By Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Florida on Thursday to push his argument that only Democrats will protect Social Security and Medicare, and try to boost his chances of winning the battleground state that has moved to Republicans in recent years.
Biden's trip is part of a blitz to at least 20 states by the president and members of his Cabinet following his State of the Union speech to Congress on Tuesday.
It also comes as Biden prepares to launch his re-election bid and as top aides and Democratic strategists debate how seriously he should campaign in Florida.
The last Democratic presidential candidate to win in Florida was Barack Obama in 2012.
Both former President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are early favorites in the fight for the Republican nomination at the next presidential election in 2024, and both would have a home field advantage over Biden in Florida.
Still, Biden believes his policies could resonate in the state, where one-in-five residents are over the age of 65. Polls show Democrats are perceived as more likely to protect the Social Security and Medicare programs.
Biden has sought to link Republicans to the idea of cutting funding for both programs as part of negotiations over increasing the United States' $31.4 trillion debt limit.
But Kevin McCarthy, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, has repeatedly said his party will not try to scale back the nation's two largest benefit programs.
Biden drew boos from Republicans in his State of the Union speech when he asserted some hardline conservatives want to end Social Security and Medicare. He then said he took their response as a deal to protect the programs.
"So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security, Medicare is off the books now, right? All right. We've got unanimity," Biden said. "I enjoy conversion."
Florida, the nation's third-most-populous state, was long seen as a critical battleground state in U.S. presidential elections.
But Democrats have struggled there in recent elections, and DeSantis last year won a second term as governor by nearly 20 percentage points.
"There is no reason at this point to devote national resources into Florida in 2024," a senior Democrat told Reuters at a recent party conference in Philadelphia.
Biden has said he intends to run for reelection and he is expected to formally launch his bid in coming weeks.
Jen O'Malley Dillon, a senior Biden aide who ran his 2020 campaign and is expected to play a key role in his next, does not see Florida as essential for a Biden victory in 2024 and has preferred to focus more on Arizona and Georgia, states that have grown more favorable for Democrats, according to people familiar with her thinking.
Steve Schale, a Florida Democratic operative and Biden ally, who ran Obama's campaign in the state in 2008, said he understands the party's challenges in Florida.
"My concern is when you start ceding states that you won three of the last six elections in, is that smart?," Schale said. "There should be a longer-term conversation about Florida, but I understand the realities of the 2024 map."
(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Chris Reese)