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Florida Voters Share Election Expectations Ahead of Third Presidential Showdown

October 22, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Voters in Florida have been turned off by the negative tone heard in most political ads and presidential debates thus far. With two weeks left, the candidates seek to appeal to the shrinking number of undecided voters. Judy Woodruff reports on campaigning in Florida, which focuses on women, youth and Hispanics.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: As the candidates prepared for their third and final debate, I spent the weekend talking to voters in a state the president won by three points in 2008.

For months now, both men have been fighting over and pouring resources into Florida.

MAN: Congressman Paul Ryan and Governor Mitt Romney!

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was late Friday night when Mitt Romney showed up in the SunshineState, buoyed by polls after the first debate that show him gaining here.

MITT ROMNEY (R): How about this? Are you ready for four very different years?

CROWD: Yes!

It's getting harder and harder to break through to undecided base voters that we just mentioned because there's just like this saturation level of everything, and it's so negative.Susan MacManus, University of South Florida

MITT ROMNEY: Yes, four years where we create 12 million new jobs and rising take-home pay?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, came to Daytona Beach on the east side of the swing voter rich I-4 Corridor during the popular Biketoberfest, which draws thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts, most of them middle-aged white men, a cohort that has been leaning Romney, men like Phil Fisk, a 61-year-old lifelong Republican.

PHIL FISK, Florida: We need a little bit of common sense about where money comes from, how money is generated, job creation, the way to get increased tax revenues is not necessarily raise taxes. So, I think Romney has got a really good grasp on that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The stop here reflects the belief in both campaigns that by now most voters have made up their minds. The overriding goal is to turn them out.

And with just two weeks and one debate left, the opportunity is shrinking to appeal to the small remaining slice of undecideds and, in Romney’s case, to voters who went with President Obama in 2008.

KEN DAOUST,Florida: He’s a very good speaker, sounds like Kennedy back in the day.

But actions are everything. And another four years, if you ran a company, they’re not going to give you another four years to turn something around. So that’s why I’m switching my vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But harder to persuade are voters like Anna Haloiday, who after watching the long, bitter campaign, are turned off.

ANNA HALOIDAY,Florida: I have always been a Republican supporter and voted Republican until this election. I am really hesitant on which way to go, only because I’m looking at it — maybe I’m older and I’m also seeing name-callings and personal attacks, which I find as very low.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Political science professor Susan MacManus at the University of South Florida says women and younger voters are especially repelled by the negative tone of most of the TV ads and the last two debates.

SUSAN MACMANUS, University of SouthFlorida: It’s getting harder and harder to break through to undecided base voters that we just mentioned because there’s just like this saturation level of everything, and it’s so negative.

JUDY WOODRUFF: MacManus says this makes the last debate more important than ever.

SUSAN MACMANUS: It really is likely to be the case that, even though it’s foreign policy, both of them will find a way to tie it back to the economy, because this is their last chance to get through to the nation their perspectives and what they plan to do about economic recovery, which is critical in most of the swing states.

And I do believe that if it’s as negative as it was the last time, the last two debates have been very combative, and that’s extremely alienating to younger and a lot of women voters, that if they tune in and they see that’s the tone and the direction of the debate, that they won’t last very long.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To connect with those women voters, Ann Romney was also in all-important Central Florida this weekend for the Orlando Breast Cancer Walk.

ANN ROMNEY: I’m here. I’m a cancer survivor myself. And we’re just excited about being able to join with so many survivors and people and family members. And it’s just — it’s a beautiful day and a beautiful thing we’re doing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some surveys show the president’s advantage among female voters here has slipped. His camp has responded by highlighting his position for equal pay in the workplace and for reproductive rights, views that could hold sway with still undecided Heather Carper.

HEATHER CARPER,Florida: No public officials should have any right to say what a woman can and cannot do with her body.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Romney has countered by stressing how much the economy matters to women. That argument sells with Republican and small business owner Kim Briggs.

KIM BRIGGS,Florida: I’m more focused on the economy than so much my reproductive rights.

JUDY WOODRUFF: With the fight over women more urgent than ever, Obama phone banks like this one in the Orlando suburbs have taken on even more importance.

Toni Kellison at the urging of her 82-year-old mother, Wilda Karnes, has been hosting women-to-women calling sessions in her SandLake neighborhood for months.

WOMAN: Everybody, look at the camera. One, two, three.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kellison acknowledges support for the president has changed from what it was in 2008, but argues it’s still solid.

TONI KELLISON,Florida: I think that there’s a more mature enthusiasm would be how I would characterize it, that I think everyone is still excited. They’re motivated. They’re energized.

I believe that President Obama has done a really good job of getting us pointed in the right direction. And I think that we can already see the changes. They’re happening now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Those changes are evident in Florida, an uptick in housing sales and tourism. The unemployment rate has improved almost 2 percentage points just in the past year.

But at 8.7 percent, it is still high. So, the Obama camp is also counting on its vaunted ground game and changes in the Florida electorate since 2008 that work in the president’s favor, the addition of almost 200,000 more Hispanics, 50,000 more African and Caribbean Americans to the registered voter rolls and 44,000 fewer whites.

An early sign that may be working is in bellwether Tampa in surrounding HillsboroughCounty, where Democrats so far are returning more absentee ballots than Republicans.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m asking for your help. So, Florida, can you make some phone calls for me?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: Could you knock on some doors for me?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: Will you tell your friends and neighbors what’s at stake in this election?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: Will you register?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: Will you vote?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: Because, if you do, we will finish what we started.

MAN: I’m trying to find out if you people are supporting Obama.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some of the vote President Obama is asking for are new arrivals of Puerto Ricans here in Central Florida.

MAN: We’re dealing with a tight race here. It could come down to two, three points.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democrat Florida state legislator and candidate for the state Senate Darren Soto, whose father is Puerto Rican, represents a heavily Hispanic district.

DARREN SOTO, D-Fla. state representative: We’re there to turn out Democrats, to convince independents, and even pull some of the soft R’s who may not sort of know where the Etch A Sketch Romney quite is, this sort of shuffle from conservative Republican to moderate “I’m everything to everybody all the time.”

You may or may not agree with everything the president has to say, but you know where he stands. He’s stayed the same way in 2008 as he has right now in 2012. And whoever brings out those folks, they can literally win by a few thousand votes in the state of Florida.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans are also going door to door in this crucial part of the state. Their efforts have picked up momentum, as Romney has moved up in the polls.

Incoming speaker of the Florida State House of Representatives Will Weatherford:

WILL WEATHERFORD, R-Fla. state representative: You see more people showing up asking for yard signs, more people showing up to knock on doors and do campaigning, canvassing around the neighborhoods. You hear more chatter at the water cooler.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Both sides are predicting victory. And the senior citizens who stood in line to hear Vice President Biden at the Republican-friendly retirement community Sun City say they are confident that the president will do well in the final debate, which will center on foreign affairs.

ROSALIE KELLEHER,Florida: I think he and Hillary Clinton have done a fine job. I mean, after all, Romney insulted Israel, Poland and U.K. all in one week or something.

THURMAN FAISON,Florida: I don’t think he’s really in a position to jump all the way out there as far as foreign affairs is concerned and draw conclusions that we are weaker because of President Obama. I think that we are stronger because of President Obama.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Democratic state legislator Darren Soto, who knows Florida politics, says the pressure will be on the president not only to prevail on foreign policy, but to make a larger point about the economy, and to do it in a way that gets Democrats out of their homes and into the voting booth.

DARREN SOTO: Continuing to fight for us like he did in the second debate will be critical. So he’s got to keep that moxie together.

Second, I think he needs to continue to articulate and even further detail economic plans going forward. That’s what this election is about. It’s about jobs.

And then I think in the end we need to see that vision and that inspiring tone that the president has that almost no other American politician in the past 10 to 20 years has had, you know, that tone that brought chills down people’s back in 2008.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Florida Republicans say that won’t be as effective in 2012 as it was four years ago. They agree Florida could go either way, but argue it’s Gov. Romney who has the breeze at his back now. It will become clearer which side is right once early voting begins here next weekend.