Politics

Florida Could Be A Challenge For Obama In 2012

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(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) – President Barack Obama could be looking at an uphill battle if he hopes to have Florida’s support going into the 2012 election.

The state’s economy is worse than elsewhere. Foreclosures are high. Property values are low. As president, Obama could be blamed.

Voters’ shifting attitudes show the degree to which the atmosphere has changed since his first campaign. Florida Democrats made gains in 2008 with Obama on the top of the ticket, but the GOP won big two years later.

All that explains why Florida Democrats are redoubling their efforts to re-energize the rank and file, including at the state party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner Saturday night.

On Saturday, more than 1,000 Democratic activists attended the state party fundraiser and rallied in support of Obama.

“In order to stop their extreme agenda, each and every one of us must give it all we’ve got. Tell your friends and neighbors about our priorities versus theirs, about our values versus their values. Work tirelessly every single day to re-elect one of our most courageous leaders in our nation’s history, President Barack Obama,” said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “The future of our nation and our state are depending on us, so let’s go make history once again.”

Obama’s campaign team has been on the ground training volunteers 17 months before the election and Obama 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 set to return in the coming week for three fundraisers.

“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 offers 29 electoral votes, more than 10 percent of the 270 he needs to win a second term.

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 has 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 Sen. John McCain’s deputy campaign manager in the 2008 presidential race. “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.”

For all the troubles, Republicans acknowledge 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.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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