By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Frank Owen
A middle-aged black man sitting near the poker tables said he voted early on Friday out of fear that hed be prevented from casting a ballot on Election Day. Better to catch any glitches early, he figured. But those two hours and 45 minutes standing in line sure were tough. As he wearied, a 70-year-old black lady behind him in the early-voting line wagged her finger at him and lectured: Our people before us had to go through a lot worse than this. So you just hold on. He did. Now he gets to slide into a seat at the no-limits poker table.
A young black man said he headed to vote at 5:30 a.m. so he wouldnt miss a poker promotion called Aces Cracked. I asked how long he waited.
Nooo, for a poker table.
OK, so maybe, for these folks, a thrilling presidential race cant compete after all with the enticement of poker bonuses and free spins on slot machines lit up like carnival rides.
-- Amy Guthrie
Around 2 on Tuesday afternoon, John McCain is losing by several precious points in the polls. He positively can't afford to lose Florida. And an old acquaintance he probably doesn't remember, Henry Navarra, won't let him.
"We're doing more calls out of this office than any office in the whole goddamned state!" beams Navarra, greeting a reporter at McCain's "Broward Victory Center at a strip mall on Sample Road near University Drive. "We're up to 77,000 calls, not including today," adds Navarra, as volunteers chatter on the office's 25 phone lines. Navarras wife and son man two of those phones.
Navarra, of Coral Springs, was 15 when he met McCain through a relative who worked as a Vietnam veterans liaison officer. His navy-blue McCain-Palin T-shirt is covered in campaign flair. "I Am Joe," says one pin, a reference to Joe the Plumber. A sticker on his left shoulder says simply "Joe." On his chest, it says "Go West" for Allen West, the congressional underdog against Ron Klein. "Fight With Me," says another pin on his chest, over a McCain-Palin logo.
"Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach are all Democratic counties," says Navarra. "But if we can pull 50/50, the rest of the state is majority Republican, so we'll win the state."
He has seen a surge in volunteer interest the past month, and Navarra claims to not be anxious about the polls. "Now you'll see that, on Election Day, older voters -- and I won't say more intelligent voters -- will show up at the polls. More of them will vote McCain." If young voters favor Obama, Navarra says it's because "the youth believes what they see on TV, and they're so easily manipulated: 'He looks good and he speaks good, and so he must be the one for us.'"
Navarra says a group of about 15 is waving McCain-Palin campaign signs at passing motorists nearby at the northwest corner of Sample and University. "They've been getting about 50/50 as far as honks versus middle fingers," reports Navarra. "That tells me, you know what? We're going to do well."
On the northeast corner of the same intersection, Obama volunteers are waving their signs. In a 45 mph zone, it can be hard to tell who the honk is for and who is the object of the obscene gesture.
The difference between the two groups' makeup is striking. The Obama activists are black and white. McCain's are all white. "This isn't really a race issue," says Navarra. "Allen West is dark as midnight, and we all support him. He's a gentleman, and he's well-spoken."
The way Navarra figures it, he has cemented 50 votes for McCain at a minimum. That's because whenever a registered Republican has complained to him about the cost of sending in his absentee ballot, Navarra has mailed a postage-paid envelope to that voter.
He knows that even if McCain is behind by only several points in national polls, he's way behind in projected electoral votes. And this year, Florida is not a swing state. It mustgo Republican, and at best it's a coin toss.
"If it goes the wrong way, I'll take it like a man," says Navarra. "I might move to Canada, but I'll take it like a man."
Given Florida's penchant for pandemonium at the polls and the unprecedented turnout during early voting, we were expecting rabid voting-card-armed mobs attacking our libraries, schools, and churches today. Instead, we've encountered what everybody but a reporter wants to see on Election Day: calm and order.
At 1:36 this afternoon, the polling place at Sunny Isles Beach was the most packed I saw, with about 100 people in line. "They say it's going to take me two hours," said Betty Barrett, the last in line. "It doesn't matter. I'll be damned if I don't vote because of that."
From there, I checked out polling sites in Surfside, Miami Beach at Collins and 75th, Normandy Shores, and North Miami and found the same thing everywhere: metaphorical tumbleweeds. The scene at the little library on 75th and Collins was especially surprising because when I voted early there, the place had all the serenity of a Mexico City bus depot. It was packed to the gills, seemingly everybody was finding problems with their registration, and the poll workers looked overwhelmed by it all. But at 2:15 this afternoon, the scene resembled a doctor's office, with only a dozen people waiting, most of them sitting in chairs. "Everybody already did their thing," said a chatty Miami-Dade line wrangler with no line to be wrangled. "It was busy until around 12:30."