Monday, November 3, 2008

Bardach: If Obama Wins

Florida: Ann Louise Bardach

As the final countdown begins, Team Obama has Florida’s 27 electoral votes in its crosshairs. To that end, Bill Clinton rallied the troops with Obama at a massive rally in Orlando on Wednesday night, and Al Gore was there on Friday. Democrats have learned the hard way that nothing can be taken for granted in The Sunshine State and have 350 paid staff statewide that have registered about 700,000 more voters than Republicans. In Miami-Dade County alone, the Obama campaign has 11 field offices.

Early voting began on October 20 and has been unusually heavy, with many waiting four hours on line. Whatever the outcome on November 4, the fate of the 48-year-old U.S. Embargo on Cuba and American policy toward Latin America will also be decided. The fight for Florida is being waged largely in a parallel universe, a good deal of it via Spanish-language media. It has long been an article of faith that a Democrat needed 35% of the Cuban vote to take Florida.

Should Obama carry Florida, restrictions on travel to Cuba and remittances for Cuban-Americans will likely end immediately. Soon after, diplomatic relations will likely be restored. He faces a steep climb in Cuban Miami, but has made headway and he is now leading in Florida by 3 to 4 points.

In the over-caffeinated precincts of Dade County, conspiracy perfumes the air. More than one Obama staffer told me Republican operatives are directing phone banks to urge folks to call the powerful Spanish-language radio talk shows to accuse Obama of being a “comunista” and a “marxista.”

One popular target among callers is Obama’s background as a “community organizer,” which has been likened to that of running a CDR [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution], neighborhood watch groups in Cuba renowned for their snitching. Joe Centorino of the State Attorney office said he was not surprised to hear of such doings in Dade, but responds, “What is the crime here? Remember that not all dirty tricks are illegal.”

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