TAMPA -- OK, now I'm worried. With three weeks left before Nov. 4, it gets increasingly difficult to see how America avoids the most left-wing administration in the history of the republic, headed by a glib but callow man as president who's about as qualified to be commander in chief as I am to be Archbishop of Canterbury.
When the economy lately started to unravel, so did John McCain's prospects of winning Florida, and the other so-called battleground states. Real Clear Politics' average of polls Monday showed McCain trailing Obama by seven and a half nationally, by three in Ohio, by six in Virginia, by five in Colorado, by two in Missouri, and by seven in New Mexico. He even trailed by more than one in formerly fire-engine red North Carolina, which is supposed to be a Republican gimme, not a battleground.
In Florida, after spending most of the summer and early fall leading from five to10 points, McCain finds himself down by five. With 27 electoral votes, Florida is 10 percent of what either candidate needs to move into the White House. Because of the way the electoral map lines up, Obama can afford to lose Florida. McCain can't.
I've followed politics too long to think that nothing could happen in three weeks to turn things around. It's not yet time for Dandy Don to sing, "Turn out the lights -- the party's over." But it's beginning to look a little dark for the old fighter jock and his lovely sidekick.
The local McCain campaign is saying the right things. "The race here is tight as a tick on a dog," says the guy bull-dogging McCain's campaign in the county Tampa is in. He tells me of the new volunteers and a vigorous ground game of phone banking, neighborhood canvassing, yard signs and bumper stickers, et al. But the national campaign is in disarray with McCain seeming to borrow many of the tactics and strategy of former president Bob "Bob" Dole. McCain and surrogates are talking about Bill Ayers (a great subject to have brought up and driven home last summer) instead of the economy, which almost everyone is fixated on. Which issue, for reasons most TAS readers would likely find peculiar if we knew what they were, far more voters trust Obama to deal with over McCain.
ONLY A FEW MONTHS AGO most thought that Florida was so red that Obama wouldn't make much of an effort to win here. Surely he could spend his resources better elsewhere. Of course, with Obama's outlandish success in collecting money he has resources almost without end. (Remember when Republicans used to raise the most money and it was evil to buy elections?) So Obama is competing very hard here, looking for the knock-out punch that an Obama victory in Florida would be.
It starts with a huge television presence. Obama is all over the small screen here. McCain is too, but not as frequently. In late September through the first week of October, Obama outspent McCain on television ads in Florida by three to one. (I've just watched a little heart-warmer that explains how John McCain's economic policy is to ship all of America's jobs to China.) McCain officials say the McCain campaign will make a big TV buy to coincide with early voting, which begins in Florida on October 20. The slow Florida start may be explained by the fact that the McCain camp, with good reason, thought until recently that Florida was in the bag.
Possibly even bigger than Obama's TV presence is the success his campaign has had in registering voters, particularly college students and minorities. Florida has a little more than a quarter of a million new voters. Hard to tell how many of these rookie voters will show up Nov. 4, college students being notorious no-shows. But all Florida voters will be using new voting technology this cycle -- the third new technology in the last three national presidential cycles -- as the state continues to search for a way to accurately count votes.
But the new machines may be the only thing different in Palm Beach County. Palm Beach will almost certainly have trouble counting its votes again, as it did in 2000 and just about every election since. They've already run into problems this year in a local election last summer and in the presidential primary. Some things don't change, even in an election that is supposedly about change.
ON TOP OF ALL these complications, Florida, like several other states, has had several dozen allegations of voter registration fraud. Lefty community group ACORN claims to have registered 135,000 people this year by themselves, many of these in the last two weeks before election books closed. An investigation by the Sun-Sentinel in Ft. Lauderdale shows that more than 30,000 felons are registered to vote, contrary to Florida voting rules. Finally, a new state law aimed at stopping voter fraud requires that information on voter sign-up forms match other state records. Look for this one to turn some voters away from the polls Election Day, and for the usual suspects to protest this. None of this bodes well for a smooth Election Day and aftermath.
Look as well for the Democrats to send in lawyers in battalion-sized units if McCain wins Florida narrowly (anything less than five points) to attempt to get the election into the courts again. The We Wuz Robbed Brigade that we saw in 2000. If Florida matters in the outcome we once again may not have a clear decision on Election Day plus one.
A small majority of Florida's almost 11 million registered voters are Democrats. But don't let this fool you. Florida still has pockets of older Dixiecrats who've been registered Democrats all their lives but haven't voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson. And many of the new registered Democrats are college students, who we are promised every election cycle will turn out in large numbers for the Democratic candidate, but who haven't showed up in any numbers yet. They might this time, as they have a Democratic candidate this cycle every bit as shallow as they are. But they're not a bunch you want to count on. That is unless Florida is foolish enough to allow sex, drugs, and rock and roll at the poling sites.
So look for Florida to be a close race that lasts right up to Election Day, and, God help us, perhaps a bit beyond.
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