A mere month and a half ago Florida looked like it would be a strong McCain state. However, Obama has been steadily chipping away at McCain’s lead to the point where it is now pretty much a toss-up state. Of course, McCain must win Florida if he hopes to have any chance at the White House. The good news here is that according to the early voting polling, McCain seems to have an surprising edge. The conventional wisdom had been that (and the evidence seems to support this) early voting favors Democrats and Sen. Obama. Indeed, Obama has been encouraging his supporters to get out and vote early (and often). According to a recent LA Times poll about 54% of the respondents who had already voted were Democrats; and about 30% of the 1.4 million votes cast in Florida already are Republicans. This seems to indicate a substantial lead for Obama in the Sunshine State. However, surprise! According to the same poll, McCain is currently enjoying a 49-45 lead over Sen. Obama, despite a near 15 point deficit in party ID.

What would be the cause of such a surprising result? First, one of the most likely explanations is that Independents are breaking for McCain in a big way. Some estimates by people who really follow these polls is that McCain could see Independents break for him by as much as 60-40. Dick Morris writes that if Obama doesn’t finish above 50% in the final polls, he is toast because Independents are taking a second and third look at Obama and are just uneasy with him right now.

Another factor that could be contributing to this is that Florida has a very large Jewish population. Traditionally the Jewish vote tends to favor the Democrat candidate. This year, because of McCain’s moderate stances and uncertainty about how strong Obama’s commitment to Israel is, the Jewish vote is expected to be much closer. In fact, absentee votes that have been cast from Israeli-American citizens have gone to McCain at a 3-1 clip. This would help McCain in states like Ohio, which also have a rather large Jewish population.

Finally, we are probably seeing some kind of PUMA effect as well. The good folks over at Hillbuzz (former campaign workers for Hillary) think there will be a very large PUMA effect. I think this will be another key number to watch. If Obama only gets 80-85% of the Democrat vote because of the PUMA effect (maybe combined with some kind of Bradley effect), and McCain gets 90% of the GOP vote, McCain probably winds up winning this thing going away.

The main thing to take away from this story is that this campaign is very very close. The theory that nearly every single poll is working off of is that the youth and African American vote is going to turn out huge margin for Obama and give him the White House (ask President’s Kerry and McGovern how that worked out for them). The problem is, the early voting in nearly all states that have it just have not born this out. In fact, the early voting seems to be about on par for 2004. If this holds true through Tuesday, these +7-14 Democrat turnout models that the polls are using this year are going to look ridiculously wrong. Don’t buy into the MSM’s spin, this election is going to be very close, so be sure to vote and go volunteer!