CAMPAIGN 2008; This Is Not Your Father's Military with More Women and Minorities, They're Not All Shoo-Ins for the GOP

Article excerpt

Byline: SUZANNE CHARLE'

Since the 2008 presidential campaign began, convoys of candidates, their wives and other high-ranking banner carriers have rolled through Duval County. Just in the past week, Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain came to Jacksonville, trying to enlist the interest of military wives.

There are obvious reasons for these visits: Jacksonville is the nation's third-largest Navy town, and more than 30,000 voters here have some sort of affiliation with the military (active duty, dependants and retired military). The military is Duval County's largest employer and contributes approximately $6.1 billion to the area's economy.

Since the days of Ronald Reagan - a president who presided over the buildup of the military and massive defense spending - the military has generally backed Republicans; more specifically, conservative Republicans. A recent poll by the Military Times suggests that this continues: Its readers sup port John McCain over Barack Obama, 68 to 23 percent.

But respondents to that poll - as the Military Times noted - tend to be older, white and more senior in rank than the general military population. A recent Zogby poll shows the two candidates in a statistical tie among Armed Forces households.

According to Donald S. Inbody, professor of political science at Texas State University and a retired Navy captain, the political preferences of junior officers and enlisted personnel more nearly mirror the general American population. Inbody said this group is divided roughly equally between the parties, with a small edge to the Democrats - and Obama.

The change parallels the new demographics of the military: There are more women, more African-Americans and other minorities among the younger officers and enlisted personnel. Many are better educated than their predecessors.

"This means that, if the Republicans think they have it sewed up, they're wrong," Inbody said. "And if the Democrats want to block the military vote, they're wrong."

AT THE AIR SHOW

At the Jax Air Show last weekend, most retired veterans described themselves as conservative and planned to vote for McCain, though some were hesitant because "McCain isn't conservative enough."

One was Duane Steiner, 72, who served as a Navy helicopter pilot for 30 years. He wasn't certain that we should be in Iraq, and hoped that we would get out "with honor." Although he thought it would be interesting if Obama became president - "he's internationally minded" - he worried that the defense budget would suffer under Obama. …