The answer to that question depends on several things. However a few things stand out as factors that could affect Florida's status in 2008 as a toss up state. First of all the Sunshine state is one that as been trending Republican. A simple look at partisanship within the state legislature over the last thirty plus years provides a clear illustration of this. Clear Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature gave way to Republican control in the mid-1990s. Following the elections in 2006, the GOP held an almost 2 to 1 advantage in both the Florida House and Senate (No wonder Democrats had no other recourse than to go along with the January 29 presidential primary that a GOP-controlled state government initiated.). The flip side of this is that voter registration in Florida during 2008 has favored Democrats by an advantage of over 6.5 to 1. Whether these two factors cancel each other out depends in large part on whether these newly registered Democrats actually become voters in November (and vote for Obama). Even if the newly registered don't turn out in high numbers, though, will GOP turnout be as depressed as their registration numbers have been? Neither issue is likely to be even close to determined until those 72 hour get-out-the-vote campaigns kick in as the calendar turns to November.
While we cannot definitively determine how each side will do on the turnout front in Florida, there are a couple of issues that the candidates will have to navigate there that will help us gain a glimpse into how close Florida may turn out to be. For McCain, if the Arizona senator continues to push offshore drilling as an answer to high gas prices. The latest Rasmussen poll out of the state (released yesterday) showed nearly 3/5ths of Floridians surveyed were in favor of drilling while only a third still favored keeping the ban in place. Despite that though, McCain has dropped in the Sunshine state of late at the very time when he is pushing his drilling plan the hardest. That may be coincidental because that downswing may have more to do with the issue that Obama must overcome in order to make Florida a true swing state.
On some level, Obama's trip abroad this week has sought to address his issue in Florida. The carefully managed trip through Israel and the West Bank when viewed through the lens of the Jewish American vote makes a lot of sense. Rev. Jeremiah Wright's anti-Israel comments have made some in the Jewish community wary of Obama. That is compounded by the fact that many of them (in Florida and elsewhere) supported Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Obama, then, is faced with having to woo a vital portion of the traditional Democratic coalition back into the fold. His ability to gain that segment's votes in Florida, thus keeping them from defecting to McCain or Nader, will have a lot to say in whether Florida will be close in November. I don't have access to the premium material on Rasmussen's site, but would be interested to see how the Jewish preferences came out in yesterday's poll that had Obama ahead in the Sunshine state.
Regardless, how these issues work out, they will help us to determine whether Florida will, in fact, be a toss up state in the general election.
The Deal with Those Rasmussen "Leaners"
The Electoral College Map (7/23/08)
The Electoral College Map (7/20/08)