2008-10-09 / Local & State

Older Voters Key Bloc In Swing States

By KIMBERLY HEFLING ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

GLEN MILLS, Pa. (AP) - Like any good political operative, 80-yearold Frank Elwood checked a "street list" that broke down the party registration for members of his retirement complex, and found that Republicans outnumbered Democrats and independents 2-to-1.

Undaunted, the volunteer for Sen. Barack Obama started a support club and recruited others in the Maris Grove complex to call 200 other senior citizens on Obama's behalf.

The retired computer programmer and Korean War veteran is confident many of his peers will come around to his thinking once they know more about McCain, saying, "all it takes is talking to them, convince these people that some of these things are lies."

McCain's partisans are quietly working the ranks of the gated brick complex, too. Joseph Costa, 78, leads the McCain supporters club at Maris Grove, and points to the Republican nominee's experience.

"The senator has a long record in the Senate, prior to that in the military, and I think he's well suited to handle the very difficult problems our country is going to be facing or is facing now," Costa said.

There's been a lot of talk about young voters rockin' the vote for Obama. But because of older voters' higher turnout for elections, they could be a more decisive voting bloc in the Nov. 4 election. And, overall, polling has shown them backing 72- year-old McCain, a Vietnam POW.

That's created an organizational challenge for Obama in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida, where the percentage of residents 65 and older is among the highest in the country.

But Obama appears to be gaining some ground among those 65 and older. In a recent AP-GfK Poll, the two were in a statistical tie.

Obama's campaign in recent weeks has organizing phone banks with seniors calling other seniors, like the one Elwood's helping with in Delaware County, a swing area in suburban Philadelphia. In Michigan, where about 13 percent of residents are over age 65, the campaign is seeking to recruit a thousand senior activists to sponsor pancake breakfasts, write postcards, and educate their peers about obtaining absentee ballots.

They're trying to win over voters like Rosetta Myrick, 73, a Republican who spent her summer at Maris Grove but who votes in Fort Myers, Fla., where she lives the rest of the year. She thinks Obama's a very charismatic speaker, "but I don't think he's said anything. I mean, it doesn't have substance."

Recognizing elderly voters' fears about economic future in the wake of the financial meltdown on Wall Street, Obama has turned to the issue of Social Security in television ads running in Michigan, Florida and elsewhere that say McCain wants to privatize the program.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, 63, a McCain campaign cochairman, said Obama's campaign is using scare tactics, and knows no changes will be made that jeopardize Social Security. The Republican nominee has said "nothing's off the table" when it comes to Social Security.

Ridge said he thinks McCain appeals to older voters because they appreciate that age gives you experience, and that, "It's not what you say, it's what you do."

Some older voters, though, do have concerns about McCain's age and his three bouts with melanoma, an aggressive and potentially deadly form of skin cancer.

"I happen to have a brother who died of melanoma last year and it's a very terrible disease and that's my main concern," said 65-year-old Fiona Cowan, who is in the process of retiring from the University of Pennsylvania, and was eating lunch with a friend in Conshohocken. "I think he's a very sincere guy, but I worry he might be ill or something would happen."

James Bunger, 68, a truck driver and undecided voter from Richmond, Ind., said McCain's "like I am: He's too old to start with."

To counter those concerns, Mc- Cain brings out a secret weapon on campaign stops: His spry 96-yearold mother, Roberta McCain. He's spoken frequently about his judgment and boasts that he has more energy than 20-something aides.

In the Democratic primaries, Obama didn't do as well among older voters as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Those under 30 were among Obama's most steadfast voters, and there's evidence he's helped to turn out younger voters.

But the importance of senior voters vs. the youth vote is evident in turnout statistics.

Four years ago, about 47 percent of Americans ages 18-24 voted, which was about 11 percent more than four years earlier, according to the Census Bureau. Even with the increase, however, the 11.6 million young voters still represented the smallest percent of turnout of any age group.

With turnout of 69 percent, twice as many voters ages 65 and older, or 24 million, voted as those 24 and under, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.

"Being very popular but among a low turnout group like the young under 30 isn't as valuable to you in terms of votes cast as it might be to have a smaller advantage but to have it among the high turnout older groups," said Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Beyond the age of the candidates, factors such a party allegiance are important considerations.

While he respects McCain, Frank Kirk, 77, a retired machinist who was eating breakfast at Jennie's Diner in Lancaster, said he's not sure what to think about Obama. But Kirk said he'll vote for Obama anyway because the Democratic Party does a better job of taking care of the poor - including the elderly.

Sitting in the main lobby at Maris Grove, Richard Parsons, 81, a World War II veteran, remains firmly in Mc- Cain's camp, drawn by his record.

"I think what they really want to do is clean out all these cigar chomping old fogies in Washington and put in some people there who will work out," Parsons said.

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