Election 2008

Sarah Palin Works To Close Gap In Florida

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Once again, Florida is a battleground state this presidential election. Polls show Republican nominee John McCain trailing Democrat Barack Obama. Democrats have registered many more new voters this year than Republicans. But GOP strategists are confident that vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin can inspire more people to vote for McCain.


And now, we'll head to another battleground state that's figured prominently in recent presidential elections, Florida. It's considered critical to John McCain and polls show him trailing Barack Obama there. NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami on how Republicans hope to close that gap.

GREG ALLEN: In Florida, the Republicans' strategy to build momentum this week could be summed up in two words: Sarah Palin.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska; Vice Presidential Candidate): And it is going to be a hard fought battle here in Florida. It's going to come right down to the wire. With your support, though, we're going to win, we're going to win for you.

ALLEN: If there was an enthusiasm gap between the Obama and McCain campaigns, Sarah Palin has done a lot to erase it. At a rally in Estero, on Florida's Gulf Coast Monday, Palin once again showed her ability to pack an arena with thousands of motivated Republicans. Republicans like Charlene Katauski(ph).

Ms. CHARLENE KATAUSKI: Because I love Sarah. I think she's excellent and she's with what McCain needs on their ticket. And I'm excited. I'm scared but I am excited.

ALLEN: And what's the scary part of it?

Ms. KATAUSKI: If Obama gets in. That scares the bejesus out of me.

ALLEN: At rallies across Florida this week, Palin made good on her promise to take off the gloves. In Estero, she heated the crowd nearly to the boiling point with relentless attacks on Obama. His ties to former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers. His pledge to cut taxes. She urged voters not to believe him, even his patriotism.

Governor PALIN: Our opponent gives speech after speech about the wars that America is fighting and it sure would be nice if just once he'd say he wants America to win.

ALLEN: It was a red meat speech for an appreciative crowd. Palin's visit to Florida this week was just one part of a GOP plan to motivate it's voters to come out big on election day. Republican strategists concede they have their work cut out for them. Discontent with President Bush and the focus on the current financial crisis, they say, make it a difficult environment for Republicans. To make matters more challenging, Democrats have registered many more new voters this year than Republicans. Florida Democrats now hold a half-million voter edge over the GOP. To which Florida Republican party chairman Jim Greer has a quick retort.

Mr. JIM GREER (Republican Chairman, Florida): Numbers don't vote on election day, people do.

ALLEN: Republicans have a good track record in Florida for getting their people out to vote. It helped them carry the state for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, to elect Charlie Crist governor and to build majorities in the state legislature. Greer believes his party will outperform Democrats at the polls this year as well.

Mr. GREER: And at the end of the day, I believe that although they have succeeded in registering a lot of people, many of their new registrations are not going to turn on election day, and Republicans are going to turn out more, just like we did in 2000 and 2004. Susan McManus is political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She agrees that Republicans in Florida have been exceptionally good at mobilizing their voters, identifying keys slices of the electorate they need to reach and using phone trees and neighborhood groups to get them to the polls. But she sees a difference in this election.

Professor SUSAN MCMANUS (Political Science, University of South Florida): At this time in 2008, Democrats have pretty much borrowed the Republican strategies for turnout used in '04 and maybe even improved them a bit.

ALLEN: With just 27 days until the election, most polls show Obama leading in Florida. And he has another advantage as well, money. He's greatly outspent McCain on staff and television ads. Although McCain's field director is promising to ramp up an aggressive campaign in the remaining weeks. The place where the battle will be most intense is Central Florida, the I-4 corridor which runs through Orlando and the Tampa-Saint Petersburg area. The logic is simple. Traditionally, Democrats carry South Florida, Republicans take the North. And whichever party takes the middle part of the state comes out the winner. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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