Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Election Wild Card: Mobile Voters ; in the South and West, One Pivotal Factor Is the Large Number of New Arrivals, Rocking States' Electoral Habits

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Election Wild Card: Mobile Voters ; in the South and West, One Pivotal Factor Is the Large Number of New Arrivals, Rocking States' Electoral Habits

Article excerpt

At Democrat Tom Strickland's campaign headquarters, there's a sign that reads simply: 579,855. It's not the amount of money the Colorado Senate hopeful has raised, or the number of seconds until the election. Rather, it's the number of new voters that have moved to the state since Mr. Strickland's previous, unsuccessful challenge to now-incumbent Sen. Wayne Allard (R) six years ago.

Of the many forces shaping this year's closest contests, one of the most fundamental may be demographics. Rapid population growth throughout the Sunbelt and the Rocky Mountain West - from rising Hispanic populations in Texas and Florida to the Northern transplants filling suburban North Carolina and Georgia - are altering the political landscapes, creating new opportunities for political parties, and contributing to overall voter volatility.

But nowhere, perhaps, is it more dramatic than in Colorado, where the recent population explosion means that one-sixth of the electorate may be seeing the candidates' names on the ballot for the first time. As polls show the race essentially tied, both campaigns are scrambling to identify new pockets of support, and shoring up once-reliable areas.

The candidates "can't take anything for granted," says Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli. "They are either seeing opportunities to play offense or are being forced to play defense" in areas that once seemed secure.

But Colorado isn't the only state where demographic shifts have caught the political establishment off guard. In Texas, observers have long recognized that the growing number of Hispanics might one day make the largely Republican state more Democratic - but few thought it would happen in time for this year's elections. Yet with a Hispanic candidate running for governor and an African-American in a close battle for the Senate, Texas Democrats are poised to make a strong showing next week, and may pull off an upset.

Similarly, in Florida, the changing Latino community "has even caught Floridians by surprise," says pollster John Zogby. Long dominated by Cubans, whose politics lean Republican, the Florida Hispanic population is now equally made up of Argentines, Venezuelans, and others, says Mr. Zogby: "It is South America." This, along with a rising African-American population, may push the state in a more Democratic direction, boosting the challenger for governor, Bill McBride (D), in his tight race with Gov. Jeb Bush (R).

Even the traditionally Republican South has seen significant changes. Rising minority populations, as well as the migration of many Northerners, is altering the leanings of states such as North Carolina, where the Senate race between Elizabeth Dole (R) and Erskine Bowles (D) has grown surprisingly close.

"A lot of the growing suburbs around Charlotte, Raleigh, and Atlanta don't behave like Southern suburbs because, well, they're not," says Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst for the Cook Political Report in Washington. …

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