Political Hay

Not So Blue in Florida

Obama's victory aside, a lot of Floridians remain fiscally and socially conservative.

By 12.1.08

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TAMPA -- To the considerable embarrassment of everyone in Florida to the right of WHOOPIE!!, a majority of the state's voters, 51.4 percent of them to be exact, fell for the little hustler from Chicago on Nov. 4, voting for unspecified change. Now I believe in Flori-DUH.

I joined some Republican pals the evening of the 4th at a "victory" party at a local Hilton that turned out to be more of a wake. It had the look and feel of the loser's locker room (though, fortunately, not the smell). I left before Obama gave his victory speech and accepted his Rookie of the Year award on the same stage in Chicago (an historical first).

Al Franken wasn't the only clown running Nov. 4. Some of the others were funnier and got more votes. But for all the success of Barack "P.T. Barnum" Obama in Florida, there's no reason to believe the outcome signals any seismic move to the left in Florida.

Obama didn't have much in the way of coattails in Florida. In the Florida Legislature there was no change in the party lineup of the Senate, where Republicans still hold a 26-14 advantage. The Democrats picked up just one seat in the Florida House, where they still trail 76-44.

Florida had about a million new voters on the rolls in November. Thanks to Team Obama, Democrats were more successful in signing up these civic rookies by a ratio of two to one. A large fraction of these new voters were young and intoxicated by Obama. Lots of them voted only for President and left the down-ballot offices for others to decide.

Floridians voted on no less than 10 state constitutional amendments and said no to every one of them that even looked like it would cost any money. A "marriage-is-for-one-man-and-one-woman" amendment passed with 62 percent of the vote. Clearly a lot of Floridians remain fiscally and socially conservative. So why did a majority of Floridians vote for a snake-charmer with a radical past and one of the most liberal voting records in the U.S. Senate?

The answer to this one in Florida is the same as the answer for the nation. Voters were mad at Washington a lot more than they were at local government. Lots of state office holders in Florida are fiscally conservative, like Florida voters tend to be. So these guys and gals didn't get turned out. And Floridians didn't vote more government on themselves through the amendments.

The natural redness of Florida was insufficient to overcome the perfect political storm that would have made it difficult to impossible this year for even an articulate Republican with well-considered positions on the issues and a competent campaign to win the presidency. As none of this describes John McCain and his lame, veering sometimes toward incoherent, national campaign (not dumping here on some fine local grassroots campaigns), there was little hope at the top from the beginning.

As the two major political themes at the national level are peace and prosperity, going into an election with an unpopular war started by a president of your party and an economy in free fall is not the best way to three-peat. Considering everything he was up against, and the problems he created for himself on his own, it was remarkable that McCain kept it within the margin of stupidity both in Florida and nationally. He even led nationally and in Florida for a bit after he introduced Hurricane Sarah to the nation and before the economy tanked.

Not only were Republicans fighting against a lot of bad national and international news, but they ran their usual ham-handed campaign. The Republicans even lost the tax issue (THE TAX ISSUE!!) to the party of government and taxes. Who would have thought that even possible when this campaign began just a few years ago?

Obama was successful in co-opting the Republican message of fiscal conservatism by promising 95 percent of people a tax cut. Don't hold your breath, but he promised it. He also crooned that hoary siren-song of bipartisanship and "bringing us all together." These sweet-nothings don't amount to much in practice, but they're always popular on the campaign trail.

Of course Obama has been far less bipartisan during his short career than McCain has been in his long one. But with the left-stream media acting as chorus and megaphone for Obama's campaign, voters would have to work very hard to learn this. Obama's campaign themes and slogans amounted to little more than political stool softeners. But with the media whooping him up, and with the unprecedented amount of money Obama raised, Obama's campaign ads were basically on a continuous loop everywhere. (Please do not adjust your set.)

Depending on whose numbers you care to believe, Obama outspent McCain in Florida on media by up to seven to one. He was on television here in the days and weeks before the election more than the NBC peacock was.

The message in all of this is that believable, conservative candidates who can articulate why the conservative way is the best for the lives all of us lead -- white, black, Hispanic, men, women -- can win in Florida, whether they're running for state offices or for President of the United States.

Media pundits -- including a depressing number who insist on calling themselves conservatives -- as always after a Republican defeat, are trotting out that pernicious and tired old paraphrasing of Horace Greeley, to wit: "Go Left, young Republican, go left."

Pay them no mind. Conservatism is still the best description of how the world works when it works well. And when it's presented well on the campaign trail, except in the most hopelessly deep-blue precincts, it's still a winner. It will win again in Florida.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.