The Corner

A few notes

I’ve been criss-crossing the state here, and I haven’t had a chance to post much. I’m just back from a McCain town hall in Fort Myers, so here are a few points before I go to dinner:

1) A full 120,000 Republican absentee ballots in Florida have yet to be returned. Based on the current early-voting numbers, and absentees received, there will probably be more than 500,000 votes cast in the Republican primary before Election Day even begins. Usually there are tens of thousands of absentees that don’t get returned, but many Republicans also waited until late in filling them out and mailing them in. This will minimize the premature vote for Fred Thompson, as well as the vote for Rudy. Floridians wanted to see what voters did in South Carolina before they made their choice.

2) The endorsement by Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) came as a surprise — he had waited so long to endorse that most everyone felt he would keep his powder dry. His endorsement Friday of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) may help McCain marginally — especially in the Cuban community, which could cast as many as 10 percent of the votes in the primary. It also gives McCain some street cred with respect to this catastrophe reinsurance, which Giuliani is trying to use against him. But the endorsement hurts Martinez by highlighting the immigration issue, for which many Republicans here still haven’t forgiven him. In the words of one experienced Florida politico, “Anyone who tells Mel that this is good for him, isn’t really looking out for his best interests.”

3) Gov. Charles Crist (R) is expected not to endorse at all. Because the Republican candidate will depend on Florida, Crist will have plenty of clout in demanding more concessions, such as the catastrophic fund, no matter what. But Crist enjoys extremely high approval in the state, and he could only look bad if he picks the loser in what could be a two or three point race between McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

4) McCain is now attacking Romney as a “manager,” not a leader. Romney is attacking him as a “Washington Insider.” Rudy says he is the only one with an understanding of both security and economic issues. McCain and Romney are way too close to call, although I’d bet on McCain because elderly Floridians — who can and do vote — show up at his events, and in huge numbers. As in Iowa, too many of the people at Romney rallies are young volunteers from out of state.

5) Floridians have more reasons to vote on Tuesday than just the presidential race. Amendment One is a property tax reform measure that will double the state’s homestead exemption, among other things. It’s strongly supported by Crist. In all, it’s a tax cut. It will need 60 percent to pass, though, thanks to a recent change in the Florida Constitution.

6) state Sen. Mike Haridopolos, a staunch conservative, might run to replace Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.).

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