Florida, a big dog again

The Sunshine Status

It looked as if Florida was an electoral has-been, disrespected by the national parties for jumping the line with its primary. But we're back. Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief Steve Bousquet reviews our evolution from pariah to powerhouse. Our 27 electoral votes could swing another election.

May 3, 2007: The Legislature votes to move up the date of Florida's primary to Jan. 29, 2008. Analysis: Now largely forgotten, this was No. 37 on Republican House Speaker Marco Rubio's "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future."

Aug. 25: Democratic National Committee votes to strip Florida of all of its convention delegates for scheduling its primary one week before party rules allow. Analysis: A power play by DNC chairman Howard Dean that everyone knew couldn't last, and it didn't.

Sept. 1: All major Democratic presidential candidates boycott Florida because of the state's decision to hold an earlier primary, threatening the state's reputation as a kingmaker in presidential politics. "Selfish," snaps state Democratic Party chairman Karen Thurman. Analysis: Ignore Florida at your peril.

Nov. 8: The Republican National Committee votes to strip Florida of half of its delegates for advancing the primary. But all delegates would be restored at the August 2008 convention. Analysis: The response was more muted, but the feelings were hurt just the same.

Nov. 28: Eight Republican presidential contenders square off in a CNN/YouTube debate at St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater. Analysis: Mike who? Fred who? There was no talking snowman as in a previous YouTube debate, but a questioner waved a Bible and asked candidates if they believed "every word of this book." CNN said the debate drew a large number of young viewers.

Jan. 26, 2008: Three days before Florida's critical primary, Gov. Charlie Crist endorses John McCain for president. "I don't think anybody would be better," Crist says at a Pinellas County Republican dinner. Analysis: Crist's endorsement was worth a few percentage points, enough to deliver Florida for McCain.

Jan. 29: McCain wins the primary in Florida, where Republican voters also deliver a crushing blow to the presidential dreams of Rudy Giuliani, while Democrats clearly favored Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. The GOP nomination is now McCain's, while cracks are evident in Obama's Florida base. Analysis: Giuliani's post-9/11 message of domestic security didn't fit the times and he picked the wrong state as his firewall. "From hero to zero," said MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

May 21: Obama ends his nine-month boycott of Florida with a rally at Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum. On a few days' notice he draws 16,000. Not a sellout, but close. Analysis: Obamamania hits Tampa Bay, and not for the last time. But after stiff-arming Florida for so long, the Illinois senator still has a lot of catching up to do.

Aug. 24: The Democratic Party votes to restore all of Florida's 211 convention delegates; less than a week later, the Republicans follow suit. Analysis: Take that, Howard Dean.

Aug. 29: McCain shocks the political world and picks Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. That morning, McCain calls Crist, a VP also-ran, to say he decided to "go in a different direction." Analysis: As later news reports said, McCain's advisers decided he needed a game-changer, but Palin brought a bundle of good and bad to the ticket, and polls showed that she scared away women and independents that are crucial to McCain's hopes.

Sept. 16: Campaigning in Jacksonville, McCain declares: "I believe, still, the fundamentals of our economy are strong." The sound bite will reverberate for weeks on cable channels. Analysis: In the middle of the biggest Wall Street collapse since the Great Depression, McCain's words became instant fodder for an Obama attack ad.

Sept. 21: A Sarah Palin rally draws a crowd estimated as high as 60,000 in The Villages, the boomers' mega-retirement community north of Orlando. Analysis: It was Palin at her best, firing up the Republican base while enhancing the reputation of The Villages as the No. 1 Florida destination for GOP candidates (exit 329 off I-75). Sept. 29: In the GOP-leaning Sarasota-Bradenton market, Obama raises $750,000 to McCain's $209,000. "We have far more momentum," a local Democrat says. Analysis: The Democrats had far more money, too — the reverse of what usually happens in Florida races.

Sept. 30: State Republican chairman Jim Greer (shown here in June with former Gov. Bob Martinez) calls a meeting of party and McCain staffers that leads to reports of dissension between the camps. A day later, a rolling average of polls shows Obama ahead in Florida for the first time. Analysis: If McCain loses Florida, pundits may point to this as a turning point. If McCain wins Florida, Greer may want to hunt for an olive branch. Oct. 19: The state reports that Democrats had a 2-to-1 advantage in registering voters in Florida in 2008 and signed up 657,775 more Democrats than Republicans. Analysis: Democrats have a big advantage in new voter registration in a state with a history of voting for Republican presidential candidates.

Nov. 2: It's Joe Biden's turn to return to Leon, Alachua and Volusia counties, capping a week that saw visits by McCain, Palin, Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman and others. Analysis: They all get it: Florida, Florida, Florida.

Florida, a big dog again 10/31/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 10:07pm]

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