Why the 2012 election could all come down to Florida
The nation's premier swing state, younger and more diverse than you think, will be vital in deciding who wins the White House. Along the way, Florida could determine the GOP primary, too.
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"I was up in the air about Obama in the beginning; before the Republican debates, I was sure he would lose," says Ms. Tavera. But now, "the Republican candidates are pretty much destroying themselves from within. Obama's just sitting back and enjoying the show."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Florida and the presidential election
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Mr. Hayashi thinks the Republicans' best option is Romney, but he can't see Obama losing. "I can't imagine a young person not voting for Obama," he says, though he acknowledges that by living in Miami, he's in a bit of a progressive bubble.
Polls show that Obama has plenty to worry about with young voters. A new group called Generation Opportunity is using social media to promote polling data that show plenty of room for Republican inroads with Millennials over the state of the economy, high federal debt and spending, and America's place in the world.
"In a very broad sense for 2012, that constituency is wide open and up for competition," says Paul Conway, president of Generation Opportunity.
And even if Florida is well known for its retirees, younger voters are growing in importance. People under 50 now make up 49 percent of the Florida electorate, compared with 45 percent just three years ago.
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Ask Rod Smith, chairman of the state Democratic Party, about the big challenges Obama faces in Florida, and the answer is quick: turnout.
Will all those young voters who knocked on doors and rallied for Obama in 2008 volunteer again? Will they even make it to the polls? Ditto the non-Cuban Hispanics.
Another key voter bloc in Florida, senior citizens, can be counted on to cast ballots. But in this early going, the polling isn't promising for Obama. The recent PPP poll of Florida voters shows Obama underwater in his job approval rating among voters over 65, with 42 percent positive and 54 percent negative. And unlike young voters, who aren't happy with Obama's job performance but want to reelect him anyway, seniors are ready to vote Republican.
Romney's strongest favorability in Florida is with seniors – and among that group, he trounces Obama, 54 percent to 40 percent, according to PPP. Gingrich also does well among seniors, beating Obama 51 percent to 44 percent.
Some retirement communities, such as The Villages, north of Orlando, are GOP strongholds. But Obama can't even feel completely secure among Florida's older Jewish voters, a mainstay of the Democratic coalition. Jeannie Hochhauser and her friend Seymour Wilens, both of Sunrise, Fla., are solid Obama supporters, but mention Israel, and they raise concerns.
"I don't like the fact that he's catering to the Arabs," says Ms. Hochhauser, a schoolteacher from Brooklyn, N.Y., who retired to Florida 26 years ago. "It bothers me. But it bothers me more that seniors are hurting and people are having to walk away from their homes." So, she says, she's for Obama, but "he could be a little more emphatic."
Mr. Wilens, who retired here from New Jersey, is active in the Sunrise Democratic Club. On a recent visit to the club, his congresswoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), spoke of Obama's support for Israel and handed out fliers about Obama and Israel.