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The Presidential Campaign

Voter drives flood rolls

Independents, seen as slightly favoring Kerry, swell in number and importance in battleground Florida.

Published October 23, 2004

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TODAY: Hip Hop Summit Action Network Bus Tour 2 p.m., Tropicana Stadium Parking Lot, 1 Tropicana Drive. Headliners will include rap artists Akon and Styllion; ESPN sportscaster and former New York Jet Walter Briggs; Tampa Bay Bucs player Ellis Wyms; and Southern Style rappers Evening Riders, Ace Boon Koon, Black Jack Boys, Kream, and LK & Tom G. Shuttles will transport young voters to early voting locations until 5 p.m. Call 866-0873.

TUESDAY: Meg Ryan and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 6 p.m. , Tampa Theater, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. A discussion on President Bush's environmental policies. Free. Call 595-7314.

WEDNESDAY: Parent Forum on the Pinellas County School Referendum Ballot Question 7 p.m., McMullen-Booth Elementary School, 3025 Union St., Clearwater. Call (813) 884-3782.

With control of the White House riding on Florida again, the two political parties spent millions this year to register new voters.

The result: 1.5-million more people can go to the polls.

But most of the new voters didn't become Republicans or Democrats.

They chose no party at all.

The number of independent voters increased by 532,582, or 39 percent, since the last presidential election, state figures released Friday show.

Republicans increased by 462,254, or 13 percent, and Democrats by 458,168, or 12 percent. (The remainder registered as members of minor parties.) Democrats still outnumber Republicans, and independent voters represent under 20 percent of the statewide total.

The increase in independent voters was remarkable, said Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. "That speaks to me about young voters," Gans said.

Voters in their 20s care about politics but don't identify with one party as their parents did, Gans said.

The huge increase makes independent voters the biggest catch in the election.

Independents aren't typically swayed by newspaper articles or TV ads, political scientists say.

"It's all about the personal contact," said Susan MacManus, a government professor at the University of South Florida.

Polls show independents favor Kerry, although only slightly, MacManus said.

Overall, Florida will have 10.3-million voters who can go to polls this year, an 18 percent jump from 2000.

The number of black voters increased 36 percent since 2000, the figures show.

Florida may be the one state in the country where the 2000 recount motivated voters, Gans said. "Which is to say that Florida's African-Americans are angry," he said.

Some of the biggest increases in black voters was in Orlando, where the county has 145 percent more black voters. In Orange County alone, about 74,000 more blacks registered to vote since 2000.

Black voters in Broward and Hillsborough increased nearly 50 percent. Jacksonville, which saw the most spoiled votes in black precincts in the 2000 election, saw black voters increase by a third.

Nearly three out of four black voters in Florida are Democrats. Only a sliver of them - about 62,500 - are Republicans.

Since Democrat-leaning groups such as America Coming Together pushed hard to register new voters this year, Republicans expressed satisfaction at the results.

"I think we basically held our own," said Mindy Tucker Fletcher, a senior adviser to the Florida Republican Party.

For the first time since the 1980s, the National Republican Committee funded a voter registration drive, she said.

Florida remains a deeply divided state politically, with 4.2-million registered Democrats and 3.9-million Republicans. Voters with no party preference total 1.9-million.

The first five days of early voting in the Tampa Bay area also showed both parties coming out to vote in practically even numbers.

In Pinellas, the same number of Democrats and Republican - 7,639 - cast early ballots through Friday.

In Pasco County, the numbers were close too, with 327 more Republicans going to the polls than Democrats. Each party had about 3,000 voters at the polls early.

Elsewhere, early voting remained brisk. Hillsborough had about 23,300 early voters; Hernando County had 4,453 early voters and Citrus County had 6,417 early voters.

At the beginning of the year, it looked like Democrats would outwork the Republicans. Democratic registration outpaced Republican registration by nearly 2-to-1. But by the end of the summer, Republicans had cut that advantage, figures show.

Allie Merzer, a spokeswoman for the Florida Democratic Party, said the Republican gains may not reflect true Bush supporters. Election officials say about 4,000 college students were switched to the Republican Party even though they did not want to join the GOP.

Speaking at a Republican Party office in south Pinellas Friday, Gov. Jeb Bush said the presidential race would be close in Florida, but probably not as close as 2000.

That would be like having four hurricanes hit the state in one hurricane season, he deadpanned.


Total: 10.3-million

18% increase since 2000

Democrats: 4.2-million

12% increase

Republicans: 3.9-million

13% increase

No party: 1.9-million

39% increase

Source: Florida Division of Elections

[Last modified October 23, 2004, 01:13:23]

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