Florida election a barometer for country

Jan 29, 2008

Miami Herald–Posted on Tue, Jan. 29, 2008

Florida election a barometer for country


The biggest and most diverse swing state is about to render its verdict on the presidency and politics, and here’s what it will say to the nation:

• The Hispanic vote — and racial politics in general — will be critical in the Democratic race. Hillary Clinton is expected to win Florida by a large margin, with Hispanic voters backing her over Barack Obama by about a 3-1 ratio.

• John McCain might be conservative enough to win a closed GOP primary in which only Republicans can vote.

• Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion might not be so big a deal for evangelical Christian voters. They comprise between 20 percent and 40 percent of the Florida GOP primary vote.

• Mike Huckabee is a force to be reckoned with — for now. With little money and seat-of-the-pants last-minute campaigning, he stretched his dollar and folksy presence in Florida so well that he was tied in polls with Rudy Giuliani, who practically moved into the state.

• Giuliani is in serious trouble. He showed that Florida doesn’t exist in a political vacuum — its voters are paying close attention to how previous states voted.

• The top three issues in the election are the economy, the economy and the economy. The war is of secondary importance. And immigration isn’t moving voters.

A big reason that immigration has been downplayed in Florida: Hispanics. They’re a sizable part of both the Republican and Democratic parties in the state, and many feel uncomfortable with the ethnic tenor of the immigration debate. And the economy plays to all voters.

”It’s clear the Hispanic vote is influencing this election,” said Joe Garcia, Hispanic outreach coordinator for the New Democrat Network. “And it will influence the nation’s.’

The same could be said of Florida’s entire election. It winnowed the Republican field to two top candidates. And though the Democratic campaigns haven’t saturated Florida, the vote will be a barometer that measures a broad spectrum of sentiment of every demographic group of voters.

The Hispanic vote is key, comprising 17 percent of the Republican primary electorate and about 12 percent of the Democratic. Historically, the Republican who wins their vote wins the primary.

For Clinton, it’s a key to her campaign in Florida and the nation. Without the outsized Hispanic support, she likely loses, said national pollster John Zogby. In Florida and national polls, Clinton wallops Obama in Hispanic support to a greater degree than he trounces her with the support of black voters.


• A poll of 500 Republican and Democratic likely Hispanic voters from the Florida Newlink Research Survey released Monday shows Hispanics favor Clinton over Obama by 69 percent to 15 percent.

McCain bests Romney by a lesser margin, 36 percent to 26 percent, but McCain gets 40 percent of the Hispanic female vote, nearly double Romney’s number in the poll.

• A Miami Herald poll last week found that Clinton drew 46 percent of the Hispanic vote in Florida compared to Obama’s 8 percent, while she drew 27 percent of the black vote compared to his 48 percent.

A big reason for the lopsided poll numbers: Time and again, pollsters say, ethnic tensions lead Hispanics to vote for white candidates over black ones.

Giuliani once owned the Hispanic vote in Florida, but has seen support slip in favor of McCain and Romney. A loss in Florida would likely stop Giuliani, who bet his campaign on the state but has lost traction.

McCain has moved in the opposite direction. Once broke and thought to be outside the conservative mainstream, McCain now looks more like the establishment candidate with the backing of Florida Sen. Mel Martinez and Gov. Charlie Crist.

And despite white conservatives kvetching about the immigrant ”amnesty” bill McCain backed with the White House and Martinez, it hasn’t seemed to hurt him. McCain has kept immigration and the issue of the economy at bay by focusing on the war in Iraq.

Romney, who prefers to dwell on the economy, has covered his flank with many evangelical voters by reversing course on social issues like abortion. He has courted Christian leaders to such an extent that mentions of his Mormon religion, once a hot topic, are absent.

Still, much of the evangelical vote is expected to drift toward Huckabee, a Baptist preacher who could pull votes from Romney. Knowing Florida is a winner-take-all state and that he can’t compete in money and air time with the others, Huckabee is focusing on the Feb. 5 states in the South, where he’s doing well and preparing to make himself more relevant heading into the Republican convention. What Huckabee lacks in money, he makes up for in word-of-mouth among evangelicals and a hop-scotching travel schedule that allows him to set foot in Florida daily and get his face on television in the Sunshine State.

Not so the Democrats.

The candidates have refused to campaign in Florida — though they have raised money in the state — because of national party rules that punished Florida for holding its primary so early in the year.

The result: Clinton is still the Florida favorite. In Florida polls, she leads Obama by 20 percentage points — buoyed by the Hispanic vote.

There’s a catch for Clinton among Hispanics nationally: Polls suggest that the more Obama campaigns, the more Hispanic votes he gains, as he did in Nevada. Still, he lost there.

But now that nearly half the nation will vote on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5 — including California, New York and New Jersey — Obama is more aggressively courting the Hispanic vote. He has taken up a îîYes We Can” motto that, translated into Spanish, echoes California migrant labor leader Cesar Chavez, who stood beside Bobby Kennedy. Kennedy’s brother, Sen. Ted Kennedy, just endorsed Obama.

Jaime A. Regalado, executive director of the Edmund ”Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, said the California Hispanic vote is “breaking strongly for Clinton, but has been closing some.”

Regalado attributes Clinton’s strong support to the fond memories of the Clinton White House and also acknowledged a ”reluctance” on the part of some Hispanics to support black candidates.

”There is a racial angle for some people, especially those who feel they are in competition, in the economic or housing market,” he said.

After all, this is all about the economy, the economy, the economy.