With A Three-Way Race, Where Will Florida Swing?

In the first week of Florida's early voting, Republicans turned out in larger numbers than Democrats. Democrats say that difference won't matter in the end. NPR's Greg Allen joins host Liane Hansen from Miami to talk about what's ahead in the last week of politicking in the Sunshine State

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

So, Greg Allen, what are the issues that are important to Florida voters this year?

GREG ALLEN: Well, here, Liane, I think like everywhere else, it's the economy and jobs. But we've got an unemployment rate here that's a couple of points higher than the national average. Also, there's a devastating collapse in the housing and the construction industries. We're one of the national leaders in foreclosures.

All of that has led to a statewide atmosphere of angst and a sense that things aren't going in the right direction. And increasingly, polls show that healthcare has fallen as a voter concern, compared with past years. But it is a leading theme in Republican campaign ads, especially in the congressional races.

It's being used to tie Democrats to President Obama and House speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with the stimulus and other charges that the country is going in the wrong direction.

HANSEN: Florida is an important swing state. It went for Obama and the Democrats two years ago. Is it swinging back to the GOP?

ALLEN: Well, possibly. Democrats have picked up, actually, in recent years, registered voters in Florida, and they now outnumber Republicans. But there's a redistricting amendment on the ballot in November which, if it passes, could help Democrats in their effort to take back seats in the state legislature and in Congress.

But for this election, it's clear that the energy is on the Republican side. And that will affect turnout which could, as we've been talking, be the determining factor in the really close races.

HANSEN: So is it possible that Republicans could sweep Florida this year?

ALLEN: Well, Republicans are certainly trying. And we've seen an unprecedented amount of outside money being poured into Republican campaigns this year. And there've been, as we've been saying, the Republicans are trying to nationalize all the races - tie the Democrats to national Democratic policies and to President Obama.

But each race is different. And some of these Democrats here are hanging tough. Up in the Orlando area, for instance, we have Congressman Alan Grayson who is one of the top targets for the GOP. And there's been lots of outside money being poured into the campaign of his opponent, Republican Dan Webster. But Grayson's been using that to his own advantage, doing a lot of fundraising of his own and he's been tough on the campaign trail, has had field staff out now for more than a year.

And also, in Miami, we have an open seat that's vacated by a retiring Republican, and that looks like it could go Democratic - suggesting that unless there's a tidal wave of Republican support this year, Democrats may end up, on balance, losing one or two congressional seats, or possibly none at all.

HANSEN: So nine days left, what's going to make the difference?

ALLEN: Well, it's all about the ability of the parties to mobilize the voters. And that's something that, in the past, Florida Republicans have done very well. The GOP has been good at distributing absentee ballots and building a big lead before Election Day rolls around.

This year, the Florida Republican Party, though, is in a hole. They've had financial improprieties that led to the indictment of the party chairman. And the party doesn't have the money or the organizations they had here in the past.

Democrats, on the other hand, have learned a lot from the Republicans, which they put to use two years ago when President Obama carried the state. But one thing that'll be hard for the Democrats to counter this year is the anger that's going to be bringing out many voters to the polls.

HANSEN: NPR's Greg Allen, in Miami. Greg, thanks a lot.

ALLEN: My pleasure, Liane.

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