The Electoral College is what it is: an antiquated system that irks both political parties at times. But it is still, as the Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby pointed out last month, “the best system for picking a chief executive suited to a nation like ours: a geographically large, ideologically diverse, socially complex federal republic.” It won’t be eradicated or severely amended anytime soon, so it’s time to begin to embrace it, at least when November 4 rolls around.
Though the cliché “my vote does not matter” argument is short-sighted, it is true that, as in many recent elections, only a handful of states will decide our next commander in chief. All the polling and punditry is nonsense, when in fact race, gender, and so on matter far less than locale.
As someone who has lived in ten states, driven through all the lower 48, and visited every “major” U.S. city not named Spokane or El Paso, I’ll endeavor to explain why seven states will essentially outrank all others in importance come the fall.
President Bush, in his 2004 triumph, won six of these states.
In 2000, then Gov. Bush won five of those states; thus, the election was much closer.
In 1996, Pres. Clinton won six of these states and thumped Sen. Bob Dole.
And in 1992, then Gov. Clinton won five of those key states.
Let’s take a look at them, in order of importance (electoral votes):
Florida was not very close in 2004, with President Bush winning by five percent. The Sunshine State, where I resided for six months in 2006, is very unique. It is a diverse state — racially, culturally, economically, and certainly geographically. In Florida, north is south and south is north. The Panhandle is full of conservatives and military towns across I-10 from Pensacola to Jacksonville, and even in mid-Florida along the I-4 corridor from Dayton Beach through Orlando to Tampa, politics are center-right. But down south, where wealthy northern transplants dominate a 90 mile stretch along both coasts, politics tend to lean left.
Hispanics, more prominent in Miami, are not the La Raza Reconquista types you might encounter in Southern California denouncing America; they’re Caribbean, mostly Cuban. And the Cubans, having escaped the horrors of Communism, very often vote Republican.
Retirees are extremely key. They may be politically centrist overall, but they’re conservative fiscally. And despite the clamoring for a senior organization like the AARP to endorse Obama, the AARP never endorses candidates. Even if they did, wouldn’t McCain’s age finally benefit him?
Over 30% of Floridians were born before the end of the Second World War. Generally, fiscal matters and health care are the elderly’s most important issues. Elderly Floridians aren’t likely to be enamored by the misogynistic, racist lyrics of Ludacris in support of Obama. And even some African-Americans, more than 16% of the state’s population, have shown angst toward the Illinois freshman senator.
“I can only go by the polls, which show McCain winning the state handily,” Joe Kaufman, of the civil rights organization Americans Against Hate, told me recently.
In South Florida, Matt Brooks, head of the Republican Jewish Coalition, explained in late June that the Democratic nominee cannot just count on Jewish support, especially when Obama has been endorsed and supported by some of Israel’s (and America’s) foes. The Jerusalem Post said the same thing a few days later, though Obama has persisted in showing support for Israel — both in Florida and the Holy Land. Of course, the more religious the Jew, the more they favor McCain and question Obama’s commitment to Israel.
Mr. Kaufman, who is Jewish, believes that “if Senator McCain is truly getting such a large percentage of the Jewish vote, it’s probably an indicator that heavily Democrat areas of Florida will not hold up for Senator Obama and will cause Obama to lose the state.”
Former Israeli Cabinet Minister and Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky recently claimed Obama “has no record on foreign policy” and that an Obama presidency would “constitute a political gamble for Israel.”
By contrast, Sharansky characterized John McCain as less risky, calling him “a person of principle … who has a great record of supporting Israel.”
Popular Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, considered a potential McCain running mate, traveled to Israel on a trade mission last year and, according to Republican Party of Florida Deputy Press Secretary Carla Rivera, “understands that Israel is our strong ally and is committed to protecting the Jewish State.” She added, “Obama has vowed to meet with Iranian leaders who have called Israel names that I prefer not to repeat.”
“We are very optimistic,” Rivera continued. “Many Democrats are unhappy with their party’s decisions and hundreds have called our offices and have stated their support for McCain.”
If Republican optimism is strong in south Florida, it’s even stronger in the northern areas. Jacksonville, Florida’s most populous city, has the nation’s third largest naval installation. And in the northwestern corner of the state, Pensacola, where President Bush garnered two-thirds of the vote in 2004, is staunchly conservative and one of America’s largest naval towns.
“Veterans understand that McCain has been in their position before,” said Rivera. “The country-first mentality is a common factor for many vets and military and they know that McCain has the experience needed.”
The GOP also is working for the Hispanic vote, rather than assuming they have it.
“Many Latinos (not only Cuban-Americans) are realizing what Senator Obama is about,” Rivera notes. “Obama has stated on several occasions that he would meet with leaders such as Fidel Castro without preconditions. Many Latinos are noticing what is happening with leaders such as Chavez or Evo Morales and they oppose Obama’s plans and can see that he does not have the experience needed to deal with Latin America.”
Finally, as Obama is even being urged by his supporters to drop his reticence to debate, Florida Republicans are motivated.
“The situation in congress demonstrates the lack of interest for the environment and our energy crisis and people are becoming more aware of what is happening,” said Rivera. “The American people deserve a commander in chief who puts their country first ahead of party, politics, and self-interest. Senator Obama is slowly revealing himself to Americans and many do not like what they see.”
Also, the sizeable Colombian population has been very enthusiastic about the Bush Administration’s friendship with President Uribe and support of the anti-terrorist movement. They’re equally disappointed with the Democrats refusal to support the Free Trade Agreement and appeasement of the FARC terrorists.
Florida, it would seem, is McCain country.
The Florida Democratic Party declined to comment when contacted for this article.