Sunday, October 05, 2008

All smiles for Obama in the sunshine state.

Since the economy became front page news, the state of Florida has swung from being likely to vote for John McCain to what's beginning to look like Obama territory. He now leads in the state by between four and eight points.

A worldwide economic crisis can make a lot of difference to a voter. Or at least it has done to Isabelle Murawski. For the past two elections, the pensioner has reliably voted for George W Bush, casting her ballot in Florida's Broward County, one of the epicentres of the voting debacle that saw Bush win the White House in 2000.

But now Murawski is going to vote for Barack Obama. 'I am supporting Obama, I think,' she said, while strolling in Florida's warm sunshine in the coastal resort town of Hollywood. 'It's the economy first and foremost. Everyone I know is worried about their pensions.'

And what is happening in Florida is happening all over American where Obama has started to take a narrow but firm lead.

Even previously Republican states like North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia suddenly look as if they might be within his grasp. are this morning saying that Obama, at this point in time, has an 84.4% chance of being the next president. If Obama can take Florida then it is impossible to see how he will not become the next president of the United States.

The key to winning in Florida is a 132-mile stretch of busy road known as Interstate 4, or I-4. The road cuts across the heart of the state, stretching from Tampa Bay to Daytona Beach. It is both the literal and metaphorical middle ground of Florida politics. It bridges the gap between the Republican core of northern Florida, which is very much a part of the conservative Deep South, and the large Democrat-leaning cities of the south-east, such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

This so-called 'I-4 corridor' is home to most of Florida's independent voters and is some of the hardest contested political turf in the whole of America. At its heart is the sprawling city of Orlando and the fierce battle that is being waged there seems to be being won by Obama. Certainly Terrence Golden, a kitchen manager at an Orlando restaurant, is backing Obama. He is one of the hundreds of thousands of transplants to the I-4 corridor who have come south seeking jobs and sunshine and was in no doubt as to where his vote was going. 'McCain is more of the same - just look at all the mess they have created already. We need a change,' he said.

Obama is hoping to capitalise on a lot more voters like Golden. So far, the effort has gone well. His campaign has spent vast amounts of cash in Florida and set up a large organisation to register new voters, especially among blacks and students. It has 350 paid staff in the state, compared with 70 working for McCain. It has outspent its rival by $8m. Obama's political ads have saturated the airwaves and surrogate campaigners, such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and General Wesley Clark, have regularly been on the stump, along with Obama himself.

It has worked. Registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans by some half a million. The campaign has registered 110,000 new black voters alone - they support Obama over McCain by a margin of nine to one.

There have been many scenarios played out where Obama can win without having to take Florida, but it would be especially sweet to see the Bush dynasty leave office with the Republicans losing the state where Bush stole the election of 2000. To see the state of the hanging chad finally return to the Democrats would simply be too sweet.

In an election that has twisted and turned like no other in many years, it's still too early to make any calls, but we can take comfort from the fact that our position is a much nicer one than it was just over a month ago.

The McCain camp are threatening to go negative for the final furlong of the campaign, which I think is a suicidal idea. McCain lost support amongst women and independents when he turned nasty during the first television debate, and his negative campaigning is likely to have the same effect amongst women and independents second time around.

Not that I suppose this will stop him. He is a desperate man and his campaign appears, to me, to be led by lunatics. God knows what he's going to do next.

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