Early voting kicked off in the hotly contested swing state of Florida this weekend. FRANCE 24 checked in at a local polling station to see who showed up, how people voted, and why.
With the race between US President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney as close as ever and Hurricane Sandy hurtling toward the Northeast, both candidates are making the most of limited time, urging their supporters to get to the polls – weather permitting – on November 6.
Population: 19 million
Senior citizens: 17.6%
2008 election: Obama 51%, McCain 48%
2004 election: Bush 52%, Kerry 47%
But climactic as Election Day may be, early voting, both by mail and in person, is already underway in most parts of the country. The 2008 election saw nearly a third of all ballots cast in advance, and that number is expected to be higher this year.
Of the states to kick off in-person voting in recent days, none is more highly coveted than Florida. With its whopping 29 electoral votes, the “Sunshine State” is the grand prize of all swing states – and essentially a must-win if Romney wants to make it to the White House (no Republican has got there without Florida since Calvin Coolidge in 1924).
Though much of the state is composed of medium-size urban centres, swathes of farmland, and towns lining the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico, Florida is most famous for its south-eastern tip: the cosmopolitan Miami and Miami Beach area, with its white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, diverse population, and cutting-edge art scene and nightlife.
President Obama garnered nearly 60% of the vote here in 2008.
Romney’s ‘solutions’, Obama’s ‘socialism’
On Sunday morning at the North Shore Library Branch polling station in North Beach, a residential, palm tree-lined neighbourhood with a calmer vibe than the rowdier and more touristy South Beach, the city’s left-leaning tendencies were on display; several people wore Obama/Biden pins and Democratic volunteers swarmed the parking lot to cheer on incoming voters.
But there was also evidence of the momentum Romney has gathered in the weeks since his assured first debate performance, as polls that showed Obama with a healthy lead just one month ago now tilt towards the Republican.
Pilar Somoza, a 51-year-old Cuban-American psychologist, considers herself a staunch Republican, but said she was particularly enthusiastic about Romney. “He’s very concerned about the deficit and keeping government small,” she explained as she left the polling station, walking past the growing line of voters outside. “When I see what’s happening in Europe, I don’t want a future like that for America. I grew up in Cuba; I know what socialism is, and Obama has a socialist philosophy.”
Florida’s Latinos are more conservative than the nation’s as a whole; the largest share of them are of Cuban origin and traditionally vote Republican. But the state’s Democratic-leaning Puerto Rican community is on the rise, and Florida now counts more Hispanic voters registered as Democrats than Republicans. Obama is hoping that that advantage will boost his chances.
Jewish voters are another key segment of Florida’s population, making up an estimated 6% of the state’s active electorate. Though Jews in Florida, much like Jews in America at large, vote heavily Democratic (roughly 75% chose Obama in 2008), Republicans have expressed confidence that some of that party loyalty will erode this year.
Al Lieber is a case in point. The 71-year-old professor of international business is a registered Democrat, but on Sunday, he cast his vote for Romney. Explaining that he was born in France and had to flee to Switzerland during World War II in order to escape deportation, Lieber specified that foreign policy was his biggest concern. “The Middle East situation and the Muslim situation is a big problem – there’s so much anger towards America in that part of the world,” he said. “Romney might have solutions. He has accomplished many things in his life, and I think he could unify the country.”
Lieber qualified Obama as a “big phoney” – though he added that the majority of Miami’s Jews disagreed and would vote for the president.
‘I have money, and I support Obama’
Obama is certainly not letting Florida go without a fight. He, like Romney, is running a ferocious get-out-the-vote operation, with over 100 field offices in the state. He has visited 15 times this year alone, and is scheduled to hold a rally in Orlando on Monday morning.
Many voters who emerged from the North Shore Library Branch polling station on Sunday were steadfast supporters of the president. Roger Ulbrich, a 48-year-old cameraman, voted for Obama because he feels the president’s handling of the economy has been sound. “Sure, the first four years could have been better, but I’m optimistic and I think he deserves a second term,” Ulbrich said.
Suzanne Trushin, a 47-year-old attorney accompanied by her teenage daughter, agreed wholeheartedly. “I voted for the president today because he’s leading the country in the right direction,” she offered firmly. “A lot of my Republican friends say I should be a Republican, because I have money. But I’m a Democrat, and I support Obama.”
Trushin admitted, however, that there are far fewer Obama-Biden signs on the lawns in her neighbourhood than in 2008.
As for her daughter, who is 17 and therefore one year shy of voting age, the choice is clear. “I would definitely vote for Obama if I could,” she said.
Date created : 2012-10-29