September 29, 2000
Margaret Warner reports on the presidential campaigns in the battleground state of Florida.
MARGARET WARNER: George W. Bush charged into Florida last weekend to rally his Republican troops for a fight he once thought he would never have to wage. At this Cuban-American rally in Coconut Grove, he boldly predicted he would win Florida.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me tell you what I know by looking at this crowd and seeing the enthusiasm. Vamos a ganar! [We will win].
MARGARET WARNER: But it won't be easy. Two polls earlier this month showed a dead heat in the race for Florida's 25 electoral votes -- the fourth biggest prize on election day.
REP. BOB WEXLER, (D) Florida: What everybody thought would be a blow away for George Bush because his brother, Jeb, is our governor, has turned out to be a toss-up. They are running scared in Florida because they know that if Gore-Lieberman win Florida, which they very well may, the election is in the Democratic bag.
MARGARET WARNER: Jim Kane, director of the Florida Voter Poll, agrees with Congressman Wexler. The stakes here are much higher for Bush than for rival Al Gore.
JIM KANE, Florida Voter Poll: You don't get to the White House without carrying Florida if you're a Republican. No Republican has gotten there since Calvin Coolidge, and that was a while ago. Democrats can win nationally without Florida, in fact, traditionally they have. But George W. Bush will not be in the White House in the year 2001 unless he wins this state.
MARGARET WARNER: So Bush is pouring money and personal time into this state -- resources his advisors had hoped to devote elsewhere this late in the campaign. How did Bush get into this fix? Florida, after all, has voted for a Democrat for president only twice in the past quarter century. One mistake, said St. Petersburg Times political editor Tim Nickens, was Bush's apparent assumption that Florida was his.
TIM NICKENS, St. Petersburg Times: I think they took it for granted for most of the summer. His brother is the governor, and they didn't feel like they were going to have to do a lot of work to win the thing. And I think they also thought that the vice president was going to write it off and maybe make a little head fake to come in and run a little bit and give it up.
|Bush forces miscalculated|
AD SPOKESMAN: The issue, a real patients' bill of rights.
MARGARET WARNER: So even when the Democratic National Committee began airing ads in June, the Bush forces didn't believe Gore was serious about the state. Orange County Republican Chairman Mel Martinez concedes the Bush forces miscalculated.
MEL MARTINEZ, Orange County GOP Chairman: This state was looking so good that we really thought this was not going to be an area when there was going to be the kind of the heavy campaigning we are now doing.
MARGARET WARNER: What's more, Jeb Bush did very little campaigning for his brother.
TIM NICKENS: The perception among even some Republicans in this area is, where is Jeb? Where has he been?
MARGARET WARNER: State Republican chairman Al Cardenas said Jeb Bush's low profile is deliberate because otherwise the media tended to compare the two brothers.
AL CARDENAS: I wish that wasn't the case. Jeb Bush is a great spokesperson and a wonderful asset for his brother, but we don't want to have these comparisons being played. We want people to vote for George W. Bush for who he is.
MARGARET WARNER: Only after Gore chose Joe Lieberman as his running mate and recast his own image at his convention did the Republicans begin pumping money into Florida with a flurry of ads touting Bush.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (in ad): And the right way to make America better for everyone is to be bold and decisive.
MARGARET WARNER: But with Gore still surging, Bush's advertising turned tougher two weeks ago, taking aim at Gore.
AD SPOKESMAN: Gore's plan: When seniors turn 64, they must join a drug HMO selected by Washington or they're on their own. Bush's plan: Seniors choose and it covers all catastrophic health care costs.
AL CARDENAS: We had a great idea that this vision had taken hold in America and all we have to do sell our vision and we would be just fine. We just found out three weeks later that it is a full contact sport.
MARGARET WARNER: Bush stepped up his visits, too, his brother more often at his side. And recently has hardened his message as well.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: My opponent says he's going to make sure the right people, his words, get tax relief. Imagine the mentality of somebody seeking the presidency who is saying vote for me, I get to determine who the right people are and who the wrong people are.
MARGARET WARNER: But more than tactics put Florida in play. So did demographic changes that cut both ways politically. Retirees remain an important part of the Florida picture. Less than a quarter of the state's population, they're expected to account for more than a third of the November vote. Many retirees along the Atlantic Coast still fit the Florida stereotype: Emigrees from the Northeast, they tend to be Jewish, liberal and over 70.
AMADEO TRINCHITELLA, Democratic Party Activist: Remember to come out to vote on election day.
WOMAN: Who do we vote for?
AMADEO TRINCHITELLA: You know who to vote for.
MARGARET WARNER: Amadeo Trinchitella is the so-called condo commander of Century Village Retirement Community in Deerfield Beach. This summer he said he had a hard time getting its 17,000 residents fired up about Gore's candidacy... but no longer.
AMADEO TRINCHITELLA: I get the vote out, but I know they're going to vote for Gore all the way down the line, Gore and Lieberman. Now with Lieberman on the ticket, they're even more energized.
MARGARET WARNER: But the senior electorate is changing, thanks to more recent arrivals on the Gulf Coast. Transplanted Midwesterners, they tend to be younger, many in their late 50s and 60s. And pollsters find them more Republican and more comfortable with Bush's market approaches to Social Security and Medicare. Bush is wooing seniors like James Archey and Ava Burns who live in the Top of the World Retirement Community in Clearwater.
JAMES ARCHEY, Retiree: I can understand Bush better. I can appreciate his thoughts better. I believe that the programs he's got outlined will benefit the seniors more than what Gore has.
AVA BURNS, Retiree: I like his issues, and the fact that he's for the children and education. To me that is top priority. Our children have got to have good education. They're our future -- my grandchildren's future.
|Prescription drug plan|
MARGARET WARNER: On a recent visit to Top of the World, Bush offered a general outline of his prescription drug plan.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: We need to have a variety of plans available for seniors from which to tailor make your own... to meet your needs. That's what this government needs to do, as opposed to having a failed HMO called the federal government try to continue to manage your program for you.
MARGARET WARNER: Gore, by contrast, laid out a detailed plan in St. Petersburg Monday to cover prescription drugs under a retooled Medicare.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I will fight for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors under Medicare. I will eliminate most co-payments and deductibles for important screening tests. And hear me well. It's time for this provision: Let's allow people between the ages of 55 and 65 to buy into Medicare.
MARGARET WARNER: Pollster Jim Kane thinks the specificity is working for Gore.
JIM KANE: Seniors pay attention. They read newspapers. They watch the TV shows. They look at the differences in policies. Substance does matter, what your policies are matter to them. Younger voters, you know, they're looking at more image rather than substance. Seniors really do look at the details. They have time to do it. And it affects them directly. It affects them where it counts, which is usually in their pocketbooks.
MARGARET WARNER: That describes people like 65-year-old architect Sanford Goldman and his wife Anne, a former newspaper editor who came to hear Gore in St. Petersburg.
ANNE GOLDMAN: I feel more comfortable with specifics. I feel more sure... I mean the older you get, you will find out that the more specifics you want, I think.
MARGARET WARNER: Why is that?
ANNE GOLDMAN: I think it gives you a sense of security. I don't want my kids to have to pay for our drugs. And I like hearing specifics because I think it shows that they... his people, have really given some thought to this. It's not just whimsy.
MARGARET WARNER: Gore's emphasis on specifics also fuels some older voters' perception that the vice president is better prepared for the job.
SANFORD GOLDMAN: I think George Bush is a wonderful cheerleader, and would be a great fraternity president. But now we're talking about President of the United States, and I think there's so much more involved and so much knowledge. I think maybe that we're spoiled because of Bill Clinton and his knowledge of world events and world leaders.
MARGARET WARNER: An even bigger target for both campaigns are younger voters who have moved into central Florida -- attracted by a high-tech generated boom along the I-4 corridor from Tampa/St. Petersburg, to Orlando and Daytona. Unlike those living in more settled regions of the state, the socially conservative Republican north and the heavily Democratic south, or among its older communities, the predominantly Republican Cubans or primarily Democratic African-Americans, these central Florida newcomers are politically unpredictable. Polls show Bush is making headway with many of them, particularly on education. Rylee Woodall likes his modified voucher plan, so similar to the one his brother put in place in Florida. With her family living on $30,000 a year, she likes his tax cut, too.
RYLEE WOODALL, homemaker: I could use those dollars. It really is critical -- $10, $20, $100. That's meaningful to a family at our income level. It really is.
MARGARET WARNER: Gore is wooing that same group of voters with targeted tax cuts for childcare and college tuition and warning that Bush's much larger $1.3 trillion cut could undo the nation's prosperity. Karl Koch is a senior adviser to Gore's campaign.
KARL KOCH: The Bush campaign tends to fall back on tax credits and tax breaks and military policy. We don't think those are issues in the 21st century that's going to connect with the average working family anymore.
MARGARET WARNER: Ultimately, the race will come down to Florida's still undecided voters; the majority of them women who haven't focused yet on the campaign. Ellen Brayton works at home as a customer financing advisor for IBM, so she can take care of her two children.
ELLEN BRAYTON: Initially I was a little nervous about Gore and whether he was honest and truthful. He sort of came across as somewhat of a mannequin, but once I saw him in the convention he has given himself more of a personality and that he is true to what he is saying.
MARGARET WARNER: But she likes Bush, too.
ELLEN BRAYTON: He seems to be doing a really good job in Texas, so you would hope that he can take that to Washington, D.C., and do so for the entire United States.
MARGARET WARNER: Education will determine her vote, and she's waiting for the debates to decide. So is sales rep Wayne Thompson. He wants to know who will do more to help his aging parents pay for prescription drugs. But the candidates' ads haven't helped him at all.
WAYNE THOMPSON: Last night I was watching television, and both candidates consecutively ran ads addressing this very same thing -- both of them almost completely inverse opinions of each other, contradicting, the pot calling the kettle black, so to speak. So I don't really know who stands for what at this time.
MARGARET WARNER: Also in a quandary are painting contractor Joel Ortiz and his wife, Susan, both registered Republicans.
SUSAN ORTIZ: My core values are with the Republican Party but I've had a hard time. I think, there's been a few ways that Bush has maybe handled himself a little bit that made me a little unsure if he is really going to be a good president.
MARGARET WARNER: But she's uncomfortable with Gore, too.
SUSAN ORTIZ: I feel bad that he had that association with Clinton because I think President Clinton just did not present himself well as a president, and say good things to our children the way he acted in the office.
MARGARET WARNER: Bush's tax cut doesn't interest them. They want to know who will help them pay for their children's health care.
JOEL ORTIZ: Right now I'm waiting for the debates. More things I'm concerned about is my kids' health and school, education.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: God bless America.
MARGARET WARNER: With Bush working Florida so hard, he may yet carry the state. But it will cost him -- so far, more than double what Gore has spent. And that, say Democrats, may be victory enough for them.
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