The presidential election has grown closer since Mitt Romney and Barack Obama debated, with the Republican challenger inching ahead in several key swing states. Regardless of how the next three debates turn out, the incumbents’ biggest problem is that the national temperament leans Republican as evidenced in the 2010 midterm elections, where Republican victories were both widespread and deep. The GOP not only captured the U.S. House of Representatives, it also scored big victories at the state level, wining 21 governorships and 13 statehouses.
Democrats believe the incumbents re-election victory over Romney will be about the same as it was in 2008, when the president beat John McCain by 9.5 million votes. The incumbent could win the popular vote. But he will have a difficult time winning the electoral vote because so many states are either solidly Republican or lean Republican. Romney can count on every Southern state except Virginia, which is a toss-up. The South includes two key states, North Carolina, with 15 electoral votes, and Florida, with 29. Obama, meanwhile, has a strong hold in the northeast and West Coast.
But Florida leans Republican. Here’s why.
In 2010, Floridians elected a Republican as U.S. Senator and a Republican governor, and they gave Republicans four additional members of Congress, a remarkable showing, considering that Obama barely won in 2008, while George Bush won in 2004.
GOP candidate Rick Scott became governor in 2010. In the U.S. Senate race, Florida voters elected Republican Marco Rubio, a Cuban American rising star in the GOP. Four of the five U.S. House races were won by Republicans: Richard Nugent (District 5), Gus Bilirakis (District 9), Bill Young (District 10), and Dennis Ross (District 12).
Statewide, the GOP also captured several key offices, including the election of Pam Bondi as Attorney General. GOP candidate Jeff Atwater was voted the state’s chief financial officer. And Adam Putman was elected agricultural commissioner. In the state legislature, Republicans crushed Democrats by a margin of 13 to 2.
Clearly, the Sunshine State is a must-win for both the GOP and the Democrats. In foreclosure-afflicted Florida, where overbuilding fueled the boom and bust, nearly every real estate market has lost 50 percent or more in home value. The state’s 8.8 percent unemployment rate, which exceeded the national average of 7.8 percent, has pushed 46 percent of homeowners underwater, meaning they owe more money on their mortgage than what their home is worth, and many homeowners are facing short sales or foreclosure. And you can bet that housing will be a huge component to winning Florida.
While foreclosure starts are down 29 percent in Miami-Dade County, compared to 2008, average sales prices in Miami-Dade are off by $117,321, falling from $406,826 in 2008 to $289,505 in 2012, according to RealtyTrac. Orlando saw a similar trend, with foreclosure starts down 54 percent in Orange County, Fla., while sales prices declined in the last four years, tumbling from $281,154 in 2008 to $154,499 in 2012.
Neither candidate is out of the race. Either one can win. The big question revolves around turnout. How many people who voted for Obama in 2008 are going to stay with him in 2012?
So, incumbents beware: Florida voters are angry — about housing, about the economy, about the status quo — and career politicians are in their cross hairs. Just look to what happened in 2010 for proof.