GOP Fissures in Florida?

A headline on the front page of today’s LA Times reads, “2 Issues Straining GOP Grip in Florida.” The article suggests that the confluence of unease among seniors about President Bush’s plans to phase out Social Security and the GOP’s meddling in the Schiavo matter has created a fissure among voters in Florida that may affect elections next year.

On both fronts, President Bush and his brother Gov. Jeb Bush are promoting positions that put fellow Republicans on the spot, just before important campaigns that will determine the governor’s successor and the fate of Florida’s lone Democrat holding statewide office, Sen. Bill Nelson.

Polls show the public overwhelmingly opposed to intervention by Congress and President Bush in the case of Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman whose family has been bitterly split over the decision to remove her feeding tube. But the religious conservatives who pressed hard for politicians in Tallahassee and Washington to act to have the the tube reinserted could play a pivotal role in the races for governor and Senate.

At the same time, public opposition has been mounting against the president’s plan to let younger workers divert a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes into private investment accounts. The president’s proposal is particularly unpopular among seniors, and so candidates in the senior-rich state are especially vulnerable to the charge that such a change could endanger benefits.

“It may be that we tried to load the wagon with too many watermelons,” said Tom Slade, Florida’s former Republican Party chairman. “There’s not … a lot of good news on our side of the aisle at this minute.”

These controversies could put the seats of several Republican members of the U.S. Congress into play. The article cites representatives Clay Shaw, Ginny Brown-Waite and Katherine Harris as being particularly vulnerable to voter dissatisfaction. I would add closeted gay Rep. Mark Foley to the list.

What’s missing from the formula for GOP defeat, of course, is a plausible alternative to the Republican “values” theme from the Democrats. The upshot of the 2004 campaign from voters seems to have been, “We may not like Bush and the Republicans, or their message or their policies, but at least we know where they stand” – which is hardly a ringing endorsement.

If Martha Stewart can sell sheets in K-Mart, Democrats ought to be able to sell the precepts of liberalism – fair play and fair pay – to Wal-Mart shoppers. It shouldn’t be impossible to convince low-wage workers in Red states that voting for the party that is run by the corporations works against their own self-interests.


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