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Democrats can swoop in and dash GOP hopes

In any other year, Democrats in Florida might be accused of being delusional. But this is not just another year.

Gasoline may soon cost five bucks a gallon. Florida has the nation's second-highest rate of home foreclosures. Even unemployment, rarely a problem here, is going up.

People are in a foul mood, a bad sign for the party in power. Six of 10 Florida voters in a new Quinnipiac poll say they are dissatisfied with things in Florida.

Democrats are talking about not only recapturing the White House with Florida's help, but knocking out two or three Republican congressmen (maybe Tom Feeney or one or both of the Diaz-Balart brothers).

Democrats hope that Barack Obama gives them the get-out-the-vote motivator they seem to lack in most presidential races.

"We have so many opportunities here," Democratic Party chairman Karen Thurman said this week.

Most credibly, Democrats say they will be able to pick up a handful of state House seats. The trend line here clearly favors Democrats, who have gained nine seats since November 2006.

That still won't give D's anything close to a majority, but any growth in numbers helps them heading into the next reapportionment, which will follow the 2010 elections.

And here's where things get interesting.

If Obama really motivates the Democratic masses, especially in lethargic South Florida, they have a chance to ruin Republican state Jeff Atwater's plan to become Senate president.

It helps Atwater that Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination, because his Senate district is in the heart of the Gold Coast, which was one of Clinton's strongest areas. But beware, GOP: Camp Obama realizes it must work extra hard to win back Jewish voters in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

It's a scary time to be seeking re-election, and most Florida incumbents are Republicans.

Republicans may not look it, but they're worried, and they have good reason to be.

This is a year in which Democrats will gleefully rip a page out of Ronald Reagan's playbook and pose this question: Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

With gas prices skyrocketing so fast, they might ask: Are you better off now than you were last week?

Republicans still have a lot going for them. Incumbency equals money — mountains of it. Big advantage for the GOP.

Florida is a center-right state led by a Republican governor who's a magnet for party money, a tireless campaigner and still popular with his constituents.

In the same Quinnipiac poll, 61 percent say they approve of Charlie Crist's performance.

Vice president or not (I say not), Crist will be a big asset to John McCain.

Florida has a rich history of discarding candidates who can be tagged with the liberal label, so it's no surprise to see Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer running around and calling Obama "the most liberal senator."

Economic worries should favor the Democrats, but watch Republicans drive home the tried-and-true message that Obama is a tax-and-spender.

Three other factors come to mind that could affect the outcome of Election 2008:

• Florida's rapidly-growing Hispanic population is not as safely Republican as it once was. Hispanics are not a monolith that responds to the old message of anti-Castro flag waving.

• The switch to optical scan voting will require more voter education, especially in urban Florida.

• Many released felons can vote, and a disproportionately high number are African-American, which benefits Democrats. The question is: Will they vote?

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Democrats can swoop in and dash GOP hopes 06/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2008 5:36pm]
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