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    Ownership was the key for all voters

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    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000

    Holy Hannah! Talk about whiplash. The early numbers Tuesday evening declared that Al Gore won Florida - even won it decisively. But then the experts took back their prediction, and the whole election hung in the balance.

    The whole shebang came down to this: Either Gore had to win Florida, or he had to run the table of the last few undecided states. To borrow a phrase from George W.'s father: tension city.

    In the end, the Florida result depended on Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade, and whether the Democrats there would rack up enough of an edge to overcome Bush's lead elsewhere.

    Could you imagine being in the Bush family household today, if Florida went for Gore?

    BARBARA: Jeb, would you give me a hand with these groceries?

    GEORGE W: (Snarling) Why ask him? He can't carry anything.

    It wouldn't be entirely fair to blame or credit Jeb for the outcome of his state, of course. But that is the way the game works. With a Bush win, Jeb's a genius and a powerhouse; with a loss, he's a lightweight.

    There will be a ton of analysis about how our state voted so this is just a superficial beginning. Looking at the exit polls, Bush won among men and lost big among women.

    However, look a little deeper and the gender gap is mostly a racial gap. Bush actually won among white women. African-American voters, in contrast, voted for Gore at a pace of well above 90 percent. If there were any Jeb coattails at work there, they were negative ones, because of his affirmative action stand.

    Look at the drubbing given to state Rep. Rudy Bradley, R-St. Petersburg, in his run for the state Senate. Bradley's loss to Les Miller shows that it is probably still too early for a black elected Democrat to switch parties and survive. There will be a day when a black officeholder can defend a party switch on the basis of philosophy and bringing home better bacon. Tuesday wasn't it.

    Even more striking to me, according to the early numbers, was a strong showing by Gore among Hispanics - close to 50 percent. When Clinton broke 40 percent in 1996, it was a big reason why he was the first Democrat to win Florida in two decades. (Michael Dukakis got only 12 percent in 1988.)

    Surely it was not because of Gore's transparent pandering on Elian Gonzalez. Maybe it was lingering resentment of Republican anti-immigrant, English-only, xenophobic policy in the early 1990s. Maybe it was simply the inevitable rise of younger generations and dilution of the old anti-Castro vote.

    Other "gaps'' included a strong Democratic preference among single people (61-36), working women (also 61-36) and non-churchgoers (54-39). Bush led only slightly among frequent churchgoers. How come we never hear about an "atheist gap''?

    In general, it is good for the democratic spirit to have a close race now and then. You could see it in the way people voted Tuesday. There was extra enthusiasm, a feel of determination at the polling places. There was a sense of . . . ownership? Of mattering? I stood in line next to a young mother who was intent on voting no matter what, waiting patiently for the poll workers to update her address, while trying to keep her toddler in check.

    As we waited, another young voter came in with her ID card, having driven from another precinct. When she learned she still was in the wrong precinct, instead of giving up she insisted on writing down the directions correctly and trying again.

    A recurring theme in Tuesday night's results was that voters were loath to give up any of their power over the political process.

    In every single locality in Florida, voters were saying no to getting rid of elected trial judges. The proposal was to appoint all judges based on "merit,'' but voters decided they didn't want to turn over their power to screening committees and politicians.

    In Tampa, voters were soundly rejecting the idea of getting rid of term limits for the mayor and City Council, despite the popularity of the current mayor, Dick Greco.

    The bottom line is that you have to give voters a really, really good reason to loosen their hold on the leash.

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