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A rebound from the recount: Obama wins Florida

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

MIAMI —  Barack Obama's win in Florida was a devastating hit for John McCain in the nation's largest presidential swing state, and a savory victory for Democrats still bitter about the disputed 2000 election.

Once thought fairly safe Republican territory, Obama put Florida's 27 electoral votes in play by far outspending and outstaffing his Republican opponent. That, combined with the financial mess on Wall Street, erased the lead McCain held for most of the year.

Key may have been millions of early voters who toughed out long lines, hoping to avoid problems in a state notorious for Election Day fiascoes. Nearly 40 percent of the state's 11.2 million voters cast early votes, and overall turnout was predicted to be at a historic high of 85 percent. Even as Obama was declared the winner, students at two colleges were waiting into the night to cast ballots.

"People were saying he was going to win, but you never know what will happen when you go behind that curtain," said law student Jaimee McDowell, 23, who is black. She was celebrating in Jacksonville.

Nearly 360,000 more early ballots were cast by registered Democrats than Republicans, and the Obama campaign took that as a good sign, as well as long lines where college students vote. Overall turnout was likely to be the highest since record keeping began in 1954.

Florida decided the 2000 race in a recount that gave the election to President Bush, but there was no such drama this time.

Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Florida since Bill Clinton in 1996, and only the second since Jimmy Carter in 1976. As it was in 2000 and 2004, its trove of electoral votes was key to both sides, and both McCain and Obama spent considerable time targeting a cross-section of voters that included Hispanics, Jews, moderate voters and the I-4 corridor, a fast-growing area that connects the east and west coasts through Central Florida.

McCain was hurt by the financial mess on Wall Street. His early advantage in the polls was lost and Obama was in a position to turn voters out with an organization stronger and more far reaching than Democrats had seen from past presidential candidates.

That showed in what influenced voters. Voters who believe the Iraq war, the economy and health care were the most important issue of the race favored Obama, according to exit poll figures. For those who thought the threat of terrorism was most important, McCain was the choice by a large margin. With more than 7.8 million votes counted, Obama had 50.9 percent and McCain had 48.4 percent.

In Florida's U.S. House races, two incumbents were toppled after scandals. Rep. Tim Mahoney, a Palm Beach Gardens Democrat, was unseated by Republican Tom Rooney after admitting to two affairs and paying one of the women off to keep the tryst a secret.

Democrat Suzanne Kosmas 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."

A constitutional amendment that would define marriage as solely between a man and a woman remained undecided early Wednesday. Supporters say it would preclude "activist" judges from allowing gay marriage. Opponents argue it is unnecessary because there is already a state law banning same-sex marriage.

___

Associated Press writers Stephen Wine, Curt Anderson, Ron Word and Adrian Sainz contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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