TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida's Republican Gov. Jeb Bush has indicated in recent days that he is prepared to help his brother, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, emerge with the state's 25 electoral college votes. The question is whether such an aggressive posture will come back to haunt him two years from now.
Key figures in both political parties anticipate a powerful Democratic backlash in 2002 if George W. Bush is ruled the winner here and moves into the White House on Jan. 20.
Core Democratic constituencies, especially blacks and Jews, turned out in huge numbers to make the Florida presidential election a neck-and-neck contest. Both partisan strategists and independent observers expect these constituencies to react with an angry outpouring of voting in 2002 if they are convinced that Jeb Bush and fellow Republicans used political muscle to ensure a victory for George W. Bush.
"There is going to be a cost to the winner, and the likely victim is going to be the (Florida) Republican Party," said Tom Slade, a former state GOP chairman and ally of Jeb Bush. "The race here is so close there is no way to ever know who really won or lost, so whoever is the loser -- and 50 percent of the voters will feel they lost -- will be angry, and that anger will linger."
Another Republican operative said: "Jeb took a lot of heat before the election because it looked as if he wasn't working to give his brother a clean win. Now Jeb may give his brother what a lot of people are going to call a dirty win, and it could cost Jeb his political future. Shakespeare might have had some fun with this."
The result, Republicans and their adversaries believe, will be a strengthened Democratic coalition that exercised far more political muscle on Election Day than most observers anticipated as recently as six months ago.
Many Republicans anticipated a Bush victory in a state that has trended their way in the past decade, but the Democrats surprised everyone with an aggressive voter turnout program that mobilized African-Americans, Jews and the Democratic-leaning elderly. Democrats also picked up the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Connie Mack.
Assuming a victory by Bush, Democrats are looking forward to more gains in 2002 in a state that is playing an increasingly pivotal role in presidential politics.
"Florida is the dead-heat state of the dead-heat states," said Gary Jacobson, a political scientist at University of California at San Diego.
In addition, Florida over the last decade has become the only one of the nation's four largest states to remain politically competitive.
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