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Florida Is The Real Battleground

By Bill Schneider/CNN

WASHINGTON (Oct. 18) -- The Dole campaign has certainly invested a lot of resources in California. But is California really the battleground state in this election?

Consider the five largest states. This week's question asks, which of them is the true battleground state for 1996?

Is it...

A) California

B) New York

C) Texas

D) Florida

E) Pennsylvania

And the answer is... D) Florida.

Of the five largest states, Florida is the only one that is too close to call and has been throughout the campaign.

President Bill Clinton is winning three regions of the country right now: the Northeast, including New York and Pennsylvania, the Great Lakes and the West Coast.

The Dole campaign is treating California as the battleground state, but a lot of Republicans think that's foolish. It costs a lot to run ads in California, and the money might be better spent in more winnable states, like Florida, the real battleground in this election.

The South and the Farm Belt are Dole's strongest regions. But of the two largest states in the South, Texas and Florida, only Texas seems secure for Dole. President Clinton refuses to write Texas off. Strategists say the Democrats know Texas is hopeless; they just want to force Dole and the Republicans to spend more money defending it, money that might be better spent in more losable states than Texas, like Florida.

Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno: Why is Florida much more competitive than Texas?

Schneider: Florida has the largest proportion of senior citizens of any state. Seniors are disproportionately female, and a lot of them are nervous about Medicare. Being a southern and suburban state, Florida has traditionally been strongly Republican. But this year, seniors and women are turning it into a battleground.

Sesno: So why isn't California a battleground?

Schneider: Four years ago the Golden State voted Democratic for the first time in 28 years. President Clinton said in the San Diego debate Wednesday night, "I have worked so hard out here to help you turn this economy around."

It shows; every poll taken so far shows Clinton ahead in California. The latest Field Poll showed the margin down to 10 points, but the pollster himself said, "On our numbers, it's hard to see how Dole can make it."

If Dole spends too much time in California before the election, he may end up spending more time than he wants in Florida, where he has a condominium, after the election.

This commentary originally appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics Extra."

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