UFT President Mike Mulgrew will travel to Florida next week to rally his union’s retirees on behalf of President Obama’s re-election campaign.

The union represents 200,000 active and retired teachers, guidance counselors, school personnel, nurses and home day care providers, some 7,000 of whom have relocated to spend their golden years in the Sunshine State. Of the 7,000, more than half are living in in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Mulgrew will be in West Palm Beach next Tuesday, and in Orlando next Wednesday.

During a brief telephone interview, Mulgrew said he planned this trip last spring, explaining: “We thought the race was going to be close the whole time, and Florida turned out to be – as everyone expected – right in the middle of it as usual.”

As Obama and Mitt Romney headed into last night’s debate – the first of the general election campaign – polls showed the president’s lead narrowing in several critical battleground states, including the must-win state of Florida, which, of course, proved pivotal in the 2000 election.

After the president’s less-than stellar performance in  Denver (or, if you prefer, Romney’s strong showing), it’s possible these polls will tighten still further.

Mulgrew said he didn’t get to watch the full debate because he was participating on a panel on the over-emphasis on standardized testing in public education. But he did read the reports of Obama’s failure to seal the deal, and said he didn’t believe that changes anything in this race.

“There’s more debates,” he said. “Nothing changes the fact that this is a choice election for us.”

“What is in the best interest of people who have worked their whole lives in education and are looking for some retirement security? One candidate has said over and over again he wants to de-fund education, keep the US DOE in place jsut to beat up on the unions. And his Medicare plan will absolutely destabilize Medicare.”

“Our retirees understand how important this election is. They’re excited. And I’m looking forward to going down there to talk about this election.”

UFT phone banks started this week in Florida, with retired teachers urging their collagues to support the Obama-Biden ticket.

In addition to its activities in Florida, the UFT is reaching out to AFL-CIO members in Ohio and Pennsylvania, two more critical swing states.

Using its phone banks in New York City, the UFT expects to make from 75,000 to 100,000 phone calls to union households in these and other states, including North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada, before Election Day on Nov. 6