Hurricanes Change Florida Politics

Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne have been getting a lot more attention in Florida than George or John. The presidential race has taken a backseat in the hurricane-ravaged state.

"We have no TV. No electricity. So it's hard to stay on top of it," said Miami resident Sammy Masur.

The effects of the storms are driving the political world nuts. No legitimate polling can be done until things settle down and electricity is restored, which means there's no way to know which way the political wind is blowing.

President Bush, in the role of "Comforter-in-Chief," has visited the state frequently; as well he should, since most of the damage has been to heavily Republican areas.

"One of the questions pollsters always ask: 'Does this person care about people like you?' Well, how better to show that?" said Tom Fiedler, editor of The Miami Herald.

Motivated, in part, by lingering anger over losing the 2000 presidential election, Democrats have mobilized. About 2,000 voting rights attorneys, 46,000 volunteers and 5,500 precinct captains are all working to turn Florida blue.

"We are taking extraordinary efforts to make sure that everyone who is eligible to vote can vote and that their votes are counted," said Tom Shea, Kerry's campaign manager in Florida.

That has never been as easy as it sounds.

Florida's butterfly ballot is gone, but new touch-screen voting machines in 15 out of the state's 67 counties have had vote-tally glitches. As a result, Democrats are on edge, as is Glenda Hood — Florida's secretary of state and top elections officer. Hood was handpicked for the job by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother.

Though she stoutly denies it, Democrats say Hood has been interpreting election laws to benefit the Republican ticket, just as they claim her predecessor, Katherine Harris, did four years ago.

But the past is past. Florida has changed a lot in four years, with nearly a million more registered voters here than in 2000.

Most Floridians doubt a repeat of the 2000 Florida election fiasco. That's as unlikely as four hurricanes hitting the same state in just six weeks.