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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Economy weighs heavily on Florida voters’ minds

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Sept. 22, 2008 – Sen. Barack Obama is the candidate more trusted to handle the nation’s struggling economy.

But whether he or Sen. John McCain becomes president, neither is expected to change the economy’s direction.

That divide emerged in a poll of 600 likely Florida voters taken last week, during Wall Street’s meltdown, for the Sun Sentinel and the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville.

“The attitude of the voters could be, ‘I know none of these guys can make it better, but one could make it worse,’” said Del Ali, president of Research 2000, the independent company that conducted the poll.

The poll showed McCain and Obama running almost even in Florida, although more voters said they would trust Obama more than McCain to steer the economy out of its troubles.

Pocketbook issues rated most important. Falling home values, rising gasoline costs and the growing price of health care topped the list of economic concerns.

“I’ve been a working man all my life. I retired a few years ago, and it’s very difficult to make ends meet,” said Sidney Freifeld, a Democrat who lives west of Boca Raton, reacting to the results of the poll. “A lot of people are in dire need, and they (the politicians in Washington) overlook these people.”

Twenty-eight percent of those polled favor the idea of cutting corporate taxes to 25 percent from 35 percent, a McCain proposal. Another 11 percent favor windfall profits taxes on oil companies, an idea Obama has raised.

One thing that unites Florida is the view that the economy is in bad shape. Two-thirds of those polled called the nation’s economy “not so good” or “poor.” But 56 percent said their family’s finances were holding steady.

Those polled said the following is on their minds:

Declining real estate values. More Republicans than Democrats, 32 percent compared with 24 percent, picked this as the top economic issue.

The favorite solution for the housing crisis: allowing sub-prime mortgage borrowers to renegotiate their loans.

“If they renegotiate, at least somebody will pay something,” said Beth North, 52, a marketing manager in Fort Lauderdale. She was not part of the poll. “The property won’t be idle and that won’t be hurting others nearby on their property values.”

Rising gas prices were second among economic worries.

Growing health care costs were a close third.

“Health care costs and health insurance just seem to keep going up and up,” said Carl N. Howden, 50, a Republican who is a partner in an accounting and financial services firm in Fort Lauderdale. He was not polled. “I wonder in 10 years how I will afford to keep coverage without cutting benefits or having to pay more out of pocket.”

Declining retirement savings concerns many.

Caroline Ragan, 45, is a Palm Beach Gardens stay-at-home mom with two children. She was not part of the poll.

“The money is not growing the way it needs to be to put our kids through college and allow us to save up, so we can retire,” she said.

In this election year, the faltering economy is the issue.

“The economy is (issue number) one, two and three,” said Mitch Ceasar, chairman of the Broward County Democratic Party. After eight years of the Bush administration, Ceasar said, “They’ve let it slide in a fashion that made it worse, that brought us to where we are today.”

Of those polled, 46 percent said they trust Obama more to handle the economy, while 38 percent chose McCain.

On the other hand, 59 percent said they expect the economy would stay the same if Obama were elected president; 64 percent said it would not change under a McCain administration.

That’s because they don’t know enough about McCain’s policies, said Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party. He blamed media bias for not accurately reflecting each candidate’s economic plans. “John McCain has a reform agenda that will really cut waste out of the federal government and allow us to keep our tax cuts and allow the economy to keep expanding,” Dinerstein said.

Ali said the economy is the most important issue in all 12 state polls his company has conducted since the political party conventions.

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