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Analysis: Gore Can't Win Without Florida

Wednesday, 01 November 2000 12:00 AM

Because the arithmetic of the Electoral College suggests that he likely cannot win the White House without winning Florida.

There are a handful of states that have been called battleground states or swing states in this election because they are too close to call. In daily polls, these states move from the "undecided" column to the column of one of the candidates – and they frequently move back.

But on election night, there will be no undecided states. Any state not in Gore's column will be in Bush's column, so losing Florida is actually a 50-point swing in the race to the magic number of 270 electoral votes – 25 electoral votes for one candidate and 25 votes that the other candidate can no longer get.

And here's why that matters. If you take a mix of common wisdom, polling data and sheer guesswork, it is possible to assign most of the states to one side or the other. Here is a plausible distribution of electoral votes based on current standings in the race:

Gore has a tenuous lead in Pennsylvania, so for the purposes of this exercise, give him those 23 votes as well. Total: 201. His lead in Michigan is even more tenuous, but here we will assume he wins the Motor City by enough votes to carry the state – another 18 votes. Total: 219.

Gore this week stopped running ads in Ohio, so assume Bush has a lock on those 21 votes. Total: 224. Bush leads in West Virginia (5) and Arkansas (6) – let us wantonly declare those in his column. His total is 235.

Given this plausible division of electoral votes, if Bush takes Florida, he would have 260 votes, just 10 shy of the 270 needed to be elected – and that is assuming, remember, that Gore has won Pennsylvania and Michigan.

With Florida in Bush's column, Gore would have to win all but one of these states to win, which is a tall order. All of them are too close to call, though Bush holds narrow leads in several, and in Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon and Maine, Green Party nominee Ralph Nader is polling between 5 and 10 percent – votes that come more from Gore than Bush.

Nader argues that most of his voters would vote for neither Bush nor Gore, so he is not taking votes from either side, but most analysts figure Gore would have a safe lead in Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin if not for Nader.

On the other hand, if Gore takes Florida, his total would rise to 244, meaning he would need to gather only 26 votes from the toss-up states – a much more plausible task.

All of this math adds up to a simple do or die for Gore in Florida. If he wins here, he has a reasonable shot at the White House. If he loses here, his candidacy becomes a long shot.

Obviously, this math also assumes that Gore wins California, a state that once seemed a lock. But Gore's lead in the polls has shrunk to less than 10 points there, and the Bush campaign has launched a $2 million advertising campaign after the airwaves had been quiet for weeks.

Most analysts believe the group responsible for Gore's rise in Florida polls is the elderly and the issues are Social Security and Medicare.

"It's all Social Security all the time. When we get off the issues, Bush's attacks on character start to gain ground," said a Gore strategist.

A St. Petersburg Times poll earlier this month showed Gore with a 46 percent to 43 percent advantage but a 51 percent to 40 percent lead among likely voters 65 years old and older. Elders, who could account for as much as a third of the vote, were sharply divided over Bush's plan allowing workers to choose to divert part of their payroll taxes from Social Security into private retirement accounts.

The issue also resonates among the state's women, who in the St. Petersburg Times poll gave Gore a 10-point edge.

Bush's strength in Florida comes from men, including military retirees and post-baby boomers. They like Bush's tax reduction plan, his promise to reduce the role of government and his pledge to bring integrity back to the White House.

Geographically, Bush is comfortably ahead in the northern third of the state, where the old South and its conservative Democrats-turned-Republicans remain in place.

In south Florida from the Keys to Fort Lauderdale, a University of Miami poll Tuesday gave Gore a 53 percent to 35 percent advantage. It showed Cuban-Americans favoring Bush but Gore scoring heavily among elders and women.

Blacks are also in Gore's column, by an 8-1 margin statewide.

State Sen. Kendrick Meek, a black Democrat from Miami, expects minorities to turn out in big numbers.

"Minority voters have been placed in the center of this debate ... who's going to be president of the United States? I believe they're going to rise to the occasion," he said.

He said Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida program sharply drawing down racial preferences in state government and education would be a factor in bringing out the black vote.

Jeb Bush remains popular, however, with a 51 percent approval rating, but he hasn't seemed to be able to transmit his popularity to his brother. He has been criticized for a lack of effort, but he has hit the campaign trail hard in the last two weeks.

Jewish voters have always backed Gore, and Lieberman's selection as the vice presidential candidate appears to have little effect.

Hispanic voters ranked U.S.-Cuban relations as the most important, but overall the issue ranked near the bottom in importance for south Floridians, below education, the economy and health care. Cuban-Americans, many of whom defected to President Clinton four years ago, remain solidly behind Bush.

Both campaigns believe the state will swing on the vote along the 130-mile Interstate 4 corridor from Tampa to Orlando to Cocoa and Daytona Beach. That's where nearly all of the $2 million each candidate plans to spend in Florida between now and Election Day will go.

The corridor centers on Walt Disney World near Orlando. The area is booming, and housing developments are still popping up.

In the Orlando area, the population is up 11 percent in the last five years, and many of the newcomers are younger voters with weak party ties, unlike the retirees and snowbirds who have moved to central Florida in the past.

Florida has voted Republican in all but three presidential elections since 1952. One of the Democrat victories was Clinton's win in 1996.

The Republican dominance is a little surprising because there have always been more registered Democrats in the state than Republicans. Figures released Monday show there are 3.8 million registered Democrats to 3.4 million Republicans with 1.3 million registered with no party affiliation. However, Republicans control the state House and Senate.

Analysis by Paul Singer of UPI.

Copyright 2000 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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Because the arithmetic of the Electoral College suggests that he likely cannot win the White House without winning Florida. There are a handful of states that have been called battleground states or swing states in this election because they are too close to call. In...
Wednesday, 01 November 2000 12:00 AM
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