If you want to know who’s going to win the presidential election, forget the polls and just ask your grandma how her friends in Boca are going to vote. Between Joe Biden’s popularity with older folks and supporters of Israel and Sarah Palin’s (put mildly) lack of Jewish cred, Florida may be up for grabs. And if the state’s 27 electoral votes go Democratic, it will be nearly impossible for McCain and Palin to get to 270 nationwide.
After panhandle evangelicals gave George W. Bush an unexpectedly big win in Florida in 2004, the state tilted red, and once the Republicans nominated a senior citizen and the Democrats nominated a guy rumored on the Internet to be a Muslim, it was easy to imagine it staying that way. From January through May, 106,508 new voters registered Democratic in Florida, compared with just 16,686 who registered Republican, but the state hadn’t really been in the news all that much recently. John McCain focused more on Rust Belt states full of Clinton Democrats, while Barack Obama dreamed of flipping western states and Virginia.
Then Obama chose Joe Biden as his running mate. Maybe it’s just coincidence, but a Mason-Dixon poll conducted over the first two days of the Democratic convention put Obama ahead of McCain by a point in Florida, 45 to 44 percent, after McCain had held an average lead of about five points in previous polls. Statewide, just 19 percent of voters said Biden made them more likely to vote for Obama, but they may have been the right 19 percent for the Dems: Biden is particularly popular among older voters, who had been trending away from Obama.
And then McCain didn’t choose Charlie Crist, Florida’s governor, or Mitt Romney, by far the most popular V.P. candidate among Florida’s voters, as his running mate. He picked Sarah Palin, who, whatever her many other virtues, sat in a pew at the Wasilla Bible Church just two Sundays ago as her pastor introduced David Brickner, the founder of Jews for Jesus. (Sample Brickner: “The Jewish community, in particular, has a difficult time understanding this reality,” that Jesus and his disciples were Jewish.) Palin was also spotted wearing a Pat Buchanan button at a 1999 luncheon. Pat Buchanan! You learn something new nearly every time Buchanan opens his mouth on MSNBC, but the guy did just write a book arguing that Winston Churchill didn’t need to go to war against Adolf Hitler. So while the Alaska governor might play pretty well across most of America, South Florida in-boxes are filling with e-mails like this one from Obama spokesman Mark Bubriski: “Palin was a supporter of Pat Buchanan, a right-winger or as many Jews call him: a Nazi sympathizer.”
Meanwhile, Biden has been calling himself a zayde and telling Floridians they will soon be mishpocheh as he recounts how he took his sons to visit Dachau. On Labor Day, he told an audience in Deerfield Beach: “I give you my word as a Biden, I would not have given up [my] job to be Barack Obama’s vice-president if I didn’t in my gut and in my heart and in my head know that Barack Obama is exactly where I am on Israel.” If your grandma’s Boca buddies start absorbing this, Florida could well wind up in the driver’s seat this election.