Florida race seen as too close to call

Published Dec. 2, 1992|Updated Oct. 12, 2005

Gadsden County probably won't be alone this time.

In the last two presidential elections, the predominantly black county in the Panhandle was the only Florida county to vote Democratic.

This time, the presidential race is virtually a dead heat. It's so close pundits and political strategists are predicting Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton will win in many counties President Bush dominated in 1988.

So many counties are up for grabs there is no consensus about who will win Florida.

Some analysts say President Bush turned the corner late last week and should win narrowly. The Clinton campaign Saturday seemed to nearly concede the state when a campaign spokeswoman said, "Florida's tough. We've always been behind in Florida."

But some analysts say Clinton will win because he's from the South and will be able to reclaim many of the Reagan Democrats. The last two Democrats to win the state were Southerners.

Others say Ross Perot's supporters will decide the election in Florida. If Perot voters get cold feet at the last minute, Bush will win. If they stick with Perot, Clinton will win.

"The race is that close," said Charles Whitehead, a former leader of the state Democratic Party. "The reason Clinton has a chance to win is that Perot has siphoned off more of Bush's votes than Clinton's."

Perot has drawn much of his support from Republican men. But GOP strategist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich says they won't stick with the Texas millionaire.

"Republican men are coming home," Stipanovich said. "They've been out flirting with the other guys. They've sowed their wild oats."

Perot has been especially strong in the Panhandle, but the consensus from pundits in both parties is that Bush will still dominate the region because so many voters there are conservatives with some link to the military. Whitehead said in some areas half the voters are retired or active-duty military.

"It'll be Bush, Bush, Bush," he said of the Panhandle counties.

Leon County _ home to Florida State University and thousands of state government employees _ will probably be a different story. It's likely to vote for Clinton, pundits said.

Alachua is also likely to be a Clinton county, largely because of support from students and faculty at the University of Florida.

The Jacksonville area, one of only a few regions won by Republican Gov. Bob Martinez in 1990, is considered strong Bush territory. Bush is also strong along the middle East Coast of the state, where many new retirement communities sprang up in the 1980s.

Analysts say the Orlando area is leaning toward Bush, although it might not be as strongly Republican as in 1988. Democrat Gov. Lawton Chiles won it two years ago.

Clinton's strongest support is along the East Coast in South Florida, an area with one-fourth the state's population. Broward condo dwellers and Dade's black community vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Palm Beach voted for Bush four years ago but for Chiles in 1990.

South Florida's Cuban population, usually a solid Republican block, has shown surprising support for Clinton. A Mason-Dixon poll last week showed Bush's support has eroded dramatically and 36 percent of the state's Cuban-Americans were supporting Clinton.

Bush appears strong in the Naples, Fort Myers and Sarasota areas, home to many Republican retirees. Bush got two-thirds of the vote in those counties in 1988.

In the Tampa Bay area, Clinton should do well in Hillsborough.

"His best shot is there, definitely," said Susan MacManus, chair of the department of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida. "It has a much more Democratic base" than other bay area counties.

She expects Bush will win Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus. But the margins will probably be smaller than 1988.

"The senior vote is not as cohesive this time," MacManus said. "You just won't get the kind of block voting you've had in the past."

Clinton's Southern roots could give him a boost throughout the state. Suzanne Parker, director of the survey research laboratory at FSU, says the only Democrats to win Florida in the last 40 years _ Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter _ have been from the South.

"It's a friends and neighbors effect," Parker said. She thinks Clinton will win the state.

What about Perot?

It's highly unlikely he'll win any counties, but he could be the deciding factor statewide, some analysts said.

The polls show he draws a high concentration of Republicans. If they decide at the last minute to return to their party, it's likely Bush will win the state and its 25 electoral votes. But if Perot's support stays firm, he could draw enough votes from Bush that Clinton could win a narrow victory.

Perot supporters scoff at that suggestion. "We don't pay attention to those polls," said Pat Muth, Florida's coordinator for Perot. "They don't reflect what the volunteers and supporters hear in their communities. Perot will win."