FL Off Center Stage?

Obama’s coming to Florida! Uh, that would be Michelle Obama–wife of the candidate.  Campaign officials say she’ll be in Tallahassee, Broward, and Miami on April 9th.  With the Democrats’ primary season looking like it might drag on until June, this might be Florida’s closest brush with any Obamas for a long time.

More and more, you get the feeling that Florida might not be a battleground state this fall, as it has been the last two elections, especially if Obama’s the nominee.  This is certainly the spin coming out of the Clinton camp, but much of it rings true.

First, the Democrats Delegate Dilemma has hurt the party’s chances to carry Florida.  IF everything’s resolved by June, and IF the economy and war in Iraq continue to slide downhill, maybe the FL & MI kerfuffle over seating delegations in Denver will be an afterthought by November 4th.  Otherwise, Democratic voters here are likely to feel disenfranchised through no fault of their own, and Republicans will try their best to spread that resentment to independents and potential deserters in their own ranks. 

Second, if Obama’s the nominee (a reasonable assumption), he has problems here.  One of the biggest– a lingering perception he would not be a strong supporter of Israel.  He’s had lots of people out debunking that notion, but it persists.  Friends with parents in reliably-Democratic,  overwhelmingly-Jewish South Florida retirement communities say unease over Obama is widespread.

Some of it, of course, has to do with the persistent falsehood that he’s Muslim.  Some of it has to do with discomfort with the words of Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and the unsolicited support the Obama campaign’s gotten from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

A McCain campaign would be well-positioned to go after Jewish votes in Florida, no matter who the Democrats nominate.  “Don’t you think Joe Lieberman will be working the condos full-time, come October?”, one worried Democratic strategist said to me.  Indeed, the Connecticut Senator was a frequent visitor to those condos in October, 2000- when he was Al Gore’s running mate.  Now an independent, Senator Lieberman is John McCain’s road buddy, travelling with him frequently, including his recent trip to Israel.

And, while any scenario that puts Hillary Clinton in the White House necessarily includes winning Florida, Obama’s electoral math may not need the Sunshine State.  His backers feel he puts states in the South like Virginia in play, and that he could win Rocky Mountain states Like Colorado… states where a Clinton campaign would be a hard sell.

McCain might make Florida even tougher to win by putting Governoer Crist on his ticket, though Crist might not be the best choice for a candidate anxious to reassure his party’s conservatives (hard to imagine Rush Limbaugh saying– “Crist–great choice!”).  The less Florida looks like a battleground, the slimmer Crist’s VP chances look.

Floridians might be spared wall-to-wall campaign ads, come the fall.  That might please some, but it would create despair for media Sales Managers, who already missed out on ad dollars when the Dems skipped our primary. 

And we might not get that constant attention we’ve become accustomed too– Al Gore spending the wee hours of Election AM on South Beach with DeNiro and Stevie Wonder, George Bush doing countless campaign swings with his then-Gov brother Jeb.

When  Tim Russert whips out his whiteboard on Election Night, it seems less and less likely he’ll scribble the key words “Florida Florida Florida”.  

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