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John McCain's own fatigue problem: Exurban voters

August 12, 2008 |  6:59 am

Our colleague Peter Wallsten has an interesting piece in the paper today looking at exurban voters in Florida -- the people who brought you President George W. Bush (with some help fromExurban voter fatigue with Republican economic polices could help Barack Obama in campaign against John McCain those nine folks in black robes in D.C.). These are voters who are feeling the economic squeeze more than most -- a lot of young families with long commutes and relatively new mortgages on houses dropping in value.

For most of them, Georgia is the state to the north. And as Wallsten reports, Democratic strategists aren't thinking they can win in these areas, which Karl Rove correctly perceived as a rich vein for Republicans. But the Democrats believe they can make some inroads, eroding what have been large margins for Republican candidates.

Why? Essentially, exurban voter fatigue with the Bush Administration, which voters link to the doubling of their commuter costs and to the overgrown yards of the foreclosed-on houses on their streets (not to mention the "there but for the grace of God" fears of their own precarious finances).

Wallsten's money quote from Anna Rodriguez, 33, in Pasco County, near Tampa: "This is the first election I ever actually looked at someone else other than the Republican candidate... I've had enough with the Republican economics."

As Wallsten writes:

Already, Democrats have shown improvement at the ballot box. A study to be published soon by Brookings, a centrist think tank, found that Democrats increased their vote share in the exurban counties from 40% in the 2004 presidential race to 44% in the 2006 congressional elections, just after housing prices began to fall and gas prices began to climb.

Party strategists are studying the 2006 Senate races in three presidential battlegrounds -- Virginia, Missouri and Colorado -- to learn how themes focused on quality-of-life issues, such as traffic and infrastructure, helped Democrats improve and even win some exurban counties.

"They ran as pragmatists, offering to solve the problems of exurbanites," said Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. "If Obama runs a similar race or has similar appeal in those exurbs, that's the road to the White House."

That helps explain why Barack Obama has been buying so much air time in Florida -- and makes it all the more perplexing that John McCain has largely ignored the state.

-- Scott Martelle

Photo by Robert Azmitia / For The Times