Barack Obama's two-day campaign swing through economically hard-hit areas of Central Florida and John McCain's country concert extravaganza in the Panhandle Friday night put the nation on notice: After all the melodrama and bitterness of 2000 and 2004, Florida and its trove of 27 electoral votes are back in play.
The state that handed George W. Bush the White House with a few hundred disputed votes and a truncated recount again offers some of the best subplots of the campaign.
Will the oldest first-term presidential candidate dominate the crucial senior citizen bloc, especially veterans drawn to an aging war hero? Will African Americans, still convinced they were robbed of their votes in 2000, deliver Florida to the first black nominee of a major party? Will Jewish voters, a traditional Democratic bloc that sided with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the state's invalidated primary, cast their lot with a candidate that many remain uneasy about? Will the state's Hispanic vote, now diversified beyond the Cuban American base that has solidly supported Republicans, be receptive to a Democrat?
To that colorful trove of identity politics there is another that could trump them all: the economy. With the state reeling from the housing crisis and soaring energy and insurance costs, Democrats believe the ground has shifted in their favor.
"Here's what I think is different," Obama said Saturday, discussing why he can win a state that Sen. John F. Kerry lost by five percentage points in 2004. "We've had four more years of bad economic policies that have run the economy into a very bad place."