September 8, 2007

Florida Politics Highway by Highway

You can learn a lot from a road, especially in Florida.

Interstate 10 across North Florida takes you through three separate political worlds from East to West--Pensacola, Tallahassee, Jacksonville. Or, if you want the scenic route, highway 90 will give you Old Florida--run-down sawmill towns, the old cotton-tobacco country that still votes Democrat, and then that swath of counties that as far as I can tell have nothing but prisons until you get to Jacksonville.

I-75 South takes you through another Democratic enclave--the University of Florida bubble in Gainesville. Ten minutes in traffic there gives a sense of the growth problem Florida faces in almost every part of the state. It prepares you for Orlando.

If you wanted to waste 4 hours, once in Orlando you could drive to Tampa and back on Interstate-4, or drive to Daytona and back. Either way, you'd be on the trail of the elusive but all-important "swing voter" and ready to beg for mercy from central Florida's "transportation problem."

Already that's a day and half of driving, and you haven't even seen South Florida! Or Polk County, Lawton Chiles Country (marked in Red). Hope you've got a good, working car stereo and a pocket full of gas money.

V.O. Key Jr., author of the "bible" of Southern politics up till 1949, Southern Politics in State and Nation, gives you the full sense of Florida's vastness in his chapter on the state. You feel in the driver's seat:

From Miami to Pensacola, as the crow flies, is about the same distance as from Atlanta to Washington, from Indianapolis to Lincoln, Nebraska, or from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon. It is twice as far from Memphis to Chattanooga. From Jacksonville to Miami the road stretches about as far as from Springfield, Illinois, to Columbus, Ohio. Or, if a person travels from Tallahassee to Key West, he might have in the same mileage gone from Montgomery, Alabama, to Springfield, Missouri. Even the lesser distances impress. From Miami to Tampa the distance is about the same as from New York to Boston.

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