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Ron Levitt

Ron Levitt

Posted: October 21, 2008 03:20 PM

Major Newspaper Endorsements, Polls Inspire Florida Democrats

MIAMI -- Unless Democratic voters get over-confident and stay home on Nov. 4th, Florida will become a Blue State and provide 27 electoral votes to their nominee Sen. Barack Obama. But not before the GOP makes a last ditch effort to keep this pivotal state in the Red Zone.

All of the latest polls have the Illinois Senator leading by several percentage points in Florida. On Sunday, two of the state's most influential newspapers endorsed him. And an army of Democrats - including Obama himself, his wife Michelle, Sen. Hillary Clinton, former Ambassador Dennis Ross, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, other Democratic governors, and Latino celebrities are flooding the Peninsula with personal appearances in his behalf as early voting began this week with long lines across the state.

Republicans are making an appeal to keep the Sunshine State red, urging their long-term loyal base to make the difference. "But all the headlines, polls, long lines and endorsements seem to be heading our way," said popular Democratic Sen. Dave Aronberg of West Palm Beach, a swing district on the Florida peninsula.

A statewide poll conducted for two newspapers - the Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale) and Florida Times Union (Jacksonville) -- gave Obama a 49-45 edge over McCain. Other polls -- such as Gallup -- had Obama ahead by as much as eight points.

Despite the polls giving the Democratic nominee an edge in Florida, Sen. John McCain's schedulers sent him to Miami last Friday for a rally with Spanish speaking residents. He told the crowd Florida was a "must win" state for him to succeed. The crowd heard him repeat an anti-Castro message. At the same time, McCain's ally -- Sen. Joe Lieberman -- was making a pitch to elderly voters in South Florida condominiums, while Florida's GOP Gov. Charlie Crist and U.S. Sen Mel Martinez were campaigning for McCain in the center part of the state.

Meanwhile, Latino audiences were being entertained by Obama supporters at a separate weekend concert. Spanish singing star Noelia Zanon joined a lineup of performers for VoteFest08 -- sponsored by the Miami-Dade Democratic Party -- to promote early voting, which is now underway. It was a standing-room only concert which had Obama signs interspersed with placards for three Cuban-American Congressional candidates trying to unseat longtime Republican incumbents.

These scenarios -- coupled with the endorsements by two of the State's leading newspapers, the Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel, plus the news that Republican Colin Powell had given his nod of approval to Obama - put Florida once again back into the Presidential electoral vote limelight.

The Orlando newspaper -- an influential voice on the I-4 corridor running from the Space Coast westward to Tampa -- had endorsed McCain in the primary, but did a turn-around with glowing remarks in its endorsement of Obama. "Democrat Barack Obama has exceeded our expectations during this campaign. He has demonstrated sound judgment and grace under pressure. Because we are now more confident in his ability to steer America through the rough waters ahead, the Orlando Sentinel is endorsing Barack Obama for president."

The Miami Herald was equally complimentary in its endorsement of Obama, calling him a "clear choice." The editorial noted, "Sen. Obama represents the best chance for America to make a clean break with the culture wars and failed policies of the past and begin to restore the hope and promise of America as the world's greatest democracy."

Obama and his wife had campaign stops in the Tampa Bay area and vote-rich South Florida (Miami and Fort Lauderdale) while similar appearances were on tap early this week for Sen. Clinton. Clinton joined Obama onstage in Orlando, then headed to South Florida. New Mexico Gov. Richardson (to be joined by Democratic governors from Michigan, Colorado and Ohio) was also scheduled to make appearances before several Latin organizations in behalf of the Obama campaign and Ambassador Ross appeared before several large Jewish organizations, providing stimulation to vote across-the-board for Democratic nominees. Some 450 Obama staffers and "thousands" of volunteers were assisting in the early voting campaign.

The Obama campaign reportedly is pinning much of its hopes on a Florida electoral win with a record number of early voters. Early voting Monday had a record number of people lining up. At some voting precincts, lines were said to be so long, it took voters up to three hours to cast their ballots.

The GOP was quoted saying it was depending on a record number of absentee ballots to show the polls are wrong.

All of these activities came hot on the heels of last week's final televised Presidential Debate from Hofstra University, watched in Florida by hundreds of supporters at house parties organized from Key West to Pensacola. As one person said, it has been years since anyone recalls Democratic signs showing up at a Cuban-American rally or campaign party.

And, with a record number of absentee ballot requests statewide, a huge number of new voters (680,000--heavily Democratic), a barrage of mail and phone bank reminders, the Sunshine State is awhirl in national politics, with Democratic indicators showing up all over. The State Elections Division in Tallahassee is reporting a record 1.7 million absentee ballot requests -- about 12 percent of the entire voting population -- and a booming number of new Democrats registered in the state's 67 counties -- more than 358,000. Republicans believe the absentee ballots, usually used by older voters, indicates a plus for its party.

Democrats are saying the absentee votes may surprise the GOP this year.

"I am hopeful that everyone votes. This is no time for missing to cast a ballot because of overconfidence," says Toby Feuer, a political activist who joined some 70 other Weston Democratic Club members to watch the mid-week debate at the Carolina Ale House in Weston, an upper middle class suburb of Fort Lauderdale. Actually, there were several hundred people at the pub, which had more than a dozen high-definition TVs blasting. Not all were tuned to the debate. A nationally televised soccer game had more than its share of viewers at the 9 p.m. time slot.

"It's all over, anyway," said one soccer enthusiast. "So, why watch (Sen. John) McCain get kayoed again? I'll just watch the soccer."

"I think it might be close," says teacher Theresa Palmisano, "but there is no doubt, the
Obama campaign is going to win in Florida...... and nationally."