The funny thing about this election cycle in Florida is that this should have been a safe state for John McCain. The only thing that was working in Obama's favor was the economy, but even that was having a limited effect on Democratic party popularity in this state, and the meltdown that pushed Obama to his current lead came after Obama had closed the gap in Florida.
This article, and it's a good one, suggests in the headline that McCain took his eye off of Florida and so now is in danger of losing it. That's true to a point, but there's a lot more to it than that. I think more than anything else, Florida is an example of what a combination of an aggressive strategy and a lot of money can do for you in a big state.
Some things to know about Florida. Obama shouldn't be winning here, based on the facts on the ground. We have a fairly popular governor who was on the short-list for the Vice-Presidential nomination; our legislature is strongly Republican, and while registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans, a lot of that advantage comes from the northern part of the state where they've simply failed to change their registrations to match their party preferences. North Florida, particularly the panhandle, is much like south Alabama.
The southern part of the state, while far more liberal, is also far older, and we've seen that group strongly favor McCain all through this election cycle, so there was a concern that while Obama would certainly win down here, he might not win by enough of a margin to offset his almost certain losses in the rest of the state. Factor in the heavy Clinton support from the primaries--support Clinton has done a lot to swing Obama's way in recent months--and it didn't look good for Obama's prospects.
And yet he either leads or is tied in practically every state poll out there right now.
Part of it no doubt has to do with the subject of the article I linked to above. Florida was supposed to be safe for McCain, and he may well still win it--I won't be surprised if he does, although I'm hopeful he won't. But Obama's strategy from the beginning was to spread the playing field, and shoot for states that McCain would then have to defend, and to do that, he needed money. McCain is in trouble right now because he doesn't have the money to both defend his states and attack Obama's swing states; Obama has the money to do both. That $115 million in September showed just how inadequate the current public financing system really is--by contrast, McCain had $84 million to spend between the end of his convention and the November election. His money is almost gone and Obama is still pulling it in. Even when you factor in the money the national committees are raising and coordinating with the campaigns, it's not close.
And here's the net result. When I turn on the tv, I see an Obama ad multiple times per hour. I've been getting, on the average, 3-4 phone calls a week from the campaign, though I suspect that will slow since I told them I've voted already.
It's not that McCain took his eye off Florida so much as Obama changed the calculus of the race. McCain was in a no-win situation here--he has to not only win this state, he has to be able to ignore it, and Obama had the money and the organization to take that possibility away from him. And so now, in the home stretch, McCain finds himself sweating states that he has to have to even have a chance to win instead of putting Obama on the defensive. He can still win, but it's a lot harder for him now, and it doesn't have anything to do with forgetting states. He had to forget them.
Here's what I mean--when was the last time Obama was in Michigan or Iowa? He's forgotten them in the sense that they no longer need attention, and so he's doing more in North Carolina and Colorado and Virginia and Montana. McCain needed Florida to be that way for him, and it isn't, because Obama spread the field on him, which is why he's in the lead now. And hopefully, Florida will be one of the many states to reward that strategy on November 4.