Bumpy ride ends tonight ... but where?
Iraq, scandals and bad jokes put a few forks in the road to Congress.
By ADAM C. SMITH
Published November 7, 2006
Republican Charlie Crist and Democrat Jim Davis vie for Florida's governorship.
Hang on just a few more hours. The 2006 political roller coaster finally ends today, and by tonight you can again pick up your phone or turn on your TV and not get spattered with mud.
What a volatile ride it has been. Buffeted by Iraq, congressional scandals and even a stupid John Kerry joke, the midterm electoral map has seemed to shift constantly.
Today the Democratic Party is positioned to take control of the U.S. House, possibly the U.S. Senate, and is fielding strong candidates in some of the reddest territories in the country and Florida.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
By some estimates Florida could be a rare bright spot for Republicans nationally. Helping protect them from a potential Democratic tidal wave are Jeb Bush's popularity, an overwhelming financial advantage and a particularly strong get-out-the-vote machine.
But even in Florida, Democrats find themselves better positioned for success than they've been in years.
There was no better emblem of the political climate this year than Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist declining to appear with President Bush in Pensacola on Monday.
And Bush wasn't available for just any Republican. The White House wouldn't even let Florida's Republican U.S. Senate nominee, Katherine Harris, share the same stage as the Bush brothers in Pensacola.
"It's a blue tide, and we see it nationwide and in all regions," said Bernie Campbell of the Democratic Governor's Association. "No one wants to dance in the end zone at this point, but there is a national climate for change, and there is a national climate of frustration."
Analysts see Democrats nationally with a strong shot at winning at least the 15 seats needed to take control of the U.S. House - including three seats in Florida - and a realistic chance at winning the six seats to get control of the U.S. Senate.
Republican poll numbers have improved slightly in recent days, however, and especially in Florida Republicans have a potent voter mobilization effort. If there's a dead heat race - which is how many politicos see the statewide campaigns for attorney general and chief financial officer, and several Florida congressional races - it's advantage to the Republicans.
By Monday, 18 percent of Florida Republicans had already voted, 13 percent of Democrats had, and 8 percent of voters registered to neither party. Without counting Monday's absentee ballots, Republicans had nearly a 150,000 vote advantage. Democrats say that's actually good news - that Republicans usually have an even greater advantage.
"Florida I think could once again buck the national trends," Republican consultant David Johnson said Tuesday. "To a lot of us in this business, this is like Christmas Eve, and tomorrow we get to see if there's a shiny new bike under the tree or an IOU from Mom and Dad for the next cycle."
A key question to be answered today is whether that renowned GOP voter mobilization program works as well when some conservatives are skeptical about Crist's socially moderate positions or disenchanted with big spending in Washington.
"There's no question we need elected conservative leadership in Washington. We haven't had as much as we'd like. But that's no reason to throw in the towel," Rush Limbaugh exhorted his listeners Monday.
In the last off-year election in Florida, 55 percent of voters showed up, which would mean 5.7-million voters cast ballots this year. But given the sour mood of the electorate and the barrage of negative TV ads turning off voters, most strategists expect lower turnout today.
Plus, forecasters say there is a 50 percent chance of rain through much of the state, which tends to hurt Democratic turnout more than Republican.
As the skies darkened and a few sprinkles began to fall in Panama City, Peggy Davis, the wife of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, told a crowd of about 125 that they should vote early Tuesday due to the potential for rain. Jim Davis said his message has given people "a reason to stand in the rain."
"I want to encourage people to vote, rain or shine," he said. "Let's send a message that we can do better."
Crist called the weather forecast "no problem," but at a phone bank, he told Republicans, "vote in the morning."
Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Alex Leary contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com or 727893-8241.
[Last modified November 7, 2006, 05:37:53]
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