As Florida Goes, So Goes the Nation

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George W. Bush goes to hug his brother Jeb at a recent campaign stop in Miami

"George doesn't have to win Florida to win the election."

An unrealistic analysis by an unknowing pundit?

No, it's a comment by Jeb Bush, Florida governor and little brother to George W. And it raises serious questions about Dubya's chances of winning the Sunshine State.

Bush ended what was a pretty good week last Saturday in his brother's state, visiting with seniors, Hispanics and loyal Republicans. Jeb and Jeb's son George P. Bush joined the governor for most of the trip. While Dubya's campaign has been dogged by three weeks of snafus and negative press, last week he got back on message, focusing on his Social Security plan and health care matters.

But many analysts think it's a bad sign that Bush is still campaigning in Florida in late September and plans to return a couple of times in October. This state has been leaning Republican for the past decade, and it's supposed to be Bush country.

Several leading Republicans feel Bush squandered his summer lead in Florida. They believe he should have spent money on advertising before the Republican convention, raising his numbers to a solid double-digit lead. Members of the Gore campaign admit that would have most likely forced them to write the state off and spend their campaign dollars in other, closer states.

But the Bush campaign let Gore outspend them on ads all summer, and Gore's post-convention bounce allowed him to pull even.

Jeb's statement that George can lose Florida and still win the nation is far-fetched, to say the least. The electoral math is strongly against that. Gore holds a two-to-one lead in California and New York, two of the big four electoral prizes. Texas is Bush country. But if Bush does not win Florida, with its 25 electoral votes, he will have to make a clean sweep of the battleground states in the Midwest to win. And if he's not winning over the moderate voters of Florida, he may not grab the moderate voters of Missouri or Pennsylvania.

So why would Jeb say such a thing? To lower expectations, for one thing. To avoid blame, for another. If Bush can gain a slight lead in the next few weeks, it's seen as a significant gain. And Jeb could be trying to rebut those anonymous Republicans claiming that he and his brother should have done things differently.

He is right about one thing. Florida was never a sure thing for Bush, no matter what optimists in the party thought. It's a moderate state with one Republican and one Democrat in the Senate. It contains an incredibly broad array of demographic groups, from conservative southerners to liberal Miamians, from Jews to Hispanics(not all of whom are Republican Cubans), from young families moving down for economic opportunities to seniors moving down for retirement.

It's as diverse as America, and thus, the perfect sunny battleground state.