Florida's Race Embodies a Polarized Electorate

PHOTO: Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to a crowd in Osceola, Fla., with Senator Marco Rubio during a rally in swing county where Latinos carry significant sway.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- President Barack Obama pulled off a victory last night even without one of the states everybody was watching: Florida. With 29 electoral votes up for grabs, winning Florida appeared to be an essential element of Mitt Romney's path to the White House. But even if he wins the nation's largest swing state, he will have fallen well short of 270 electoral votes.

ABC News does not yet have enough information to project a winner. But with all precincts reporting, Obama leads Romney by more than 46,000 votes out of 8.3 million overall votes.

So what happened in the swing state that Romney thought he had in the bag? He likely underestimated the Latino vote.

According to exit polls, Obama won 60 percent of the Latino vote in Florida yesterday up from 57 percent in 2008 and 44 percent for John Kerry in 2004. According to separate polling from Latino Decisions Tuesday, nearly one in five voters in Florida was Latino, and 63 percent of those polled said that Romney either "doesn't care much" or is "hostile toward" the Latino community. Nationally, Obama beat Romney by a 71-27 percent margin with Latino voters, according to the national exit polls.

"Estamos bien, estamos bien, votando por Obama, estamos bien," a group of Puerto Rican voters sang on Tuesday afternoon, 100 feet outside a polling station in the swing county of Osceola, Florida. ["We are good, we are good, voting for Obama, we are good."] As one woman salsa-danced in place, a young man banged a hand drum to keep the rhythm.

"You don't see that at every polling place," commented Osceola resident, Juan Figueroa.

In the mostly-Puerto Rican neighborhood of Buenaventura Lakes, the mood was cheerful on Tuesday. Many wanted to talk about the changing electorate and power of the growing Latino vote. More than 80 percent of the votes cast at that precinct were for Obama, according to Osceola's tallies.

"I'm seeing an enormous excitement to vote here. It's unprecedented. It's just anecdotal at this point, of course, but I'm curious to see how this will have an effect on Florida," said Osceola commissioner, Democrat John Quiñones, who was elected to represent Buenaventura Lakes.

Indeed, more Latinos turned out to vote than local leaders had expected.

"They showed up, just look at those numbers for the Democrats -- it can only be the Hispanic vote," said Latino leader in Osceola, Guillermo Hansen, as he watched vote counts being tallied at the local county supervisor of elections office on Tuesday night.

Osceola is the biggest swing county in the I-4 corridor of Florida, which helped Obama secure his 2008 victory. It gave 53 percent of its vote to Bush in 2004, but gave 62 percent of its vote to Obama yesterday -- two percentage points more than in 2008. Much of this change can be attributed to the growing Puerto Rican and Nuyorican community in the area, which is now more than half Hispanic. And according to Latino Decisions polling in the I-4 corridor on Tuesday, 78 percent of Latino voters cast their ballots for President Obama.

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