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3 Days to Election Day: Florida

In 2004, Bush took Florida by 381,000 votes and Obama took it in 2008 by 236,000 votes- a swing of over 617,000 votes. Romney has some work cut out for him in Florida. The bulk of the Obama victory came from six counties where that swing in votes was exceptionally high- Hillsboro, Pinellas, Osceola, Miami-Dade, Broward, and Orange. If Romney can win back Pinellas and Hillsboro counties, that would represent many votes right there putting him within 125,000. But, simply improving- not winning- in high population counties that McCain actually won in 2008 like Pasco, Duvall or Sarasota counties and then picking off some former Obama voters in Miami-Dade or even Orange counties would bring Romney even closer to victory. Everything indicates this race will be close, although maybe not as close as Virginia.

Florida itself is a national microcosm. Along the west coast, there are the midwestern transplants who tend to be practically conservative. The panhandle and Georgia border has more in common with the Deep South than a tropical retirement destination. The southern part of the east coast is dominated by northeastern liberal retirees and transplants with a sizable Jewish population.

The key, however, to winning Florida is the growing central portion of the state which is the fastest growing region and is centered around Orlando, Orange, Osceola, and St. Lucie counties in particular. If Romney can peel votes from Obama here and some in the southern part of the state by, in effect, appealing to Jewish voters, then he stands a chance. I believe he will flip Hillsboro and Pinellas counties back to the GOP fold this year. So, at this point, I see where the votes come from and am calling Florida for Romney.

A few words here about the state are in order. When Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running mate, many pundits thought the choice would cost him Florida because of Ryan’s Medicare reform proposals. They also were questioning whether he could win Florida given their large Hispanic population. Taking the Hispanic question first, I looked inside a liberal poll- Public Policy Polling- which had Obama ahead at the time. If one looks at other states with large Latino populations, Romney certainly stands at a noticeable disadvantage with respect to that ethnic group. But in Florida, that is not the case. Typically, Romney trails by about two percentage points, one recent poll showing a 47-45% disadvantage. Additionally, one sees trends seen elsewhere among whites- a strong advantage for Romney.

Among seniors (those older than 65), the favorability ratings for Romney beats those for Obama 52-46% and voting preference also favors Romney 54-46%. Most importantly, Florida’s senior citizens trust Romney more than Obama on both the economy and foreign affairs while in other states Obama holds the advantage in foreign affairs. Many of Obama’s attacks on Romney- his tax returns and his 47% comment- resonate LEAST with Florida’s seniors. The MSM talking heads are quick to point out these gender gaps, senior gaps, or Hispanic gaps, but in keys states, like Florida, they simply do not exist to the degree they would have you believe.

The Senate race was shaping up as a good one between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and current Republican congressman Connie Mack IV. However, in early September, Nelson began to pull away and stay ahead consistently in the polls. The GOP in Florida is not as dominant as many believe despite a Republican Senator, Governor and legislature being elected in 2010. Governor Scott’s numbers are simply abysmal and redistricting has not exactly worked to their advantage. But as bad as the GOP is, the Democratic Party in Florida is experiencing even more turmoil. That makes Mack’s inability to break through even that more frustrating. Part of it was the failure of the party to coalesce around a single Republican candidate early in the campaign. Former Senator George Lemieux, state assembly speaker Adam Hasner, state senate president Mike Haridopolos and Craig Miller- the CEO of Ruth Chris Steakhouse- all withdrew either opting to run in other races or for other reasons. State attorney general, Pam Bondi, was also rumored to be considering a run at one point. Eventually, Mack emerged as the most viable candidate. If not in voting behavior then certainly in comments, Mack comes off as a moderate Republican. For example, he is a vocal opponent of Arizona’s tough immigration law. His entire campaign is designed around linking Nelson to Obama, a strategy that may have worked in 2010 in driving Crist out of the party, but is not gaining traction in 2012. Also, Nelson has hit Mack hard and early painting him as an ethically challenged candidate. What looked promising in June, looks like a Nelson victory now.

After the 2010 census, Florida gained two seats in the House. Not every race will be discussed here. Democrats originally thought they had a chance in the panhandle area 2nd District based upon Obama’s showing in the area in 2008. In 2010, Steve Southerland defeated Allen Boyd to take the seat for the GOP. This year, he will face Alfred Lawson, a former state senator who lost the 2010 Democratic primary to Boyd. However, the new 2nd District is basically the old 2nd and Southerland should replicate his victory this year. The 9th district is essentially a new seat centered south of Orlando. A familiar face- Alan Grayson- will represent the Democrats. The former congressman became a controversial progressive firebrand in his one term before being defeated in 2010. He will face Todd Long who defeated Osceola county commissioner John Quinones in the primary. However, although Long was trailing in the polls during that primary, a late minute series of attack ads funded by Grayson against Quinones sealed the deal for Long. That would make sense since the new 9th District has a heavy Hispanic influence and Quinones would have presented a bigger challenge to Grayson.

In the new 10th District, which takes in more than half of the old Eighth District, it is represented by Daniel Webster, the man who defeated Grayson in 2010. He will face Val Demings, the former police chief in Orlando. Although this should be a fairly safe race for the GOP (he defeated an incumbent with 56% of the vote in 2010), because of that Hispanic influence in the Orlando area- this district sweeps through Polk county and the western suburbs of Orlando- keep an eye on Deming’s performance.

In the same category- a likely GOP win, but keep an eye on it- is the 16th District which is mostly the old 13th and represented by Republican Vern Buchanan. The Democratic Party in Florida targeted this district early and recruited former moderate state senator Keith Fitzgerald who will probably give Buchanan his toughest challenge since he was first elected in 2006. It would not be a major surprise if Fitzgerald pulls off a minor upset here. The 18th district underwent some major changes by pulling in two thirds of the old 16th and only 25% of the 22nd represented by conservative firebrand- the GOP’s Floridian answer to Alan Grayson, but with greater intelligence- Alan West who will run in this district. Unfortunately, it also pulled in significant Democratic territory making West’s job a little harder. His opponent will be Patrick Murphy who intended to run against West had he stayed in the 22nd District, but West switched districts prompting Murphy to call him a coward and he followed him to the 16th. While many pundits are saying Buchanan is the most likely Republican to be defeated this year, demographics of this new 18th district favor a more likely Democratic upset here. In fact, originally I would have called this race for Murphy. However, recent polling has this basically even overall. Regardless of the outcome, there may be a job for West in a Romney Administration anyway.

The 22nd District race between Adam Hasner, who withdrew from the Senate race for the Republicans and Lois Frankel for the Democrats should be a good race to watch. Although it is comprised of the majority of the old 22nd, it now takes in Democratic portions of the old 18th and 16th districts centered around West Palm Beach. As a state legislator, both candidates have impressive resumes. Hasner has shown an ability to work with Democrats while Frankel as mayor has led the redevelopment of West Palm Beach. This likely will go to Frankel based strictly on demographics.

The final race of interest will be in the 26th which takes in 65% of the old 25th which is why David Rivera, the incumbent there, will run in the 26th. This area takes in a sizable area of Miami’s Cuban-American districts. He will be opposed by Joe Garcia. Rivera did not win by a large margin in 2010 which gives Democrats a little hope. Additionally, Rivera has been the target of several probes, the most recent being his alleged funding of a shadow candidate for the Democrats. Rivera should prevail simply because he is not facing a serious challenge. But, unless he improves his legislative resume, his days in Congress are numbered either through a primary challenge, or worse, a Democratic take over of the district.

There are numerous questions on the Florida ballot, most of them dealing with property taxes and exemptions. However, three are of particular interest. The first is a health care question which is basically an Obamacare anti-mandate measure. Similar questions appear on the ballots in other states and ones have been approved in 2010 in Arizona, Oklahoma and Missouri, although one was defeated in Colorado in that same year.

The second would prohibit the use of public funds to abortion providers except as proscribed by federal law or to save the life of the mother. It further states that the Florida state constitution cannot be interpreted to read any more right to abortion than that which exists in the US Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. In effect, many pro-choice groups have been using state court interpretations of state constitutions to broaden pro-choice rights. This measure would shut that door.

The final question is called the “religious freedom amendment”. It would prevent individuals from being barred from participating in a public program if they choose to use public funds at a religious provider. This would essentially overturn what is known as the “Blaine amendment” which bans the use of public money for religious funding. To pass, it requires 60% of the vote. Calling a spade a spade, the Florida Education Association- the largest teacher’s union in the state- claim this is a backdoor attempt at instituting vouchers in the state. After a lawsuit where the courts determined that the initial wording was vague, attorney general Pam Bondi changed the wording which passed muster and will appear on the ballot. The primary proponents basically do not deny this motivation and say that religious organizations that have schools should be part of the educational marketplace.

In conclusion: In a close race, Mitt Romney will take Florida’s 29 electoral votes. Bill Nelson will defeat Connie Mack IV in the Senate race. Republicans currently control the House delegation 19-6, but the state picks up two additional seats. When all is said and done, I am expecting those two seats to be a net two seat pick up for the Democratic Party with the new delegation 19-8. Hence, that is what I meant earlier when I stated that redistricting was not exactly a boon for the GOP in Florida and indicative of weaknesses going forward that need to be addressed in this rapidly demographically changing state.

Running totals thus far: Romney takes the lead, and the Presidency, 271-243 at this point. In the Senate, Republicans lead 49-47 leaving them in technical control since the two remaining states- Ohio and Iowa- have incumbent Republicans not up for reelection. The Republicans lead in the House, 226-189 thus clinching and keeping the GOP in control of the House.

Next: Ohio

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