SC seniors eyeing GOP candidates' Medicare policies

Columbia, SC " South Carolina senior citizens are keeping an eye on Social Security and Medicare as the GOP presidential candidates make their pitches to potential voters.

On Thursday, AARP released survey results showing that by nearly 3 to 1, likely Republican voters in the South Carolina first-in-the-South primary overwhelmingly oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits to reduce the deficit.

Advocates for the senior community say this highlights the major disconnect between Washington and Republican voters in South Carolina who will be critical in determining the next Republican Presidential nominee.

According to AARP, almost 600,000 South Carolina seniors received Social Security in 2010. More than 99 percent of South Carolina seniors are enrolled in Medicare.

"The results demonstrate that strong majorities of supporters for every Republican presidential candidate oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits," said AARP South Carolina spokesman Patrick Cobb. "Conservative South Carolina voters and voters who agree with the Tea Party oppose cuts to these programs. The message these voters are sending is clear: Do not cut the Social Security and Medicare benefits they TMve earned."

The survey interviewed 400 likely Republican primary voters in the 50-plus age bracket and political analysts say candidates would be wise to listen to a section of the population which, percentage-wise tends to vote in larger numbers than other age groups.

"You can't not focus on the senior group when that's going to be your base. If it's 60 percent of your base and in some areas it is depending on where you're running in South Carolina," said political consultant Krystel Reid of Capitol Consulting Strategies. "Certainly, if it's a national political campaign coming in for president and if you don't focus on your base to get them out to vote, you've already lost before you've even started."

Respondents in the AARP poll were asked which candidate they would vote for if the primary was held that day. The survey, conducted in late October, yielded the following results:

Cain 27.8 percent

Romney 27.0 percent

Perry 7.8 percent

Gingrich 7.3 percent

Paul 5.0 percent

Bachmann 3.0 percent

Huntsman 1.5 percent

Santorum 1.3 percent

Undecided 19.5 percent

These results come out just days before the GOP presidential hopefuls debate at Wofford College in Spartanburg. That debate is set to focus on national security issues.

As part of the agency's voter education efforts, the AARP is also launching its 2012 Republican Caucus and Primary Video Voters TM Guide on November 13.