Monday, October 20, 2008

Waltzing For Numbers

Photo courtesy Florida, FreeLargePhotos.

Published to the Huffington Post.

In a startlingly narrow race to the presidency where one candidate has outspent the other two-to-one but is pulling past nationally by just a few points, rather than fearing the “Bradley effect” as analysts have done by fixating on the leading candidate’s race, it may be time to keep tabs on the “Romney” effect. It’s that force that brought a successful Republican millionaire to his knees. Despite his competence speaking thoughtfully on a range of issues, Mitt Romney, the tidy businessman-governor from an eastern state, found himself prancing around an older, more officious, inveterate politician in the GOP establishment. And despite the familiar, genial, reliable candidate Senator Obama is to many of us now; to win, there’s one group he’s hoping to reach in the weeks ahead –the independents.

Though he’s winning the “waltz" for numbers when it comes to budgets (the Obama people raised more than double in September what they did in August, crossing the $600 million mark for the campaign, thus far), there’s a chance voters may not come around in a few crucial county races…and a bumbling McCain could endure.

Should Democrats be concerned? Despite the promise of lower taxes for much of the country, polls that show Dems lead on both the economy and family values, and a group of sound and responsive economic advisors (the Senator’s formidable list now includes two venerated former Treasury secretaries, a former Federal Reserve chair, four Nobel prize-winning economists, a former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Warren Buffett, the richest man in the world), Senator Obama will be trying to garner trust among many more Republicans and independents in the days ahead.

One such woman is Barbara Snodgrass, featured last week in an article on Ohio. Snodgrass works three jobs, nearly seven days a week, earning forty thousand a year. She is concerned the tax policy Dems have proposed may not lead to a decrease for the middle class, and could instead lead to an increase; in her terms, rich folks can’t pay for all of us because they can’t afford it. “How many people you know make more than two hundred and fifty thousand a year?” Er, don’t know about you but perhaps it’s time Warren Buffett and Barbara had a fireside chat. Will you do it for us, Warren? Perhaps Charlie Rose will agree to moderate.

Then there are the independents in Florida..

When they join the polls this week, Floridians will no doubt confront a specter of broad, gut-wrenching incidents past; those in which voters, officials, party operatives and attorneys played a role in some of the state’s most peculiar electoral history. Take the voters in 2000 across the state who were disenfranchised when they were either purged illegally from the rolls or whose provisional ballots weren't properly counted following the election, the elected officials and Republican party operatives who artfully forestalled by crying 'election fraud', caviling the state’s Democratic-leaning court justices; and lastly, there were the ‘overvotes’ and butterfly ballots among Florida’s Lake and Palm Beach counties, all of which, in the end, hurt the integrity of the state's voting process.

In 2000 and 2004, the turn in Florida was the result of less predictable, independents (partially comprised of Latinos who voted on immigration and abortion as well as elderly voters), who make up over 20 percent of registered voters, that contributed in 2000 and 2004 in making the state "too close to call."

Floridians have already demonstrated they are fond of the sitting president. Much of the state has voted for President Bush in not one, but two presidential elections. With the exception of overwhelming Democratic support in the pockets around Broward and Palm Beach counties, Florida’s registered Democrats otherwise chose Bush 11 percent of the time across the state in both 2000 and 2004. Statistically, Senator Kerry did slightly worse in Miami Dade as compared with Gore in 2000 (though he still won there and managed to get more Democrats to turn out). But the Dems who jumped ship cost Kerry the state. One writer described “George W. Bush’s vote tallies, especially in the key state of Florida” in 2004 as “so statistically stunning that they border on the unbelievable.”

In 2004, Bush found roughly a million new voters to side with him in Florida and increased turnout in all 67 counties. Overall, he achieved a 34 percent increase in Florida votes over his 2000 total. And although Kerry received 114,000 new voters in Broward and Palm Beach counties (the second and third most populous in the state), Bush received 5,000 more in these areas, winning him the state. (Bush also won a fifth of the statewide Jewish vote and 56 percent of the Hispanic vote.)

This year, votes in Broward and Palm Beach will once again constitute one in six of all votes cast in Florida, so both parties will be watching them closely. In fact, some Democrats surmise that unless well over 60 percent of both counties side with Senator Obama, the party would likely lose Florida, and subsequently the election.

Could it come down to 537 votes the way it did in 2000?

"Hell yeah it can" chirped Brett Doster, the sitting president’s former Floridian political director who was staffed on his campaign back in 2000.

“I’m not going to anticipate a problem. I’m just going to prepare for a problem by making sure that we’ve got lawyers in precincts all across the state,” Senator Obama said late last week, as part of an effort to encourage early voters and trust the process. Then on Tuesday, Obama spoke to the numbers on his side, "More than 150,000 Florida voters, students and seniors, teachers and military personnel, came out [in the first two days]," he said, noting that the campaign will "working closely with county officials to handle the incredible turnout." Senator Obama's general counsel has now also sent two letters to the Department of Justice, the second as late as Tuesday, asking the special prosecutor Nora Dannehy (who is staffed with investigating the 2006 firings of eight US attorneys) to also look into cases in which senior officials may have spoken illegally to members of the McCain campaign about voter fraud cases the Republicans have filed.

In the end, Florida could, yet again, be where it all begins and ends - Floridian Democrats make up 42 percent of the voting electorate and 350,000 new Democrats have joined the rolls, but polls continue to lurch in both directions. The state is also one of the hardest hit economically. It has the second highest rate of home foreclosures in the country and has lost more jobs than any other state.

So where does this leave the rest of us? Don’t be surprised if Florida November 4th comes close to what it looked like in 2000 and 2004. But now, for the first time in a while, at least, there’s a turn to purple in many others ... Michigan … Wisconsin … Georgia … Nevada… Virginia… Pennsylvania … North Carolina ... and New Mexico. It's a first on many counts and so, maybe Florida will end up one of those great-aunts whom you love dearly but whose opinions will always just boggle your mind.

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