President Obama returns to Florida to talk economy, raise funds

The Miami HeraldFebruary 23, 2012 

For the 14th time since he became president, Barack Obama on Thursday is traveling to Florida — a state his Republican rivals need to win to make him a one-termer.

Obama is hitting up three high-dollar fundraisers: one at the swank Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, another at the Pinecrest home of a top Democratic fundraiser and a third at the Orlando home of basketball star Vince Carter.

Wedged amid all the cash-hauling is a public event, for University of Miami students, where Obama is scheduled to talk about his economic plans and, perhaps, his proposals to make college loans more affordable.

Obama’s visit, the second this year, comes as the economy is showing signs of improvement along with his poll numbers. Still, most Florida polls show his approval rating under 50 percent in a state that’s still plagued by high unemployment and home-foreclosure rates.

Gas prices are rising as well, which are starting to toll on Obama, said Brad Coker, pollster with Mason Dixon Polling & Research, which conducts surveys for The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

“Right now, it doesn’t matter what the price of gas is today or what the unemployment rate is today for the president,” Coker said. “It’s going to start to matter in the last week of September. That’s when people will really start to pay attention."

A national Quinnipiac poll released Thursday morning shows voters believe the economy is improving, but they don’t think Obama should be elected to a second term. Voters say that the economy has begun to recover, 54-43 percent, a 51-point shift in opinion since September 1. But Obama gets a negative 45-49 percent job approval rating, and 50-45 percent say he does not deserve to be re-elected.

In the meantime, the president needs cash.

The cheapest tickets for his Biltmore event cost $500. A picture with him at the Pinecrest home of Miami-Dade powerbroker Chris Korge could cost as much as $15,000. And the Orlando dinner price is as high as $30,000.

Obama’s Pinecrest fundraiser is closed to the press. Since he’s also speaking publicly, the lion’s share of the Florida trip — which will exceed $1 million — will be paid for by taxpayers.

On Wednesday, the day before his visit to Miami and Orlando, Obama released a business-tax plan that seeks to eliminate or stop deficit spending for about $250 billion in corporate tax breaks. He also wants to lower the top corporate tax rate and provide further incentives to spur manufacturing.

Obama’s tax plan, which will have little chance of passing Congress this election year, has an immediate political payoff: It spotlights the wealth of his chief Republican rival, Mitt Romney, who earns his income through investments.

Right now, hedge-fund managers and private-equity partners essentially pay a 15 percent income tax because their income derives from capital gains.

“This tax loophole is inappropriate and allows these financial managers to pay a lower tax rate on their income than other workers,” Obama’s Treasury Department said in an analysis of the plan.

Romney, meantime, wants to have no capital gains tax for some lower-income investors but he, too, proposed raising the tax rate on the wealthier. Romney on Wednesday proposed a plan that would lower all tax rates “across the board for all Americans by 20 percent.”

Like Obama, Romney’s campaign said his plan wouldn’t blow a hole in the deficit, but it provided few details. Also, in a shift, Romney suggested the very wealthy wouldn’t get more tax breaks.

“We make sure the top one percent keeps paying the current share they’re paying or more,” Romney said.

In contrast, Obama has clearly called for more tax increases on the wealthiest of Americans.

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