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Obama, Ryan Pitch Medicare Plans To Older Voters


Both campaigns tried to appeal to older voters yesterday. President Obama and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan addressed thousands of members of the AARP in New Orleans. Changes to Medicare and Social Security topped the agenda for both, but NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, there was more to these voters reactions to the candidates.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: More than 5,000 AARP members filled the hall to hear the president and congressman Ryan present dueling visions for the future of Medicare. Mr. Obama said that one thing that would save the program is the affordable health care act, AKA Obamacare.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Which, by the way, I don't mind the term because I do care, that's why we passed the bill.


JAFFE: The crowd loved it. Congressman Ryan's plan, not so much.

PAUL RYAN: We're also going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with real reform.


JAFFE: That got both jeers and applause. And the voters we met later on, reflected those divisions.

CARMELITA WILLIAMS: I can hardly wait to see Obama re-elected because I'm fired up and I'm ready to go.

JAFFE: That's Carmelita Williams, a community college teacher from Virginia Beach, Virginia. She'd retired, but family issues forced her to go back to work. Still, she doesn't blame the tough economic times on the president.

WILLIAMS: I think Obama has done the best that he could do with the Congress he has had to work with. Now, if we put a Democratic Congress in there and a Democratic Senate, we're going to get some things done.

JAFFE: An independent voter named Thomas Sammon was less optimistic about the country's fiscal situation.

THOMAS SAMMON: I think we're going to be Greece if we don't change ourselves somewhat.

JAFFE: Sammon is a retired engineer from Southern California. He didn't vote for Obama four years ago and doesn't expect to in November. Still, he hasn't quite committed to Mitt Romney.

SAMMON: Well, I don't know that he's firm in anything. I mean, he seems to be flexible. And that makes me wonder that if he did get elected, would he do what I hear him saying he's going to do.

JAFFE: Sammon is waiting for the debates to make a final decision. So is Gary Cook of the Villages in Florida, who's retired from two careers, one in the Navy and one at the post office. Right now, he's leaning Obama.

GARY COOK: He's trying to create a future for his children. I think he's truly a family man, and with me, I feel a connection.

JAFFE: That's not to say that Cook doesn't see some good things about Paul Ryan.

COOK: Ryan is a very smart, very charismatic young man with a bright, bright future for those who agree with his path.

JAFFE: That path, however, is a bit too rough, to Cook's way of thinking.

COOK: In the future, things do need to be trimmed, but rather in a procedural, progressive path instead of all at once.

JAFFE: The lack of consensus here was embodied by three women taking in the convention together.

HAZEL HOLLYFIELD: The only person votable for is Obama.

JAFFE: That's Hazel Hollyfield from Grand Prairie, Texas. Her friend, Sally Carrol from Purvis, Mississippi voted for Mr. Obama four years ago, but doesn't plan to now.

SALLY CARROL: I'm just not sure that he has fulfilled his promises, that he has really satisfied, you know, what I expected out of him.

JAFFE: And Pamela Dykes from Mobile, Alabama didn't vote for the president four years ago, and won't now. She doesn't like his health care reform law or his positions on social security and Medicare.

PAMELA DYKES: For anybody to say that you're entitled to anything, there are very few people who are truly entitled. I believe there's earners and burners, and there's only so many dollars to go around.

JAFFE: Does that bother Obama-fan Hazel Hollyfield? Not really.

HOLLYFIELD: It's anybody's race. It really is. I mean, neither way would shock me.

JAFFE: And for Pamela Dykes, the difference of opinion is the country's secret sauce.

DYKES: That's why it's America. That's why it is a democracy.

JAFFE: This good-natured political split was borne out by a kind of unofficial poll here. AARP members were having their pictures taken with life-size cutouts of either President Obama or Mitt Romney. Staffer Angela Neal was taking the photos and saw no clear preference.

ANGELA NEAL: A lot of our members are actually having their pictures taken with both and actually saying that they're non-partisan.

JAFFE: Neal said they just want to make sure they have their picture taken with the likeness of the next president of the United States, whoever that happens to be.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."