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Election Diary: Adopting a Sunshine State of mind

The once monolithic Cuban vote in Florida is breaking apart. George Bush has made several mistakes over the past year - notably banning all travel by Cuban-Americans to the island - that have infuriated the community. Further, younger Cubans are ignoring their parents. Among Cubans born in the US, John Kerry enjoys a remarkable 2-to-1 lead.

The only trouble is that Kerry has done nothing to deserve it. His policy on Cuba has waved around like a palm tree in a Florida hurricane. The Democrats only got round to opening an office in Little Havana last month, and even then all their leaflets were in English.

According to a good source in the party, the Democrats will have 800 lawyers available in Florida to challenge any discrepancies on election day. But while the media clucked over Governor Jeb Bush's shiny new electronic voting machines, the Republicans have been discreetly pushing the case for absentee voters who use paper ballots rather than touchscreens.

About 70,000 people will vote by absentee ballot. As you can fill in the form at home, you used to need a witness to authorise your vote. But this summer the Republicans rammed a bill through the Florida legislature abolishing that safeguard. Now all you need to do is sign the ballot paper. Your signature is then compared to the one you gave when you first registered to vote at 18. Since your signature changes over time, this opens the door to all sorts of legal challenges. Even more alarmingly, people's absentee ballots can be collected by party workers.

And the Democrats are equally complicit in this. They didn't oppose the bill because they thought they could also benefit from the changes. As Lida Rodriguez-Tasseff of the Miami-Dade Electoral Reform Coalition says, "America is a democracy in spite of its voting system, not because of it."

During Friday night's debate in Miami the Democrats raised $3.8m (£2.2m) in 90 minutes, one Kerry aide told me. By the end, money was pouring into their website at the rate of $45,000 a minute.

What most of the donors probably didn't realise is that the money cannot be used by John Kerry - both candidates have now accepted federal funds and cannot make use of any more private cash. Oh well, there's always that long-shot congressional race in Oshkosh or Kissimmee.

The Democrats are predicting that the "flip-flop" depiction of Kerry has no more mileage left in it. Why so? Not because of his performance in the debate, but because the Republicans brought out a TV ad showing Kerry tacking this way and that on his windsurfer. "Once they started using humour to try to make the case, we knew the attack had run out of gas," said one Democrat. I wouldn't be so sure.

Tom Carver is the Washington correspondent for BBC2's 'Newsnight'