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AP: Florida Still Swing State, but Different

Ron Fournier of the AP reports on demographic changes in Florida that alter its political identity, while leaving it a swing state. Exurbanization, the in-migration of wealth retirees, and Bush's Jewish voter appeals help the Republicans, while the increasing numbers of first time, Hispanic and Black voters bode well for the Democrats.

This may be the most dynamic state in all the 50," said Jeb Bush, who hopes to deliver 17-million-strong Florida to his brother this November.
"We have the largest number of people moving in, the third-highest number of people moving out. We have a pretty high birth rate. We have a lot of young people who are becoming first-time voters. And, we have a lot of people going on to see their Creator," Bush said.
The state's 9.3 million registered voters are a microcosm of America — black, white and brown; immigrants and Southern aristocracy; Panhandle conservatives, Miami-Dade County liberals and a growing number of independents; scores of voters driven by single issues such as Fidel Castro's rule in Cuba, Israel's security and, yes, the disputed outcome of the 2000 presidential election.
They will determine whether Bush or Democrat John Kerry gets Florida's 27 electoral votes, a 10th of the total needed to win the White House. It's the largest prize of the battleground states, with each campaign spending more than $10 million in television commercials since March.
What has changed in Florida since 2000? "Everything," Jeb Bush says.
He cites the explosion of exurbs far outside Florida's cities, a magnet for middle- and upper-class Floridians seeking more land, better schools and lower taxes. The phenomena — familiar to Missouri, Minnesota, Arizona and other battleground states — tends to favor the GOP, whose candidates often speak the language of faith and family values.
Maceda and other Hispanics make up 17 percent of Florida's population and cast about 11 percent of the state's votes in 2000. About one-third are Cuban-Americans, who typically vote Republican.
The remaining Hispanics often back Democrats — or are more open to persuasion than Cuban-Americans. Jeb Bush, who won the Hispanic vote in 2002, said they are less likely to register and turnout than other voters.
"While that's certainly an important new part of the electorate in our state, if I was asked what's the most important segment of voters, I would say it's the ones most likely to vote — and those would be our senior citizens," he said.
Democrats argue that the population shifts favor Kerry. Of the 730,000 new Florida residents between April 2000 and July 2002, about 46 percent were Hispanic. Another 28 percent were black — a minority group that overwhelmingly votes Democratic, especially in recount-scarred Florida.
Just 21 percent of the new Floridians were white, according to the Census Bureau.
"While the suburban population has grown ... I would argue that demographically, Florida is a more friendly place to Democrats than it was in 2000," said Marcus Jadotte, a deputy campaign manager to Kerry.
The AP provides a helpful summary of issues that may affect the Florida outcome. Yesterday, Fournier wrote about Bush's trouble retaining Florida's Cuban voting bloc. Bush's Milquetoast anti-Castro policy has alienated hardliners, and Iraq has hurt his support among moderates. Generational changes are also rending Cubans from the Republican base.


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