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Jamerson poll shows voters not colorblind

A poll taken for the campaign of Education Commissioner Doug Jamerson offers proof of what many Floridians probably don't want to believe about themselves:

Some people won't vote for Jamerson because of the color of his skin.

The poll of 600 people _ taken after the September primary _ indicated about 5 percent of the respondents wouldn't vote for Jamerson because he is black, said Marty Schaap, Jamerson's campaign manager.

Respondents weren't asked outright if they would rule out a candidate based on race. Instead, they were asked a series of questions about their perceptions of African-Americans in leadership roles and other issues. The 5 percent figure is based on the answers given.

The actual percentage of voters who won't support a black candidate could be higher, Schaap assumes, because not everyone is going to admit their true feelings about race to a pollster. The poll also had a 3.5-percent margin of error.

The results were not a surprise, Schaap said.

"We know it (race) is factor. We just have to work that much harder to make sure people understand that Doug Jamerson's race is not the most important thing about him."

Jamerson has for the most part downplayed the race issue throughout the campaign, although he knows the historical significance of this election: If Jamerson wins, he would be the first African-American elected to a statewide Cabinet office. He is currently the appointed education commissioner.

His opponent, Frank Brogan, is a white, blond and blue-eyed Republican who has been appealing to the state's conservative voters. Jamerson barely won the Democratic primary against a political unknown, and thought at the time that race may have played a role in his near-defeat.

Behind the scenes, Jamerson's campaign has taken the race issue very seriously.

Schaap said there were conversations about whether Jamerson should even show his face on television in campaign ads. "I think that people were concerned about the pros and cons of doing it. Some people said you shouldn't (go on TV)," Schaap said.

Jamerson bristled at that suggestion.

"Doug Jamerson has always indicated he is proud of his heritage and is proud of what he has accomplished," Schaap said.

Pollster Keith Frederick of the prestigious Frederick/Schneiders public opinion research firm advised Jamerson to go on TV.

"If you try to hide it (race) it becomes an issue that you're hiding," said Frederick. "With this man, there is no reason to hide."

Frederick's firm conducted the poll _ which examined issues beyond race and included Democrats, Republicans, white and black voters as respondents.

He said he strongly believes that the 5 percent of voters who won't vote for a black candidate will be canceled out by an increase in black voters who go to the polls in November.

The Democratic Party is conducting a statewide campaign to get out African-American voters, making phone calls, distributing literature and signs, recruiting people to go to polling places on Election Day and mobilizing vans and other vehicles to pick up voters who need transportation.

"It's an intense effort to motivate and encourage African-Amercians to vote," said Scott Falmlen, coordinator of the effort for the Democratic Party. "This year is unusual in that African-Americans have an opportunity to have an influence in electing one of their own."

African-Americans may have influence beyond their numbers, he said. African-Americans make up slightly less than 10 percent of Florida's 6.4-million registered voters, according to the most recent figures.

But they could play a larger role depending on the voter turnout statewide, and the percentage of black and white voters who actually cast ballots.

"The name of the game is not registered voters now. The name of the game is turnout," Falmlen said.

Daryl Jones, a black state senator from Miami in charge of the get-out-and-vote efforts in Dade County, said he believes Florida voters are sophisticated enough to move beyond the race issue.

He said he was advised not to put his picture on campaign signs when he ran for a Florida House seat in 1990. "I said I am, that's it," Jones recalled. "I said, you can't keep it a secret." He won the race, then went on to win a Senate seat in 1992.

One black candidate has won a statewide election, although not for a Cabinet set. Joseph W. Hatchett, a black Florida Supreme Court justice, won a statewide, non-partisan election in 1976 for his judge's seat.

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