The Miami Herald
Tue, Sep. 21, 2004

Kerry, Edwards to hit the Florida trail today

Sen. John Kerry, who hasn't been to Florida since mid-August, embarks on a two-day campaign swing that will feature a visit to Miami by running mate John Edwards.


Sen. John Kerry returns to Florida today, for the first time since the state was struck by three hurricanes, amid signs that the state's political influence is growing as the presidential battleground shrinks.

The Democratic challenger and running mate John Edwards will campaign in Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Miami over two days, hammering President Bush on the spiraling cost of healthcare as the Kerry campaign tries to make up for six weeks of lost time.

The visit, the first campaign swing since hurricanes Frances and Ivan all but wiped out politicking, comes as polls and television ad-buy surveys suggest that the nation's political map has begun to narrow from more than 20 competitive states to a dozen, including Florida.

''We're going to see that Florida becomes the battleground state again,'' U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Monday in a conference call arranged by the Kerry campaign.

``The state is up for grabs, and I think you will see that [Kerry and Edwards] are doing quite well.''

How well is anyone's guess. Hurricanes Frances and Ivan have made polling impossible in Florida, forcing both campaigns to assume that the landscape hasn't changed since August, when polls suggested Bush and Kerry in a statistical tie in the state that decided the presidency in 2000 by 537 votes.

Kerry has television ads running in the state but hasn't held a rally or campaign event here since July.

His most recent Florida appearance was a brief sweep of the damage by Hurricane Charley in August, and even the independent groups that have launched voter registration drives, largely on behalf of Democrats, sidelined their activities and volunteered for hurricane cleanup.

But Nelson suggested that with 43 days left to the November election -- and no storms taking aim at Florida -- time is of the essence.

''It's now where that middle 10 percent that's up for grabs in Florida, as well as the other battleground states, is going to start making up its mind,'' Nelson said.

``In Florida, their mind-making has been delayed because of three major hurricanes.''

Republicans criticized Kerry for sending his running mate to Miami, rather than making a personal appearance. Edwards is scheduled to be in Miami Wednesday.

Kerry's campaign also signaled its intent to intensify a push for Cuban-American voters, launching its first advertised assault on Bush's Cuba policies -- a Spanish-language radio ad that criticizes Bush for cracking down on travel to the island nation.

The 60-second radio spot -- airing only in Miami -- features a woman torn over when to visit her ailing mother in Havana.

''Before we could travel to Cuba once a year, but now Bush has made it more difficult, and we can only visit family once every three years,'' the woman says. ``I don't know if I should go now to see her one last time or wait to attend her funeral.''

Democrats have seized on Bush's recent crackdown on travel to Cuba in hopes of siphoning moderates' votes from the Republican Cuban-American voting bloc.

''We've planned all along to talk about the differences between Bush's antifamily Cuba campaign and Sen. Kerry's profamily plan,'' Kerry campaign spokesman Matt Miller said.

Nelson acknowledged that the hurricanes may have presented Bush with the perfect opportunity to ''show compassion,'' as he's toured hurricane-damaged parts of the state three times, handing out bottles of water and ice.

Strategists have suggested a benefit for the incumbent, but Democrats warned Monday that it could backfire, supplying reporters with stories of storm victims complaining about slow recovery efforts.