Lieberman effect puts Florida within Gore's grasp

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The Independent US

There are lots of reasons why the women of the Sunrise Jewish Community Center would not dream of voting for George W Bush next week. But for Sylvia Jacobs, who turned 80 on Friday, it comes down to him being a "sneaky, snotty-nosed boy - a spoiled kid".

There are lots of reasons why the women of the Sunrise Jewish Community Center would not dream of voting for George W Bush next week. But for Sylvia Jacobs, who turned 80 on Friday, it comes down to him being a "sneaky, snotty-nosed boy - a spoiled kid".

It is Saturday night and word is out that their weekly variety show, which is about to start, will feature a gorgeous magician - tall, blond and young (which could just mean under 60). But nothing gets Ms Jacobs and her friends going like talk about the election.

"I can't understand why anyone would vote for Bush on the issue of abortion alone," exclaims Ethel Gerber, 77. "I remember when the girls had to go to Harlem and they did it on kitchen tables. Do you know how many died? Do you know? I don't want them to start that again. That is what would happen with Bush."

These are the granny troopers for the Vice-President, Al Gore, in southern Florida. They may be frail but they are also formidable. In the synagogues, the retirement homes and the bingo halls, senior citizens, especially women, share a common cause - to deny Mr Bush the state of Florida next week.

If they do it, Mr Gore will owe each of them a very big hug. (Even if they would rather hug the magician.) Largely because of them, Florida is now very much in play. A new poll by the Zogby organisation showed the Vice-President leading Mr Bush by five percentage points, just inside the margin of error.

And Florida alone may be enough to propel Mr Gore into the White House. The same poll saw him trailing in his own state of Tennessee and also in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state. But because of the system of electoral college votes, with a set number on offer in each state, depending on its size, Florida could be his salvation. At stake here are 25 of the 270 college votes needed to win - the fourth largest of any state.

It is no wonder that Florida is being courted ferociously by both candidates. Mr Bush was barnstorming in central Florida last week, accusing Mr Gore of playing scare tactics on his plan for sustaining the funding for national insurance. Aides for Mr Gore say he will be back in the state this week.

The prospect of Mr Gore winning here is startling. The wisdom used to be that it would be an easy catch for Mr Bush. His brother, Jeb Bush, is governor and large swaths of the state to the north are staunchly Republican, while its middle section is finely balanced. Here in the south, however, it is a different story. The territory is Mr Gore's. It is also Joe Lieberman's, the Vice-President's running mate. Mention his name in the community centre, which serves the heavily Jewish suburb of Sunrise, just outside Fort Lauderdale, and cheeks flush with pride. "When I heard that Gore and Lieberman were going to run together, well, it just made me so happy," says Ida Finkelstein, 89.

In an election this close, every tiny factor assumes an outsize significance. So it is with the expected Lieberman-effect in Florida, where Jews make up 6 per cent of the voting public. It is magnified here in Broward County, however, where they account for between 20 and 25 per cent of likely voters.

"The Jews always vote Jewish if they can," explains Milton Shaffner, one of the few men at the magic show, whose job it is to get the women warmed up with a sing-song in the small temple next to the centre's auditorium. "But this year they have a special reason to vote Jewish - Lieberman. He will get out the Jewish vote."

At the Seminole Casino and Bingo Hall in the nearby two of Hollywood, Toni Greenspan, 71, happily takes a break from playing the slots to applaud the Gore-Lieberman ticket. From the Czech Republic, she is also Jewish but that, she says, is not important. "My brother is Jewish but that doesn't mean I always like him." She will vote for Mr Gore because she trusts his plan to subsidise prescription medicines for seniors. Mr Bush also has a plan but she doesn't believe in it. "He is never going to keep his promises," she warns.

Up and down the chiming rows of slots, gamblers - men and women, Jews and non-Jews - offer the same story. Finally, a Republican speaks up. "All we've had from the Democrats is a bunch of lies," spat Leonard Rasner, who will be taking his winnings on the slots to play poker at the tables. Mr Rasner admits, however, that in these parts he had better keep his voice down. Or move a few hundred miles to the north.

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