Florida, you might remember, is where Al Gore lost an election he should have won in 2000. Four years later President George W. Bush won the state by five points, defeating John Kerry 52 per cent to 47.
But this year the Sunshine State, which has voted Democratic in only two presidential elections in the last 40 years (1976 and ‘96), is in play, according to most observers. And it is a coveted prize with 27 electoral votes, just one less than two other swing states, North Carolina and Virginia, combined.
In the RealClearPolitics average of the latest polls, Democrat Barack Obama leads Republican John McCain 49.2 per cent to 46. In Florida as elsewhere, the bad economic news appears to have helped Obama.
Long-term processes are also at work. The state is undergoing demographic change because of migration, both from other states and from abroad, as a report by the Brookings Institution points out.
“White working class voters are declining sharply while white college graduates are growing and minorities, especially Hispanics and Asians, are growing even faster,” Ruy Teixeira and William Frey say in the report. These changes are having their largest effects in Miami and rapidly-growing Orlando and Tampa in what is known as the I-4 Corridor.
Across the state, the report says, the Republicans need to prevent any erosion of support among white working class voters. They will also seek to hold the line among white college graduates, whose support levels for the party are high but declining over time.
A large campaign chest has also helped Obama. The Orlando Sentinel estimates that he has spent $21 million on television advertising in the state.
The Democrats have won the voter registration battle.
According to figures from the elections division, out of the state’s 11.2 million-plus registered voters 4,722,076 are Democrats compared with 4,064,301 Republicans. That’s an advantage of 657,775 or 5.8 per cent, as against 369,000 in 2004. (Bush’s margin of victory over Kerry was about 381,000 votes.)
However, many Democrats often vote for Republican candidates.
In any case, the Republicans don’t seem worried. State party spokeswoman Erin VanSickle told the Miami Herald that’s because the Republicans have been good at getting their voters to the polls.
But this time the Democrats too are well organised.
A record turnout is expected on November 4. To avoid long waits and any problems that might arise from verification requirements for new voters, Obama — on a two-day swing through the state — is urging people to opt for early voting, which starts Monday.