wearier of voting the oldest president-elect.

As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fight eye-to-eye for the Democratic nomination and John McCain jets around the world as the Republican presumptive nominee, Florida's more than three million retirees know they could make a difference in November.

While they don't rule out voting for Clinton, 60, or, to a lesser extent, Obama, 46, the state's 65 and older are aware that if the Republican candidate wins, he would at 72 years of age become the oldest president-elect in US history.

When Ronald Reagan took the oath of office in 1981, he was 69.

A Pew Research Center opinion poll in early February found a strong feeling among Florida voters against people aged 70 and above -- 50 percent said they would not vote for anyone of that age.

"The polling shows that while some voters may be reluctant to admit that they will not cast a ballot for a black or a woman, larger numbers are not at all shy about voicing reservations about voting for an older presidential candidate," said the center's president Andrew Kohut.

Andres Serrantes, a 67-year-old Cuban-American, likes to spend his time with his friends at the Domino Club on Eighth Street in Little

Havana.

"I prefer Hillary Clinton because McCain is too old to be president, and Obama has a different problem: he has not yet matured for the job," Serrantes pointed out.

"We cannot wait for hours to receive attention at hospitals," he added when asked what he expected from the next administration. "We are all grown up. I'd like this to change in the next administration."

University of Miami political science professor and election strategy expert Gregory Koler believes that in a general election match-up, McCain would still have a slight advantage over Illinois Senator Obama -- but not over New York Senator Clinton.

"I think McCain is stronger facing Obama, who has done especially well among young voters, while Senator Clinton has done better among older voters," he said.

But he stressed it would be politically hazardous for any presidential candidate to propose a major reduction or restructuring of Medicare or Social Security that would result in decreased benefits for older voters.

"Active campaigning on issues like health care, security, taxes, and Cuba will probably influence Florida seniors, much as they matter to other Florida citizens," said the professor.

Attracted by a good climate, year-round sunshine and no state taxes, more and more US retirees choose Florida as their place of residence.

People aged 65 and older represent nearly 20 percent of the state's population of 18 million and, according to the US Census Bureau, their number is expected to double in the next 20 years.

The first stage of the elderly explosion is expected to begin in 2011, two years into the next administration, when the baby boom generation, or those born between 1946 and 1964, start reaching 65 years of age.

Turning out in droves to vote in the state primaries in early February, 57 percent of those aged 60 and over voted for Clinton while 37 percent chose Obama.

Their vote for delegates to the Democratic convention in August, however, will not count -- barring a last minute arrangement -- because the state moved up the primary election date in violation of Democratic National Committee rules.

McCain comfortably won the Florida Republican primary, receiving strong support from retirees, military people and Cuban-Americans, but analysts predict that many Jewish retirees from New York would likely break for Clinton in the presidential election.

Every morning Rob Shenan, 73, leaves his house in Palm Beach with a canoe strapped to the roof of his Lincoln Town Car, and heads for the sea or a nearby lake.

He usually spends six months of the year in Florida, and when the heat become unbearable in June, he returns to chilly Minnesota where live his children.

"One of the issues worrying me more is how to preserve an inheritance for my children and grandsons," he admits. "As one gets older, we need to spend so much money on assisted living and care for yourself."

He said in November he will vote for McCain "for his experience."

-- AFP

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