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Florida beach reflects the heat aimed at Obama

By Ed Henry, CNN Senior White House Correspondent
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Heat's on Obama in Florida
  • Florida businessman has seen business drop 40 percent despite clear water
  • He blames the president for not taking command of the situation sooner
  • Some feel BP has been holding back in hope of still profiting from the damaged well
  • They will be listening closely to the president's address Tuesday night

Pensacola Beach, Florida (CNN) -- When President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday night, he will be trying to win over former supporters like Bruce Parris, who runs a bar on the sweltering beach here and is hopping mad about the federal response to Gulf oil spill.

Parris, who runs The Dock beachside bar and restaurant, says business has dropped about 40 percent from last year because tourism is cratering even though the water at Pensacola Beach is still crystal clear.

Other than a small group of visitors on hand as Obama prepared to spend the night in the city Monday, most people are staying away out of fear that the oil is about to show up -- and the bar owner says he blames the president for not taking command of the situation sooner.

"I'd rather see a more aggressive president. It should be obvious BP is only concerned about its bottom line, not our beaches or wildlife," said Parris, who voted for Obama over then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, in the 2008 Florida primary but now says he's rethinking his support.

"I think Hillary might have been the smarter way to go," said Parris, who wonders aloud whether Clinton would have been more take-charge than Obama in the Oval Office. "I was with him all the way. I'm starting to have second thoughts."

Still, Parris seems to distrust BP even more than the White House, saying he buys into speculation on the beach that the oil company actually does not want to seal off the well because it would prevent them from making future profits.

"It looks like we're trying to control the leak, contain it instead of stopping it, burying it, sealing it off," said Parris. "BP still wants to make a profit off of it."

Don Robarts, who runs a stand along the beach that sells sunglasses, floats and suncreen, says he also has suspicions that BP is holding back on completely capping the leak. "I think it's too much of a honey hole for him," he said.

Robarts said he'll be listening closely to the president as well because business at his shop has plummeted 30 percent and he fears it will only get worse if large globs of oil wash on shore soon. So far, only tar balls -- small drops of oil mixed with sand -- have shown up on this beach.

But Priscilla Clark, a local resident, was on the beach Monday with a tub full of oil that she said she found washed up in her back yard just one mile from Pensacola Beach. Small business owners like Robarts fear that means it's only a matter of time before oil shows up in larger amounts.

"If they close the beach where people can't get in the water," said Robarts, his voice trailing off before he finishes the sentence. He knows a shutdown of the beach would mean the handful of tourists keeping his business afloat would be gone too.