A cloudy outlook for Obama as spotlight hits the Sunshine State

 

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The noisy carnival that is every presidential race in Florida has started already on the corner of Route 1 and Oakland Park Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, the preferred spot for Barry Sheen to brandish assorted slogans at oncoming traffic. He has had "projectiles" hurled at him by drivers, he says, and 20 death threats so far.

"This is not Hyde Park Corner," he proclaims as he grabs one of his many hand-written placards and marches back and forth on the roadside with urgent agitation. He is not a fan of the incumbent. "Romney for president, Obama has failed," says one. "Barack? U Got some Splaning to do on LIBYA," declares another. A young man passing on his bicycle returns in kind: "God damn you and your liberation theology," he shouts.

Not everyone is as fanatical as Mr Sheen – he may or may not be giving his real name – who will continue to ply his political prejudices on this street corner from now until election day. But Florida as a whole is nonetheless fizzing with this race, not least because Boca Raton, about twenty minutes north of here, was the site of tonight's final debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, where the stakes for both men could hardly have been higher.

Probably, there will never be any budging Florida from the spotlight in election season. Candidates bombard it with love, not just because it is always so finely balanced between the two parties but also thanks to its outsized influence on election night. Florida offers a trove of 29 votes in the Electoral College, more than any other swing state. And who has forgotten the pandemonium of 2000 when the entire country was thrown into a constitutional crisis as election officials pored over thousands of punch-card ballots that hadn't in fact been punched properly, leaving so-called hanging and pregnant chads? In the end it took a ruling by the US Supreme Court to deliver Florida – and therefore the White House – to George W Bush. He was declared to have outpolled Al Gore in the state by a mere 537 votes.

What's coming this time? That the contest in Florida is looking slightly ominous for Mr Obama – a poll released at the weekend by Public Policy Polling (PPP) showed Mitt Romney ahead by one point in the state – is not lost on Michelle Waniewski, 43, a teacher at Florida Atlantic University who on yesterday evening stopped for an early supper at the Boca Diner in downtown Boca Raton with her husband, daughter and mother.

To her, Mr Romney is beyond the pale. She knows something about him because before moving to Florida seven years ago she lived in Massachusetts when he was governor there. "Been there, done that and I'm not doing it again," she says. "He changes his mind on everything. He is a flip-flopper. And I don't think he has any idea what it's like to be a real person, worried about where the next dollar is coming from."

The Florida contest "looks like it's going to be another nail-biter", predicts Kevin Wagner, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic. "The race is a statistical tie that's probably going to come down to turnout." Could it be so close that on election night we will again be held hostage to muddle and recounts in the Sunshine State?

Yes, it is possible. Those antiquated punch-card voting machines are long gone, but the potential for a hold up this time lies with new voting laws that may force Floridians who can't produce the right identification on voting day to fill in provisional ballots to be verified later. Too many of those and too tight a race could quickly lead to trouble.

"In a close election, all eyes are going to be on those provisional ballots, and those same canvassing boards that were looking at pregnant chads and hanging chads back in 2000," warns Daniel Smith, a politics teacher at the University of Florida. "It's a potential mess."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links