I’m currently in Orlando, one of the largest cities in Florida. A number of very interesting contests are taking place in this area.
In the Senate, Republican candidate Marco Rubio looks set to gain the seat. Rubio is currently leading in the polls over independent (and former Republican) Governor Charlie Crist and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek.
Meek’s numbers have declined from the low 20s to the mid teens. Some polls have had Meek as low as 15. With Meek and Crist’s combined numbers, there would certainly be a chance for Crist to overcome Rubio’s lead. Indeed, stories have emerged that former President Clinton asked Rubio to withdraw in order to give Crist a chance to win.
While that makes sense in the context of a Senate race, it misses the bigger picture. The Democrats are pitted in a fierce contest for Governor and for many other races, including Congressional races and seats in the state legislature. In addition, many Democrats have already cast early ballots, and therefore it isn’t possible for many of those voters to switch. It’s also worth remembering that, despite Crist’s occasional refusal to promote Republican partisan interests, he still served as a Republican governor who moved strongly to the right when he first was challenged by Rubio.
One Democrat activist I spoke to in Orlando said that she knew that rationally she needed to vote for Crist in order to defeat Rubio, but had voted for Meek early due to her dislike for Crist. With this experience, I am highly sceptical that enough Meek voters will switch to Crist to give him a chance.
The most competitive statewide race at the moment is that for Governor. Incumbent Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is running for the Democrats against businessman Rick Scott for the Republicans.
Sink has won a majority of recent polls, but always by slim margins. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight gives Sink a 53.9% chance of winning the seat, but it is extremely close. The campaign has gotten dirty, with Sink pointing out how Scott had been a senior executive at a healthcare company that was fined billions of dollars after being involved in healthcare fraud. Scott has blamed Sink for money lost by the Florida state government while she has served as CFO.
The race is going down to the wire, and has become the priority race for Republicans and Democrats in Florida, with the Senate race losing significance.
One of Orlando’s congressional districts has become a focus for Republicans and Democrats. Florida’s 8th congressional district is a seat that was held by Republicans from 1982 to 2008. Similar parts of Orlando have been held by Republicans for over three decades. In 2008, Democratic candidate Alan Grayson managed to win the seat with 52% of the vote after a big effort to register Hispanic voters and union workers who normally didn’t vote.
Grayson has been a controversial politician. He has been an outspoken liberal, often making fierce criticisms of Republicans. He once suggested that Republicans wanted sick people to “die quickly” as a healthcare policy. This earned him particular ire amongst Republicans. He also was attacked for producing misleading ads attacking his opponent, Dan Webster. He accused Webster of being a ‘draft-dodger’ despite volunteering to serve in Vietnam. He also produced an ad quoting Webster’s words out of context to suggest the opposite of what he actually said.
Grayson has been a popular figure amongst left-wing voters. While many vulnerable Democrats have run away from President Obama and a left-wing agenda, Grayson has embraced it, strongly defending the Democratic healthcare legislation and the stimulus package. He has received over 100,000 donations over the web. The race could show how a Democrat can perform when they defend and make an argument for the Obama agenda, but it has become mixed in with anger about Grayson’s misleading campaign claims.
Florida is also considering referendums in regard to reforming the system of redistricting in Florida. Current electoral boundaries for the state legislature and for the House of Representatives. Amendment 5 and Amendment 6 would require the legislature to draw boundaries in such ways that they establish “fairness,” are “as equal in population as feasible” and use “city, county and geographical boundaries. Currently Florida’s boundaries are drawn to favour Republicans. In a mirror image of California, Florida’s electoral reform proposals are supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans.
Florida’s boundaries are also drawn to produce a small number of seats that have a majority of African-Americans or Hispanics by combining ethnically similar parts of different seats in obscenely gerrymandered districts. This also has the benefit of locking up Democrat-voting black voters in extremely safe seats, helping the Republicans in nearby marginal seats.
A fair drawing of boundaries would likely mean the creation of no districts dominated by black voters. It just proves that, under a single-member electorate system, it’s impossible to truly create a fair system. Minorities will be under-represented, and results will be distorted. It seems the fairest strategy is to simply draw boundaries to take no consideration of partisan or ethnic balance.
At the moment, it appears Republicans will retain their Senate seat, while gaining a number of congressional seats. The Democrats have a very slim lead in winning the Governor’s race, while expected results on Amendments 5 and 6 vary wildly.