— From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby
Election day is 47 days away... After spending the first part of his week on foreign affairs, President Bush hits the campaign trail today, returning to the state that gave him -- oh so narrowly -- his first presidential victory: Florida. His first event is in Tampa, where he raises money for congressional candidate Gus Bilirakis (R), who's vying to succeed his retiring father, Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R). After that, Bush heads to Orlando, where he headlines a reception for gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist (R) and the Florida GOP (alert: the embattled Katherine Harris is expected to be in attendance). Unlike some of his past campaign visits, both of these events are open to the press.
As we mentioned earlier this month, it's striking how few truly competitive races there are in Florida, which was the nation's political epicenter just six years ago. Polls show that incumbent Bill Nelson (D) is expected to blow out Harris (R) in the Senate race, while the national Democratic Party doesn't seem inclined to shower money on its gubernatorial nominee, Jim Davis, in his contest against Crist. In fact, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, the only toss-up race for major office in the state is the congressional battle between vulnerable Rep. Clay Shaw (R) and challenger Ron Klein (D).
As Bush heads to Florida, there are two new polls that disagree on whether Bush is getting a bump from his recent 9/11-centered speeches. The Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times survey shows Bush's approval rating at 45%, up 5 points since July. And it has Democrats leading Republicans on the generic ballot question by 10 points (49%-39%). The latest New York Times/CBS poll, however, has Bush's job approval is 37%, which is virtually unchanged from its last poll. It also shows Democrats with a 15-point advantage in the generic ballot (50%-35%).
And speaking of Bush in Florida… The US Election Assistance Commission, which was created under the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to establish election administration and voting guidelines, meets in St. Louis today. It will hear testimony from election officials and voting organizations about the status of voter information Web sites for the November elections, as well as the progress of military and overseas balloting. While the status of such matters may have gone unnoticed in the past, there is a growing chorus of concern over whether voters are better off now than they were six years ago -- when a hanging chad was, well, something you'd never heard of and lever machines were considered perfectly effective voting equipment.
There are a number of factors in play this year that create a perfect storm of voting problems. Per a recent estimate by the Brennan Center for Justice, 80 million voters will cast ballots in a different way this year than they did in 2000. As we've noted before, voters voting on new and unfamiliar equipment could cause a backlog of problems. Consequently, some groups are putting up voter information websites, such as the National Association of Secretaries of State's CanIVote.org, which was created to help educate voters about issues such as new voting equipment, voter ID requirements, and registration requirements. Tens of thousands of troops stationed overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan are why overseas and military balloting procedures are of concern.