Battleground Fla: How the weirdest county in America, Miami-Dade, could decide the presidency
MIAMI--What if a presidential election came down to the strangest county in the weirdest state in America? For better or worse, that's Miami-Dade, whose vote Nov. 6 will go a long way in determining who wins America's biggest swing state. • If we see an enormous Miami-Dade margin of victory for Barack Obama as the returns come in, it probably means he wins Florida's 29 electoral votes and another presidential term.
But this is Miami, so it's likely we'll have to wait on the vote tally because some precinct worker is stuck in traffic behind a delivery truck parked for no clear reason on the interstate express lane. Or stuck behind a grisly crime scene, perhaps involving face-eating. Maybe behind paparazzi stalking a misbehaving celebrity.
Miami-Dade defines Florida to much of America: super models and mega yachts, Elian Gonzalez, the poorest of the poor, old Cuban exiles in guayaberas sipping espresso.
But the rest of Florida tends to view the state's most populous county with wary suspicion: a foreign territory with chronic public corruption problems, the nastiest campaigns and the occasional Santeria sacrifice leaving animal parts on sidewalks.
"That's okay. We've learned to live with being misunderstood and viewed as a different and strange part of Florida," chuckled Ana Navarro, a Republican consultant in Coral Gables. "I'm not sure we'll ever understand those good ol' Southern boys in North Florida."
There's a reason the Obama campaign has 12 offices in Miami-Dade, and the Mitt Romney operation has four. Size matters and so do demographics. The county is home to 1.2 million voters, including 540,000 Democrats and 371,000 Republicans. Only about one in four is non-Hispanic white voters.
Four years ago, Obama won Miami-Dade by more than 139,000 votes — nearly 60 percent of his statewide victory margin and the biggest margin of any Florida county. Compare that with John Kerry in 2004, who won here by nearly 49,000 votes, and Al Gore — damaged by the Clinton-Gore administration's decision to return Elian to Cuba — who in 2000 won it by about 39,000.
Broward County has long been viewed as the ultimate Democratic stronghold in Florida, but Obama won 7,100 more votes out of Miami-Dade than he did in Broward, a first in modern history.
To many veterans of Florida politics it was an astounding Miami-Dade outcome. The bad news for the president? If he fails to match it this November, Florida's 29 electoral votes may flip to Romney.