FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.
They say there are shuffleboard courts and other signs of old-fashioned leisure all around here, but I see busy seniors, bustling semi-retired people and very hard-working Floridians hoping they can get through another close national election without egg on their faces.
This state is a yo-yo; one week Donald Trump is up; the next, it’s Hillary Clinton. Sometimes they are tied. Currently, according to the Quinnipiac University poll, Clinton is up by 5 points. A Mason-Dixon poll has her up by 4 points. But nobody is confident that will be the final result. It might be; it might not be. This state is as perplexed as many others about what to do in November.
Everybody — everybody — remembers that in 2000, Al Gore won the national popular vote but lost Florida and thus the White House to George W. Bush because of some curious phenomenon known as hanging chads, according to a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court. That put Bush over the top.
(There is one scenario this year where Trump and Clinton could get 269 electoral votes each. Talk about head scratchers! And this year there are only eight justices on the bench. Yikes! A deadlock would be a crisis for our democracy.)
Florida is immensely important. It has 29 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Its large population of seniors — the largest percentage in the country — votes. The state thought Clinton won the first debate by a large margin — 35 percent — but there are more important things on their minds.
Every time a hurricane hurtles toward the panhandle, it concentrates the mind on what is really important: survival.
The state is voting, again, on legalizing medical marijuana. Two years ago, 58 percent of the voters enthusiastically voted for such a proposition, but with 60 percent needed, the measure failed. The measure has been tightened so that marijuana could be prescribed only for debilitating diseases such as HIV, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Meanwhile, Cuban expatriates are mulling whether Trump’s brief $65,000 flirtation with Castro’s Cuba, which came in violation of the embargo some years ago when he apparently sought to do business there, is reason to vote against him. But they also don’t like President Barack Obama’s historic overtures to Cuba.
And Florida has the same economic woes other states do, resulting in a declining middle class, cries for change and a feeling the country may be in decline. After several years of budget surpluses, Florida is facing budget shortfalls. Floridians are angry that they give more in tax dollars to the federal government than they get back.
On the other hand, Trump’s often crude behavior and outlandish comments have dismayed many Floridians. Even though he boasts about his ties to the state (as owner of the lavish Mar-a-Lago playground for adults), Trump is not all that popular in many parts of the state. The news that Trump’s foundation is under scrutiny by the state of New York for not being licensed did not set well with Floridians, who take charitable donations seriously.
As for the likelihood that Trump did not pay federal taxes for as long as 18 years, well, who knows? Some people don’t care because he apparently did nothing illegal. But others find it somewhat egregious that because of real estate tax loopholes, a self-described multibillionaire avoided paying his share, a share that, by the way, might have gone toward supporting the troops, boosting crumbling infrastructure, helping the poor and improving the environment.
Another major issue in Florida is whether Trump’s nasty descriptions of undocumented workers will affect Florida’s large Hispanic vote. Nationwide, as many as 102,000 new Latino voters have been registered, with 10,565 of them in Florida. If they all vote, they could make a difference.
And that’s the danger — stay-at-homes. So many Floridians and so many Americans are demoralized by this election they are thinking about not voting at all.
Either Trump or Clinton will be sitting in the White House next January, making decisions that will affect us all dramatically. As one long-time Florida resident said with a sigh, “All I can tell you is that I’m just going to hold my nose and vote. Come back at the end of the month, and I’ll let you know whether it’s going to be for Trump — yuck — or Clinton. Ugh. Oh, I guess it will be Hillary. But it might not be.”
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.