TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — President Barack Obama has problems in Florida that he didn't have when he won this pivotal swing state in 2008.
The economy here is worse than elsewhere. Foreclosures are high. Property values are low. And, now that he's the president, Obama could be blamed.
Voters' shifting attitudes underscore the degree to which the atmosphere has changed since his first campaign; Florida Democrats made gains in the 2008 elections with Obama on the top of the ticket, but the GOP won big across the state just two years later.
All that explains why Florida Democrats are redoubling their efforts to re-energize the rank and file — including Saturday at the state party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner — and why Obama's campaign team has been on the ground training volunteers a full 17 months before the election.
The challenges also explain why Obama, himself, has been such a frequent visitor to the Sunshine State.
Over the past 10 months, he has played mini-golf and hit the waves in Panama City Beach, eaten a corned beef sandwich at a Miami Beach deli, visited Cape Canaveral, addressed community college graduates in Miami and headlined fundraisers for Florida politicians.
He's slated to return next week for three fundraisers.
The reason is obvious: 29 electoral votes are up for grabs, more than 10 percent of the 270 he needs to win a second term.
"The president can win the White House re-election without Florida, but it's certainly easier if he does win Florida," said Steve Schale, Obama's Florida director in 2008.
Florida's unemployment rate was 10.8 percent in April, or nearly 2 percentage points higher than the national average. The state has been hit harder by foreclosures and loss in property values than most of the country. After Florida Democrats made gains in 2008, voters went quickly in the opposite direction in 2010. Republicans won the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat and three other statewide offices, plus huge majorities in the Legislature.
Obama's job performance rating in Florida polls has taken a hit; it's hovered between 44 percent and 47 percent, except for a slight increase to 51 percent in a Quinnipiac University poll after Osama bin Laden's death.
The sluggish economic recovery is to blame.
"Things haven't gotten better," said Christian Ferry, a Republican who was John McCain's deputy campaign manager in 2008. "And it certainly hasn't gotten better in Florida. He's got some big challenges to explain how it is that his economic messages, his economic plan is improving the situation in Florida for Floridians who are still struggling."
Still, for all his woes, Republicans acknowledge that it won't be easy defeating Obama.
"The pendulum swings so fast now," said Tallahassee-based GOP strategist David Johnson. "You can't underestimate that guy. You do so at your peril." Plus, he added: "he'll have the powers to come down here on that big blue plane, and that big blue plane excites people."
Democrats hope that the GOP wave of 2010 is dissipating. They're betting that voters will be turned off by the conservative agenda pushed by Republicans in Florida and Washington.
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