It's all about winning Central Florida
Yeah, yeah we've heard all the political pundits the last week share wisdom with the public, that Katherine Harris would be a disaster for the GOP and someone like Speaker Alan Bense, a Panhandle conservative would be a great candidate for the Republicans because Katherine Harris is so polarizing and will galvanize the Democratic base. But I have a different take, based on working on several statewide campaigns over the past ten years. I also hope that the Democrats whose two gubernatorial candidates, either Senator Rod Smith or Congressman Jim Davis have the advantage of a weak Republican nominee for US Senate heading the GOP ticket. Alan Bense, would be the perfect candidate for a Democratic victory in November in Central Florida, the most important electoral region in the state. Charlie Crist or Tom Gallagher will be very strong in the region, but could be substantially weakened by a poor showing at the top of the ticket in the US Senate race.
Florida elections are decided in the I-4 corridor area. They are not decided in South Florida or the Panhandle except in race occasions. I have supported and worked for numerous Democrats who have won several small North Florida Counties against strong Republican opposition (George Sheldon in the 2000 Education commissioner race against Charlie Crist and Bill McBride versus Jeb Bush in the 2002 Governor's race) yet have been crushed in the I-4 corridor thus losing statewide by at least 12 percentage points. I have also supported candidates who carried Broward and Palm Beach counties by margins that seemed difficult to overcome and yet they were soundly defeated once the battle moved north.
Katherine Harris, who crushed incumbent Sandy Mortham in the 1998 Secretary of State GOP primary is exactly the type of Republican who can appeal to moderate voters in Central Florida. Why Harris? She's fairly urbane and cultured, having supported the arts in Sarasota and having gone to school abroad, which appeals to the yuppie crowd. She can also talk tough on taxes, crime and other issues that win elections in the I-4 corridor while not appearing to be a rough and tumble conservative Republican that have not fared well in the region such as Bill McCollum and George W. Bush in his 2000 campaign. Alan Bense, on the other hand while an accomplished legislator will reinforce the stereotypes many Republican and independent woman have about the GOP hierarchy. He's conservative and from North Florida, has grey hair and has little understanding of the state beyond the corridors of power in Tallahassee. The Terry Schiavo issue, pushed by Bush and Bense is a sure fire loser for the GOP in the region. While Katherine Harris (and Bill Nelson) voted for the Tom DeLay pushed, Federal intervention Congressional bill to interfere in Florida's sovereign court system, neither had an upfront role in the issues, unlike Bense. The Bush brothers in 2000, sacrificed Tom Gallagher who in his past life was probably the perfect I-4 corridor candidate (A moderate pro-choice Republican who spoke well on issues and clearly had an environmental streak) for Bill McCollum who got crushed in his home county. The Bush brothers appear poised to make the same mistake again, even though Harris despite a poor standing in the polls currently can probably remake her image with a good media campaign in the Tampa and Orlando media markets. In other words, as a Democrat, I hope the GOP nominates Bense, because Bill Nelson who is an accomplished vote getter in the I-4 corridor will be virtually assured a nice margin coming from the state's most critical electoral region.
South Florida Democrats have a misperception about Central Florida: many activists claim it is conservative and exurban to rural. North Florida Democratic activists see Central Florida as urban and liberal. Neither perception is accurate. What Central Florida is in reality is the Florida that makes us the bellwether for the rest of the nation. Central Florida is America in a nutshell. Tampa/St Petersburg is a large urban area, Orlando an emerging metropolis while Polk and Volusia are the perfect combination of suburbs, exurbs, medium sized cities and rural areas. Polk County, sometimes described by political pundits as the "Polk Panhandle," and to many South Floridians it feels rural and agrarian, actually has more residents the entire area between the Suwannee River and the Apalachicola River in the big bend/panhandle region. The suburbs around Orlando and Tampa are filled with the type of moderate to conservative Republicans that you find in Ohio, Wisconsin and Western Pennsylvania- the swing region in the national elections. These Republicans swung towards Bill Clinton and Al Gore because they were strong on the Environment (after all people move to Florida largely because of its natural beauty) and were not too liberal on economic issues. The region also swung away from liberal Democrats Buddy MacKay and John Kerry whose campaigns seemed geared more towards pleasing liberal activists in South Florida than swing voters. Bill McBride got crushed in his home region because he allowed the Republicans to define him as an out of touch lawyer who would bankrupt the state with an irresponsible education plan.
The battle for the I-4 corridor is a battle the Democrats have to win in 2006, and I believe the GOP just may hand us a major advantage which we can exploit next year.
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- I am the host of the Major League Soccer Talk and EPL Talk Podcasts and am frequent guest on other (world) football shows. I am also the publisher of various other websites including this one. I work in public/government relations in addition to my soccer work and have a keen interest in history, politics, aviation, travel,and the world around us.