MIAMI – Again Florida.
The largest swing state in the US has two epic competitions for Governor and US Senate on Tuesday, as well as several races that could help determine who controls the US House. As usual, they are critical of the national hopes of Democrats and Republicans. And, as usual, most are too close to call in a state with a rapidly changing population that somehow manages to produce Cliffhanger every other November.
Voters this year will be moved by the same issues that make others think elsewhere – including health care and immigration – but they're also motivated by a year of natural and man-made disasters in Florida.
The last came on Friday, when a man with a story of misogynist and racist material had stormed into a yoga studio in Tallahassee, allegedly shooting two women and injuring others before he killed himself. Two weeks after the arrest of Cesar Sayoc, a former stripper living in a van in Broward County, the authorities have accused the authorities of sending tube bombs to people and organizations criticized by President Trump. And many are still dealing with the aftermath of the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February, which killed 17 students and staff.
"There is something about the bathroom with 18 first-years crying. And you tell them we have to be quiet because we need to practice in case a bad guy comes to school with a gun, "said Deanna Ferello, 27, a teacher in Davie, not far from Parkland.
She spoke at a Democratic Party rally in Miami on Friday with headline news from former President Barack Obama. She said, during a recent drilling, a child said he thought he heard someone coming. She had to reassure him: no one is there. That's just practice.
"It's awful," she said.
In the panhandle, where Trump held a rally on Saturday, residents are still recovering from Hurricane Michael, who devastated coastal communities and a military base. In the middle of the state, thousands of Puerto Rican people – possibly new voters – have devastated their island since Hurricane Maria last year. On both coasts the harmful and poisonous red algae bloomed while green algae have stifled the inland waters.
What voters will decide on this stew of issues and events will have significant consequences on Tuesday and for the 2020 presidential election.
If the Democrats hope to regain control of the Senate, they will likely need Sen. Bill Nelson to stand up to a strong challenge from Republican Governor Rick Scott in his place. Surveys have shown that Nelson has a small edge.
The race for Scott replaces Republican Ron DeSantis, a handpicked Trump candidate who would give the president a powerful ally in Florida against the mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, a progressive African-American who would become a Democratic favorite if he pulls it out. Surveys have also shown that Gillum has a narrow lead over the former congressman.
A patchwork electorate
Florida is "purple" in political usage, but it's really a patchwork of dark red and deep blue communities with increasing ideological segregation (see: America 2018). In addition, there are some places that spring so new from the pine forests and swamps that they have been assigned no color.
The demographic rule of thumb in Florida says it grows by nearly a thousand people every day. It is still a retreat for retirees, but more than half of voters are not older than 52 years.
This complex and confusingVoters pose a challenge to any candidate in a nationwide campaign. The same is true of the size of the state. Pensacola to Key West is an 832 mile drive. A candidate must feel comfortable in Dixie and in a satellite in Latin America. And there are places where there are still no real places.
Take a new highway from the heart of Tampa east to the suburb of Brandon and visit the Brandon Chamber of Commerce. Ask the employee where the center of Brandon is located.
"There are none," she says.
Okay, where is the old town?
"That cow pasture over there," she says.
New voters in Florida include Sonia Aviles, 65, who survived Hurricane Maria at her concrete block house in Puerto Rico last year and arrived at Orlando International Airport 21 days later.
In the lobby of the Hurricane Survivor Airport, Aviles was offered the opportunity to vote. She pretended to be independent. So she thought in Puerto Rico.
She changed her mind.
"I've studied what's going on, and now I know I'm a democrat," she said this week, dining with her daughter and granddaughter at Melao Bakery here in Central Florida.
She did not like how President Trump gave paper rolls to people on the island after the storm. She finds the President frightening: "I'm afraid one day he'll say," Let's burn books. "
John McLaughlin, 52, is a sheet metal worker who moved from Philadelphia to the state six years ago. Last Wednesday, he visited the Trump rally Make America Great Again in a crowded arena off Interstate 75 in Estero.
"They say he is crazy. My thing is, the guy says what I think. So if you say he's crazy, say, I'm crazy, too, "he said.
As he walked toward the arena, McLaughlin passed a demonstrator with a "Impeach 45" sign and said to the man, "Why?"
"Because he's a liar," the protester said.
You're crazy, you're an idiot! "Said McLaughlin.
Republicans in Florida see prosperity everywhere. They also see threats.
"The Republicans want strong borders, no crime, no chaos and no caravans. Democrats want open borders, and they want to invite caravan caravans into our country, which means crimes in crime, "Trump said in the arena. "An electoral victory for the Democrats on election day would be a brilliant invitation for traffickers, smugglers, drug dealers and gang members from all over the world."
Ron Gavin, 62, and his wife, Lori, 51, from Fort Myers attended the rally and are solid Trump supporters.
"They called it invasion, that's pretty much what it is – an invasion," Ron said.
"We should take care of ourselves before we let more in," Lori said.
Craig Lougheed, 74, who has been in the insurance industry and has been working in Southwest Florida for seven years, said of Trump, "He's like a miracle worker. He writes history like never before in America. "
Del Whaley, 69, from Ocala, appeared in his "God Hates Divorce" T-shirt. He said he likes the attitude of Trump in terms of taxes. The Democrats? "They support the killing of babies in their entirety, and I believe they have a philosophy of controlling people through welfare," said Whaley.
Scott and DeSantis each had a few minutes on the microphone while Trump stood on one side. Scott does not carry out a strictly red meat campaign. He talked about how nice the Americans were after Hurricane Michael.
"People from all over the country came here to look after our citizens," he said with polite applause. "They brought food, water, generators, tarpaulins. They have done everything to take care of our citizens. And you know what? They did not say, "Oh, which party are you?"
DeSantis was fiercer and repeatedly attacked Gillum. When he alluded to a federal corruption investigation involving Gillum employees, the crowd shouted "Lock! Him! Up! Lock! Him! Up!"
This was preached to the persuaded. At some point Trump had asked people to raise their hands if they chose. Thousands of hands shot up in the air. Probably a majority of the crowd.
"Wow," said Trump. He repeated the question as if there might have been confusion. All these hands shot up again.
"What am I doing here tonight? Goodbye, "he joked.
Unpredictability of the voters
The parties are ideologically organized and the tribes are strong, but people do not always choose predictably.
Consider Terry Maroney, 67, a retired sugarcane farm manager, a widower who lives in Palmdale, Glades County on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. He can explain the difference between the cultivation of sugarcane and the cultivation in the sand. On paper, he is in the "likely republican" section of the population, but he chooses democratically.
He has supervised immigrant farm workers and says they work harder than native Americans. They are the first to open a gate. He was dismayed when one of the big sugar cane companies got rid of good workers because they lacked papers.
He notes that some of his neighbors are flying the Confederate flag.
"In a city like Palmdale, there is still racism. When it comes to the governor, there are people who will not vote for him because he's black, "he said.
On the road in Sebring, the truck driver Bruce Moore Jr., 39, from St. Petersburg, said he had tried to win the support of American African Americans for a constitutional constitutional amendment of the state that would restore non-violent offenders with suffrage served their time.
"Many blacks do not believe in the vote. It's sad, "he said.
Not far away, 61-year-old Barbara Cochlin, who picked up her Nissan Maxima at a car wash, said, "We voted for the people, not the party, but now the Democratic Party in Florida is getting too high."
She said that she thinks the status of the swing state in Florida has made the Democrats be "aggressive." She would like Republicans to respond in their own way. "You have to find someone like a WWF wrestler," she said. "We need someone who is very vulgar."
Down the street, in Frostproof, a city of lakes surrounded by orange groves, Justin Deen (51), who sells oldtimers, leaned against a 1963 Buick Skylark while his red-nosed Pitbull Hefner curled up in a cool spot on the concrete.
Deen said he has no use for professional politicians. But he supports the Republicans. And by no means would he vote for Gillum, he said. "He wants Trump to be charged. Do you think Trump will want to work with him? "
Several thousand people grabbed the Ice Palace Film Studios for the rally of the Democratic Party on Friday. The event started with a common prayer of a rabbi, a preacher and an imam. The rabbi read the names of the persons aimed at the pipe bombs. Then he read the names of the two African-Americans who had recently been killed in Kentucky by a gunman who had allegedly first tried to enter a black church. And then he read the names of the Jews who were killed on 27 October in their synagogue in Pittsburgh by an armed man.
This was followed by speeches by many Democrats who ran for office. People murmured as they waited for the big names to turn. When Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, entered the stage, he cried that the weekend had been canceled because everyone had to vote.
The volume dropped abruptly as Nelson showed up and delivered his lines, as if speaking in the living room of another person. The senator seemed to be the busiest when he mentioned the creation of new aerospace jobs and said, "We're going to Mars!"
Finally Gillum came as the crowd got wild.
"I want a chance to go to Tallahassee and take over the NRA" – rejoices the crowd – "and let them know that their time to run Tallahassee is over!" Said Gillum. "No parent has to send their child to school and worry if it will pick him up alive or in a body bag."
And then Obama, rolling up his sleeves, defending his legacy (the economy is doing well because the Democrats have cleaned up the Republican mess), ridiculed Republicans' "scare" and "lie" and said the elections would give the Americans a chance reveal "the better angels of our nature".
The Democrats were confident.
"We have it in our pockets. No doubt, "said Victoria Lewis, 73, regarding the governor's race. "Because the other person has no idea."
But the Democrats of Florida are not known for their number of intermediate hours, and nearly three out of ten voters in Florida are independent and it's hard to know what they're going to do. It is possible that a split result can occur: one party wins the Senate race and the other the governance.
Politics can also split a household. Sebring's 75-year-old Vern Hollingsworth knows all about it, he explained during a brief break as he upgraded his 2013 Cadillac in the carport of his Hammock Mobile Estates home.
He said he had already voted for the democratic ticket. He added, "It did not really count because my wife chose exactly the opposite of me."
That's the way it always works, he said. He is a D, she is a R.
How do the Dutch words solve their political differences?
"That will never be solved," he said and then went back to the Cadillac.