ORLANDO, Fla. - Many Democrats were giddy when Republican Mitt Romney selected Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. But from ground zero in the political fight over senior voters, their exuberance appears to have been premature.
Democrats were sure that the federal budget proposal Ryan drafted as chairman of the House Budget Committee, a proposal that would dramatically alter the politically sensitive Medicare program, would turn off seniors and put Republican-leaning Florida, the nation's largest swing state, into play. Since Ryan joined Romney on the GOP ticket, however, polls show no mass desertion of Romney by the state's oldest -- and most reliable -- voters.
Even with a deluge of Democratic campaign ads warning seniors that Republicans would "destroy Medicare as we know it," Sunshine State seniors say they're not buying the "Mediscare" tactics.
"Look, we've seen it all before," said Lisa Miller, an Orlando retiree. "Democrats make it look like Republicans are pushing us off a cliff. We know better. Those tactics won't work here."
Residents over 65 account for 22 percent of Florida's electorate. And ironically, many of them said they're sticking with Romney because of Ryan, the boyish congressman from Wisconsin whom they see as a smiling warrior committed to reducing the nation's soaring budget deficits.
Moreover, seniors wary of Ryan's proposed overhaul of Medicare -- including transforming it into a voucherlike program that helps seniors buy private health insurance -- are also concerned about how President Obama's new health care reforms will affect them.
"They balance each other out," said Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration and policy at Florida State University.
Still, Romney and Ryan may have greater problems holding on to voters just nearing retirement age, he said.
"The Ryan plan is alarming to people between 55 and 65, the population that is too old to go down a new career path and financially vulnerable," deHaven-Smith said. "Florida is Republican-leaning, but that's a major reason why it could swing to the Democrats."
Ryan went to Florida recently to confront complaints that he cost Romney seniors' votes, appearing at a retirement community outside Orlando with his mother, Betty Ryan Douglas, 78, at his side. Noting that his mom is a Medicare recipient, Ryan vowed that his plan would change nothing for seniors now enrolled in the program.
"It's not just a program," Ryan said. "It's what my mom relies on."
Romney's backers note that Obama's own health care reforms will strip money out of Medicare.
"It's not like Obama repaired all the damage to Medicare done over the last few decades," said Jim Moscript, an Arkansas City, Kan., retiree visiting Disney World. "Romney may not have a history, but we all know what Obama did -- and it didn't work."
Mitchell Proctor, of Bossier City, La., another visitor, agreed. "Obamacare was forced on people," he said. "It didn't help with our health costs. That's why Obama won't get my vote."
Romney and his supporters have spent more than $45 million on television ads alone in Florida since the Republican primary. Obama and his allies have spent $25 million. Still, seniors here expect the onslaught of political ads targeting them to intensify over the next two months.
"By our standards, it doesn't seem that bad yet," said Jim Ricker, of nearby Sanford. "It's going to get so much worse."