ON THE ROAD: Florida Heading in the Right Direction

Jillian Bandes
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Posted: Oct 18, 2010 12:01 AM
ON THE ROAD: Florida Heading in the Right Direction

There were at least half a dozen races in the Sunshine State that could’ve gone either way at the beginning of this cycle. With two weeks to go, all but one of them has flipped to a Republican advantage.

The one hold out – the 2nd District congressional race – could soon go the way of the GOP, if Republican Steve Southerland’s internal polling is to be believed. His challenge to Rep. Allen Boyd started off slowly, but he eventually built a following that his campaign says has produced a significant advantage.

“The polling shows Southerland in a good position to win on November 2, but we are treating this race as if its dead even,” said campaign spokesman Matt McCullough. “We’re going to continue to work hard and share a positive vote with the message.”

McCullough was referring to an internal poll that had 300 likely voters pulling 46 percent for Southerland, compared with 30 percent for Boyd, with 14 percent undecided. Though other polls have shown the race to be much closer, McCullough pointed to a May Tarrance Group poll that showed Southerland up by a similar margin.

“This district is definitely trending the Republican way,” said McCullough.

That would follow along with the trend happening in the rest of the state. Tight elections in the Senate, Governor's, and 8th, 24th, and 25th districts have now decidedly swung rightward, after Obama’s agenda provided easy campaign fodder for Florida independents. It’s clear that voters are following the conservative shift of national political tides, even though current voter registration doesn’t reflect that: 36 percent of Florida voters identify as Republican, 41 percent identify as Democrats and 20 percent claim no affiliation.

Those numbers don’t reflect the fact that identified voters frequently switch their votes on a whim. Some voters are judging Charlie Crist for his defection from the GOP, and Marco Rubio for his tea party appeal, regardless of their politics. Republican Allen West’s surge in the 22nd district is party due to the celebrity appeal of West’s military accomplishments, as well as Sarah Palin’s endorsement.

“Florida voters are fed-up with the failed policies of the current Congress and that is why you are seeing conservative candidates, like Allen West, doing well in their races,” said Valentina Weis, a spokesman for the campaign. “Florida's unemployment rate of nearly 13% is higher than the national average. We have the country's third-highest foreclosure rate in the nation. Voters in Florida are ready for new principled leadership that will return our country back on the path of economic recovery.”

The 22nd District is still considered to be a lean-Democratic race, but recent polling has placed West within striking distance of Rep. Ron Klein. Weis, of course, is confident that West’s margin is only going to grow now that the race has been nationalized.

“Our latest Poll showed us 6 points ahead of our opponent, I think any shift will only add to that lead,” said Weis.

Also contributing to the surge in Florida’s Republican appeal is the anti-Obama theme seeping through the state.

“Alex Sink? Big government, big taxes, friend of Obama – no way,” said Bud Harder, a Vietnam vet who had retired in Florida, and is active in supporting Republican candidates statewide.

Marco Rubio is the perfect example of a candidate who has capitalized on the anti-incumbent, anti-Democrat sentiments. At a campaign stop in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, he told a group of small businessmen that one of the main selling points for his campaign was the fact that his two opponents, Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek, simply represented the same thing that’s come out of Washington for the past two years.

“We know that what we need to send to Washington D.C. are people that will stand up to it, fight against this agenda, and instead fight on behalf of an alternative to this agenda that [Democrats] are taking our country,” he said.