A Tight Race in Florida

If there’s any state that’s key to Mitt Romney’s strategy, it’s Florida. You can imagine a GOP win without Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, or other traditionally Republican-leaning states—but Florida has 27 electoral votes, nearly twice as many as the other swing states, and without them, Republicans can’t score an Electoral College victory.

At the beginning of this year, Florida looked like a sure thing for the Republican side. Demographically, the Sunshine State favors GOP candidates. In 2008, an excellent year for Democrats, 49 percent of Florida voters were above the age of 50, and 71 percent were white. Among whites, Obama lost every single age group by double digits; his best performance was among whites ages 18 to 29, whom he lost by 10 points. He lost by 12.5 among whites over the age of 45, and 22 points for whites 30 to 44. In a close election, it seemed clear that Republicans would win Florida, and early polls bore that out.

Over the last two months, however, the outlook for Obama has improved to the point where he now holds a small, consistent lead over the former Massachusetts governor:

This is backed up by the latest survey from Public Policy Polling. In it, Obama leads Romney by a one-point margin, 48 percent to 47 percent. Voters disapprove of Obama’s performance, but not by much—he earns 47 percent approval and 50 percent disapproval. Romney’s favorability is a near-match for Obama’s approval; 46 percent have a favorable view of the Republican nominee, compared to 49 percent who are a bit less generous.

Both candidates are performing equally well among their respective bases. Eighty-four percent of Democrats support Obama and 83 percent of Republicans are committed to Romney. Obama wins women (51 percent to 44 percent), Latinos (61 percent to 34 percent), young voters (58 percent to 35 percent), and African Americans (83 percent to 13 percent). Romney, on the other hand, holds a 47–40 lead among independents, a 50–45 lead among men, a 56–39 lead among whites, and a 52–44 lead among seniors.

There are two ways that Florida can break. Romney could consolidate white voters and independents, which would push him over 50 percent. Or Obama could win African American voters, and improve his performance among women, which would have the same effect. Of the two, I’m inclined to think that the latter is more likely: To decisively win white voters, Romney needs to over-perform among working-class whites, and with the constant attacks on Bain Capital and his tax returns, that looks less likely than ever.

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