Obama wins Florida en route to White House

TAMPA -- Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama won Florida Tuesday night, his edges in staffing and campaign money proving too high a hurdle for Republican John McCain to overcome.

Obama prevailed by running strong in the pivotal counties along the Interstate 4 corridor from here to Orlando, home to 43% of the state's electorate; by doing well with Latino voters, particularly Puerto Ricans in Osceola County; and by turning out young and African-American voters.

"They were able to improve on the (2004) John Kerry vote in the I-4 corridor in just about every county," said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida.

Obama also compiled larger margins of victory in reliably Democratic counties such as Miami-Dade, Monroe and Broward. "I cannot overstate the importance of having the money to come in here and get people registered," MacManus said.

She said that Obama also out-spent McCain significantly in television advertising and that that made the difference. "The people that made up their minds late broke toward McCain, and that's because he only had money to put some decent ads late in the campaign."

Obama's win capped an Election Day that saw high voter turnout across Florida eight years after the 2000 election deadlocked here for 36 days between Bush and Democrat Al Gore amid faulty voting machines and legal challenges.

Floridians saw long lines at many precincts, including waits of three hours at the University of South Florida here and the University of Central Florida in Orlando. "We'd characterize the turnout between medium and heavy," Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning said.

About 4.3 million people cast votes during early voting and absentee balloting; Democrats outnumbered Republicans by almost 360,000 among those voters, but it was unknown how they voted.

McCain had treated Florida as an all-but-must-win state in his bid for the White House.

Political analysts had said that another important region in Florida was the Panhandle, an area where Republicans normally win but where Obama poured resources. Obama didn't do as well in those counties as Kerry in 2004.

Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, said a key moment in the campaign came in September when polls showed McCain leading by 5%-6%.

"Then we had the big financial collapse on Wall Street," Jewett said. "The defining moment was when the president went on TV and said that he, the Treasury secretary and the Fed chairman all agreed that we needed this bailout. Every day for about two weeks after that, McCain lost a half a point."

Outspent heavily by Obama, McCain was often off the air here while Obama ran ads touting his tax and health care plans — a message that resonated in a state that has more joblessness and home foreclosures than the national average, Jewett said.

Some voters cited the economy as a primary concern. Allen Duesing, 58, a salesman and independent, voted for Obama. "Being 58, I'm concerned about the stock market and my 401(k) and home values," he said.

Audrey Johnson, 78, a retail cashier, trusted McCain: "We're more comfortable with McCain to handle the economy."


• Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney lost his re-election bid following adultery scandal.

Republican challenger Tom Rooney, a lawyer and former Army officer, had trailed early in the campaign until news broke last month about Mahoney's affairs.

Rooney quickly gained ground and handily won Tuesday night to replace Mahoney representing District 16, covering parts of eight counties from Palm Beach County across the state to the Gulf. The district traditionally leans slightly Republican.

Mahoney acknowledged two affairs. He also says he paid one woman to keep quiet about their tryst. Mahoney won in 2006 on a family values platform, replacing Republican Mark Foley, who resigned after sending lurid Internet messages to male former Capitol Hill pages.

• Democrat Suzanne Kosmas has defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, who was dogged by ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Feeney's link with Abramoff and his acceptance of free golf trip to Scotland became a central issue of the campaign. In a television ad, Feeney said he made "a rookie mistake."

With 77% of the expected vote counted, Kosmas has 58% and Feeney had 41%.

"Churchill said the difference between war and politics is in politics you can get killed more than once," Feeney said. "I've been buried more than once, and I've come back."

The central Florida district includes areas of Brevard, Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties, including Daytona International Speedway and the Kennedy Space Center.

• Vern Buchanan has again beaten Christine Jennings in the District 13 congressional race.

With 92% of the expected vote counted, Republican incumbent Buchanan had 55% while Democratic Jennings had 38%.

Buchanan won the seat by a mere 369 votes in 2006, and Jennings spent more than a year challenging the legality of the election.

There were 18,000 undervotes in that race, and Jennings sued unsuccessfully to try to overturn the results. She was convinced that the ATM-style touch-screen voting machines had malfunctioned, but a congressional investigation failed to find any problems with the machines.

• Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Ric Keller was denied a fifth term in Congress by Democrat Alan Grayson after a contentious battle in District 8.

With nearly all the votes counted Tuesday, Grayson had 52% to nearly 48% for Keller. Turout was heavy in this central Florida district, which was considered key in the Democratic bid to add to their House majority.

An increase in Hispanic voter registration in the district boosted Grayson in what has long been a Republican stronghold.

Keller portrayed Grayson as being an ultraliberal whose personal assets guaranteed he could survive his proposed aggressive tax plan. Grayson linked Keller to GOP presidential candidate John McCain's statement that Congress was ineffective.


• A Florida constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage was narrowly approved, and another that would give a property tax break to the state's maritime industry has passed.

• Amendment 2 defines marriage as between a man and a woman. With 99% of the expected vote counted, the amendment had 62% support — just above the 60% needed for passage. Supporters say it precludes "activist" judges from allowing gay marriage. Opponents argue it is unnecessary because there is already a state law banning same-sex marriage and its vague wording would create unintended consequences for gay and straight couples who are part of civil unions.

It was the only citizen-sponsored amendment on the ballot — the others were placed by the Legislature and a tax commission.

All amendments must get 60% to pass.

• Amendment 1, which would have repealed a 1926 amendment that allowed the Legislature to ban "aliens ineligible for citizenship" from buying and owning real estate, was soundly defeated. The 1926 provision, which aimed to ban Asian immigrants from owning property, is unconstitutional and was never implemented, but Amendment 1 supporters believe the words are racist and should be removed from the constitution. Some state lawmakers who oppose Amendment 1 believed the law could be used to prevent foreign terrorist groups from buying real estate. With 98% of the expected vote counted, the amendment had 47.9% support.

• Amendment 3, which would make home improvements that provide renewable energy or protect against hurricane damage exempt from the home's assessed value, was too close to call. With 98% of the expected vote counted, the amendment had 60.5% support.

• Amendment 4, which would create conservation as a new land-use classification, giving conserved property a lower tax assessment similar to that of agricultural land, was approved. Legislators would decide how long property must remain undeveloped to meet the criteria for the conservation classification. The amendment eliminates property taxes on lands placed in a perpetual conservation easement, which would prohibit future development on the land because the classification remains even if the land is sold. With 98% of the expected vote counted, it had 68.3% support.

• Amendment 6, which would change the way marinas are taxed, was approved. They would be assessed based on their current use rather than any potential uses, like a hotel or resort. With 98% of the expected vote counted, the amendment had 70.5% support.

• Amendment 8, which would have authorized counties to ask voters if they want to increase the sales tax for up to five years to aid the local community college, was defeated. With 98% of the expected vote counted, the amendment had 43.5% support.

Contributing: Associated Press