Rash of Hurricanes in a Key State Sweeps Away Presidential Politics

Article excerpt

Byline: Joseph Curl, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

MIAMI - Four hurricanes have temporarily blown politics off the map in one of the most contested states in the Nov. 2 general election.

Since the hurricanes began pounding Florida last month, the campaigns of President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, have suffered as Floridians focused on where the heavy winds would spin - not the daily spin of the message makers.

Mr. Bush has used the power of the presidency to continue making appearances statewide, albeit more as "consoler in chief" than a candidate running for re-election. But his campaign message has been weakened. Storm coverage in the state's leading television markets, such as Orlando and Miami, pre-empted the broadcast of his Sept. 2 acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention in New York City.

The Kerry campaign has been hit even harder. The senator from Massachusetts steered clear of the weather-ravaged state for nearly two months, making his first campaign appearance last week since late July.

Both sides realize that campaigning in a state battered by four hurricanes could do more harm than good.

"The first priority for the people of Florida is recovering from the devastating effects of the hurricanes," Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said. "Obviously, recovering from the hurricanes takes precedence over politics."

A Kerry pollster agreed.

"It's been very, very difficult down there, both because the public is so preoccupied with the hurricanes and because of the practical matter: So many Floridians have not been home, or if they have been home, they haven't been accessible because of electricity and other problems," Tom Kiley said during a conference call with reporters last week.

The hurricanes have caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and left nearly 75 Floridians dead. 1.6 million homes and businesses are still without power.

On the political map, both Republicans and Democrats have suffered. Florida's west coast and Panhandle were hammered by Charley and Ivan, the Democratic regions along the Atlantic Ocean were hit hard by Jeanne and Frances.

Polls have been spotty for more than a month, mainly because it has been difficult to reach residents over a three-day period, as most surveys are conducted. …