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A Florida Congresswoman has apologized to Barack Obama for hanging up on him twice after thinking she was being pranked. AP

Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

President-elect Barack Obama and Bill Richardson, the secretary of commerce-designate. (Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

CHICAGO – Bill Richardson is beardless and back in the cabinet. The governor of New Mexico and former presidential candidate appeared beside President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday to accept his third cabinet-level post, this time as secretary of commerce.

Mr. Richardson, the first Hispanic chosen for Mr. Obama’s cabinet, made remarks in both English and Spanish as he took the assignment, signaling the importance of his selection for the new administration. Mr. Obama said he picked Mr. Richardson because of his deep experience and skills, not his ethnic heritage, but promised to produce a diverse senior team.

“When people look back and see the entire slate, what they will say is – not only in terms of my cabinet but in terms of my White House staff – I think people are going to say this is one of the most diverse cabinets and White House staffs of all time,” said Mr. Obama, who will be the first African American president. “But more importantly, they’re going to say these are all people of outstanding qualifications and excellence.”

Hispanic groups have lobbied strongly on behalf of Mr. Richardson, arguing that Hispanic voters in last month’s election helped deliver at least four states for Mr. Obama that voted for President Bush four years ago: Nevada, Colorado, Florida and Mr. Richardson’s New Mexico. Mr. Obama is also eyeing Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to become the United States trade representative, a position that has had cabinet status in the past.

Mr. Richardson has served in the cabinet twice before, first as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations and then as his secretary of energy. Mr. Richardson had his eye on secretary of state this time around but lost out to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Although the commerce slot is generally seen as a second-tier position, Mr. Obama said it would play a pivotal role in setting and executing his economic recovery agenda.

“Well, commerce secretary is a pretty good job, you know,” Mr. Obama said to suggestions that it was a consolation prize for Mr. Richardson. “It’s a member of my key economic team that is going to be dealing with the most significant issue that America faces right now and that is how do we put people back to work and rejuvenate the economy?”

As for the beard that Mr. Richardson grew after dropping his own bid for the presidency earlier this year, it was gone by Wednesday morning’s news conference. Mr. Obama, tongue in cheek, declared that a mistake. “I thought that whole western rugged look was really working for him,” the president-elect said.

thecaucus75

After much anticipation from a room full of reporters and other curiosity-seekers, Sarah Palin this morning took four questions from reporters in a press conference that lasted 11 minutes.

Actually, taking away Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s opening statement, the session lasted under 10 minutes.

Palin was on stage with 13 other Republican governors — all men — who received zero attention from the assembled crowd.

After the third question, an RGA aide tried to end the session but Perry interjected and allowed for a fourth question.

Palin sought to deflect attention from herself and talk about the governors as a group, but all the questions centered on her past and future.

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Hoping to beat the rush, voters flocked to the polls early this morning only to find parking lots already packed, turnout high and long lines already snaking around the block as scattered voting problems were reported in Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In Virginia, reported problems were widespread, according to reports gathered by the Election Protection Coalition, a cooperative effort by more than dozen voting rights groups.

Voters said they encountered broken touch-screen machines and paper jams in the scanners that are supposed to read the ballots at polling places in Richmond, Alexandria, Newport News, Chesapeake, and Vienna. Polling places in Virginia Beach were not opened at 6 a.m. when they were supposed to be.

“They harangue us to vote and then they don’t have the capacity to handle us when we show up,” said a man standing with a cane in a two-hour line in Fairfax, Va.

Virginia election officials said three polling places opened late because of what she called “human error.” In some cases, voters came in from the rain and failed to properly dry their hands before touching their ballots, fouling the optical scanning machines.

In Pittsburgh, Pa., some lines were stretching several hundred voters long by 7 a.m. In Philadelphia, lines were equally long and at one polling place on in the east side of the city several voting machines were not working because there was no extension cord available to help them reach the electrical outlet.

Despite the scattered problems, most people held on, steadfast in their passion to vote, undeterred by rain, sore feet or the long waits.

Voting experts predicted a record turnout of 130 million voters, which would be the highest percentage turnout in a century. It could shatter the previous record of 123.5 million who cast ballots four years ago. If 64 percent of registered voters make their way to the polls, as some predict, it would be the highest percentage since 1908.

Florida Secretary of State Kurt A. Browning said the 1992 record of 83 percent turnout could be surpassed in his state. Pennsylvania officials believe as many as 80 percent of the state 8.75 million votes will show up at the polls, a record.

Lines and other problems began well before Election Day.

By Monday night, Election Protection Coalition received calls about more than 700 early voters in West Creek Community Center in Kansas City, who waited more than eight hours to cast their ballots. Lines for early voters in Atlanta left people waiting for nearly ten hours.

There were also reports of underhanded tactics. Several callers from Indiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland reported receiving automated phone calls with incorrect polling locations. Dozens of people in Colorado and New Jersey reported not receiving confirmation of their voter registrations or absentee ballots.

Yesterday alone, the hotline received more than 30,000 calls. Most were from voters in high population and swing states, including over 2,000 calls from Florida. The most common calls by far up until Election Day have been in regard to registration problems, followed by absentee ballot issues and polling place problems, which include extremely long lines.

Note: Video the Vote is a network of citizen journalists, independent filmmakers, and media professionals documenting voter problems at the polls. We will be posting links from them throughout the day.

thecaucus75

 

 

Talk about running up the score. Florida now looms as the Democratic firewall on Election Day. Thanks to the disproportionate effect of the economic crisis on the Sunshine State, Republicans are in danger of losing the one state that could block any chances for an Electoral College victory.

I firmly believe that Florida is the most representative of the nation as a whole. Presidents are more successful if they win Florida. I am impressed and moved that Barack Obama seems to understand Florida’s significance — for winning and for governing.

There is perhaps no better indicator for the outcome of this presidential election than how Obama is pinning down John McCain in Florida. A few facts, courtesy of the Arizona Republic:

  • Six of Florida’s metropolitan areas ranked in the nation’s 20 worst for foreclosures in the second quarter. Broward and Miami-Dade counties had 10,000 foreclosures last month alone.
  • In 2004, Democrat John Kerry had 14 offices and about 100 paid staffers in Florida. This year, Obama has 60 offices and about 500 paid staffers.
  • From May to September, McCain led in 25 of the 41 polls taken in Florida, with four ties. But since October, Obama has led in 11 of the 14 Florida polls, with seven of them outside the margin of error.
  • From Oct. 6 to Sunday, McCain ran 5,702 TV ads in Florida’s largest markets, according to Nielsen Media Research. In the same period, Obama ran 18,909 TV ads.
  • As he has in most states, Obama has outraised McCain in campaign contributions in Florida. But the $3 million margin, $17 million to $14 million, is among the smallest in the swing states.
  • Florida has voted for a Democrat only once since 1980. President George W. Bush won the state by 381,000 votes four years ago.
  • For decades, Democrats have led in voter registrations in Florida. This year, they have 650,000 more registered voters than Republicans do. That margin is nearly double the margin the party had in the 2000 and 2004 elections.
  • About a quarter of all the state’s voters are in southeastern Florida, in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Democrats, who have a nearly 600,000-voter edge there, must win big to offset the many Republican-leaning counties elsewhere.
  • Of the 1.2 million voters who have voted early so far, 640,000 of them are registered Democrats, compared with 361,000 registered Republicans. Historically, the GOP has led in early and absentee voting.

Source: CQPolitics

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