On my way to the debate in Boca Raton, I decided to spend an extra couple of days in Florida. I wanted to see some friends and get a sense of where the swing state was swinging.
Florida decided the election in 2000 and will most likely have quite an influence in this election as well. Like Ohio, it has many populations ranging from Democratic in the southern part of the state to quite conservative in some of the parts of the state in the north, known as the "Redneck Riviera."
On Saturday, while driving from the Orlando area, I noticed a few things that gave me pause. I stopped by a discount strip mall, and almost one-third of the shops were empty. More astoundingly, the empty parking spaces were empty in the middle of a Saturday afternoon despite a discount push by the merchants. The discounts were abundant, and so were the free parking spaces.
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Then, while making my way south, I saw two billboards that were quite shocking. I immediately got to my hotel and looked them up on the Internet. One of them already had been written up in the Daily Beast, and here is how they described it: "The crude illustration shows a nuclear missile, helpfully labeled 'Iran,' impacting a map of Greater Israel (no Palestine here!) emblazoned with the star and bars of the Israeli flag. The text reads: 'Friends don't let friends get nuked!'"
Who is behind this ad? A group called America's Super PAC. They didn't stop there. A few miles down the road was another billboard showing President Obama bowing to the Saudi King. Open Secrets has no financial information about the super PAC, and looking for information is difficult because an online search for them leads to a lot of broken links. So, one of the most visible anti-Obama efforts in Florida is very hard to trace.
It is hard to determine who paid for the billboards, but it isn't hard to spot signs of disappointment in President Obama. It is everywhere, and I even saw a Prius car with a Romney-Ryan sticker. The Prius crowd is not exactly the Romney demographic. I spoke with former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., who was having a yard sale on Saturday. A teacher came to him and said, "My heart says President Obama, but as a teacher I haven't had a raise in five years. President Obama is for teachers, but I have to deal for myself." Foley explains that because of the economic problems in this country and the unique demographics in Florida, the state will go for Gov. Romney.
Foley is convinced that nation will mirror Florida because for years it has split the Senate delegation with one senator from each party. He pointed out that it has the second largest Jewish population outside of the New York City, and it had a large military presence and also various Hispanic groups from Cubans to people from Guatemala. He described the state as fickle but also representing as much of a moderate centrist state as you can find. Lawn signs for Romney-Ryan are popping up in neighborhoods that have been traditionally Democratic. He pointed out that because most people voting in Florida are from somewhere else in the country, it's hard to track voting patterns.
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When I asked Foley about the effectiveness of those highway signs, he said local people were thinking that if President Obama is so good and had such control of foreign policy then why did the Arab oil cartel raise oil prices? In his view, people are frightened and having a difficult time getting jobs. "They want Obama but they are scared," he said.
The Obama camp hasn't given up in Florida, and early voting seems to be going the way of the president. However, polls of people who have not voted yet are giving it to Romney. Mark Foley predicts the vote count in Florida will go on until late in the night and will be razor thin in either direction. Let's just hope it is definitive and does not put the election and our country on the rollercoaster we experienced in 2000.