There aren't many groups that can move older voters like the AARP, and today the advocacy organization for retirees released its voter guide on the 2012 campaign.
The guide doesn't give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the presidential candidates' plans on specific issues. Instead, it states the AARP's position on a given policy area (let's say, just for example, Medicare) and then quotes the candidates and campaigns describing how they'd approach the issue.
Since Medicare is an essential flash point in the presidential race, it's worth noting what AARP has to say on the issue and how it's representing the candidates' positions. Here's the official AARP position on Medicare:
• Medicare should be strengthened and improved so both current and future generations can count on having access to high-quality, affordable coverage
• Medicare should continue to guarantee a specific set of benefits that are affordable and meet a person's health care needs.• Medicare should offer choices that ensure access to high-quality health care.
• Medicare should improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of care by emphasizing value and cracking down on fraud, waste, and abuse.
And here's the quote the group uses from the Romney campaign:
Mitt's proposals would not affect today's seniors or those nearing retirement and…would not raise taxes…he proposes that tomorrow's Medicare should give beneficiaries a generous defined contribution, or "premium support," and allow them to choose…Instead of paying providers directly for medical services, the government's role will be to help future seniors pay for an insurance option that provides coverage at least as good as today's Medicare, and to offer traditional Medicare as one of the insurance options. With insurers competing against each other…efficiency and quality will improve and costs will decline.
And from the Obama campaign:
Seniors who fall in the coverage gap known as the doughnut hole will start getting some help...And I want seniors to know [health reform] will not cut your guaranteed benefits. In fact, under this law, Americans on Medicare will receive free preventive care without co-payments or deductibles." "My approach would build on these reforms. We will reduce wasteful subsidies and erroneous payments. We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare's purchasing power…I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry."
The Obama team is already running ads citing the AARP and using its logo to criticize the Paul Ryan budget, and Republican veterans of the 2005 fight over Social Security form have warned that the group has significant clout when it comes to debates over entitlements. The voter guide isn't a document that conclusively validates one side of the current debate or the other, but it's part of the context seniors will be using to evaluate both sides.
Alexander Burns is a reporter for POLITICO.com. POLITICO and ABC News 4 have partnered for the 2012 presidential campaign cycle.