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Obama Drops Into Florida's Political Frenzy

President Obama makes his fourth visit to Florida today, one of only a half dozen states outside the Beltway he's visited that many times since entering the White House. He'll find a Sunshine State again rich with political intrigue, where major developments in the gubernatorial, Senate and Congressional races just this week point to an election cycle as busy as any in recent memory.

Obama's visit - to deliver an address on his space policy and to raise money for the Democratic National Committee - of course points to his own political interest in the state. Not since 1976 had a Democratic presidential nominee won 51 percent of the vote in Florida, as Obama did two years ago. But recent polling shows that his standing has slipped there as in many battlegrounds from 2008, something that could affect the entire Democratic ticket this fall.

Democrats had a voter registration advantage of 660,000 in 2008, after the party added 500,000 voters to its rolls between the 2006 and 2008 elections. Republican registration rose by 130,000. However, after a successful election year that also included picking up two Republican House seats, the party has no apparent edge in this year's midterm elections.

"I think it's lining up to be a pretty Republican year in Florida," said Central Florida University political scientist Aubrey Jewett, co-author of the book Politics in Florida. "Florida-specific polls show Obama's approval rating is about where it is around the country. And the average Floridian isn't happy with the health care bill."

Although Republicans are involved in one of the most heated Senate primaries in the country, both Gov. Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio regularly lead likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Kendrick Meek, in early general election polling.

And yet that Senate race could be at a critical point, with many increasingly convinced Crist will decide to forego the Republican primary he appears unable to win and instead run as an independent. A Quinnipiac survey released this morning found Rubio up 23 points in the primary, while Crist held a small lead as an independent in a three-way general election race.

Crist has until month's end to make that move, but many feel a more immediate decision about whether to sign or veto an education bill backed by most state Republicans will signal his intentions.

In the race for governor, several recent polls found Attorney Gen. Bill McCollum (R) with double-digit leads over state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink (D). Unlike Sink - who's been seen for years as a rising star in the Democratic Party - before his successful run for attorney general four years ago, many believed McCollum's political career was over after 20 years in the House and two failed Senate bids.

But now his momentum appears to be threatened with the sudden entrance of Republican Rick Scott, a wealthy conservative activist who led a movement against national health care legislation.

"While they fight over who is the biggest conservative, Alex Sink will continue to share her vision for the future and her business plan for creating Florida jobs," said Emily DeRose, spokesperson for the Democratic Governors Association.

As the first congressional election since the health care vote in Congress, Democrats are hoping their special election victory Tuesday in the 19th District is a positive omen for the future. They say the senior-heavy district proves that all-important bloc of the electorate is on-board with the new law. Whether true or not, Rep.-elect Ted Deutch (D) had the sizeable advantages of running in a heavily Democratic district and a large fundraising edge over his Republican opponent.

The two Orlando-area Republican seats Democrats picked up in 2008 appear to be the party's most vulnerable this year, though Republicans also have their eyes on Rep. Ron Klein's 22nd District seat.

In the 8th District, Rep. Alan Grayson has made a national name for himself after using fiery language both in the media and on the House floor during the health care debate. It certainly attracted attention, as well as Republican challengers, though a few top GOP recruits opted against running.

One reason could be Grayson's fundraising abilities. He's not only one of the most personally wealthy members of Congress, he's shown the ability to attract dollars from around the country. Grayson raised more than $800,000 in both the last three months of 2009 and the first three of 2010.

Grayson could face businessman Bruce O'Donaghue, state Rep. Kurt Kelly or attorney Todd Long. Jewett notes that this could be one of the most expensive races in the country.

"He probably has been too outspoken and too outrageous for his own good," said Jewett. "But that district has moved Democratic since its creation in 2002."

Rep. Suzanne Kosmas is another freshman incumbent the national GOP is targeting. With the help of former Rep. Tom Feeney's connection to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Kosmas cruised to victory in the 24th District by a 57-41 percent margin.

Among the many Republicans looking to knock Kosmas out this year are State Rep. Sandy Adams, Winter Park City Commissioner Karen Diebel and Craig Miller, the former CEO of the Ruth's Chris restaurant chain. Kosmas is one of many vulnerable Democrats around the country who will face scrutiny over their health care vote. Unlike Grayson's, John McCain won this district with 51 percent.

Florida is ripe with intrigue in other districts as well. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) opted to vacate his 25th District and run in the neighboring 21st, a slightly more Republican seat where his brother Lincoln is retiring. 2008 nominee Joe Garcia is back to run for the open seat after losing to Mario Diaz-Balart by just 6 points.

-- Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli