Obama Hopes to Reverse Party Fortunes in Vote-Rich Fla.

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 21, 2008

MIAMI, Sept. 20 -- Barack Obama was wrapping up his remarks at a Friday night fundraiser here when he turned to the importance of Florida and its 27 electoral votes in his battle for the White House against Republican John McCain.

Obama expressed confidence overall about his prospects of prevailing in November, but then he reminded his audience that there are many ways to win the White House, some easier than others. "I'll tell you, we can win this thing without Florida," he said, "But, boy, it's a lot easier if we win Florida. If we win Florida, it is almost impossible for John McCain to win."

Obama's campaign is prepared to invest a huge amount of money to try to do what Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) failed to do in the Sunshine State. His campaign sent out an e-mail appeal for contributions in the past week, noting provocatively that his budget for Florida alone is $39 million.

But Florida remains one of the most difficult of the major battlegrounds for the senator from Illinois, just as it has for other Democrats this decade -- a costly dry hole. The question is whether Obama, with vast resources and a plan to redraw the shape of the electoral map, can win here. That strategy remains in doubt six weeks before the election.

"It's been a state where he's been close but just trailing," said Dave Beattie, a Florida-based Democratic strategist.

At this point, polls show the race as close to even. McCain strategists say they believe they have a very narrow lead. Senior adviser Steve Schmidt said in a message Saturday, "We are up and will win it but don't take it for granted."

Another senior adviser to the senator from Arizona said: "In an environment, especially over the last two years, when a lot of states have gone in the wrong direction for our party, Florida hasn't as much. It continues to trend in the right direction for us."

In 2000, Gore pulled out of Ohio and poured resources into Florida, only to see his hopes for the presidency die after the 37-day recount battle that was ended by the Supreme Court. George W. Bush's official margin was 537 votes.

Kerry ultimately put more emphasis on Ohio in 2004, but only when it was clear that his best efforts in Florida were likely to fall short. Growing Republican strength and Bush's popularity in the state resulted in an easy victory for the president, 52 to 47 percent.

In 2002, Democrats tried to make a run at then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who was seeking a second term, only to get swamped by massive Republican turnout. Two years ago, when Democrats were gaining substantial ground nationally, Republican Charlie Crist easily won election to succeed Bush as governor by the same 52 to 47 percent as in the 2004 presidential campaign.

The candidates are paying considerable attention to the state. McCain began his week in Florida, and Obama ended his week here. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is in the state this weekend, and Obama will return to the Tampa area next week to prepare for the first presidential debate, scheduled for Friday in Oxford, Miss.

To date, Obama has made a far larger investment in Florida. He spent at least $6 million and as much as $8 million on television ads over the summer while McCain was not advertising at all. McCain's advisers count themselves lucky that, during those months, Obama was not able to improve his standing in any notable way, at least if the polls are accurate.

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