Barack Obama and John McCain Battle for Florida Voters

This swing state could make the difference in the presidential race.

Recent polls are volatile, but some show Obama leading in key swing states after the debate.

Recent polls are volatile, but some show Obama leading in key swing states after the debate.

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The Rev. O'Hara Black, senior pastor of Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, an African-American congregation, says people in his community are excited about Obama but few report being included in public-opinion surveys, so he believes their potential impact has been underestimated. "Pollsters don't poll my barbershop, where the guys from the 'hood are talking about the election," Black says. He adds that many in his congregation are suffering hard times, facing foreclosure on their houses and having trouble paying bills, so they are highly motivated to vote.

A recent community meeting at Mount Pleasant to inform voters about ballot proposals and voting rights was filled to capacity with 150 local residents, nearly all African-Americans and nearly all seemingly committed to Obama. A series of skits by local residents dramatized the history of civil rights abuses in America, and one presenter said that only a few years ago no one would have dreamed that "a little black boy born in Honolulu" would be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. Another presenter said African-Americans should be careful to observe the letter of the law, including making sure that their names on the registration rolls match the ID on their driver's licenses. "Let's not give them any reason to turn us back" at the polls, she warned.

Alan Grayson, the Democratic challenger in the Eighth Congressional District, centered in Orlando, says there is a strong anti-Washington feeling in the area. "Voters agree people in power don't help them," Grayson says. "And there has been greater economic mismanagement since at least the Great Depression." Grayson says voters in his district blame Bush and the Republicans, who have controlled the executive branch since January 2001. If he's right, it could help turn the state blue.

Ric Keller, the four-term GOP incumbent who is locked in a close race with Grayson, argues that Obama is too liberal for Florida. "The presidential race overall is a jump ball," Keller says, but he predicts McCain will win both his central-Florida district and the state. "McCain is a center-right candidate, and Florida is a center-right state."

In some ways, the voters are being pulled in different directions. "People want experience—and they also want someone new and from the outside," says Florida pollster David Beattie. "People are upset. They believe the system is looking out for some people but not them." If Beattie is right, the candidate who can convince Floridians he is looking out for them could take the state's electoral prize and the White House.