The county is best known for Daytona Beach, which evokes image of bawdy spring breakers (chased away years ago), burly, tattooed-covered Harley riders at Bike Week and the Daytona 500. But the biggest actual city, it turns out, is southwest Volusia’s Deltona, a soulless sprawl of modest single family homes with no town square, no town center, no downtown whatsoever.
Then there is New Smyrna Beach, where one can meet descendants of the Scots who grew cotton in the 18th century, or the more upscale Ormond Beach, whose white sand beaches used to attract the likes of Henry Flagler and John D. Rockefeller. Or historic DeLand along the St. John’s River.
So many choices, but we didn’t begin at any of them.
To determine where Volusia’s electorate is likely to land in November, the first stop was obvious: Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, a haven for mediums and psychics for more than a century.
Where better to find someone to predict the future?
No luck. It seems most mediums and psychics don’t do predictions, and few fortune tellers are left in Cassadaga, which bills itself as “where Mayberry meets the Twilight Zone.”
Certified medium Tina Green declined to predict the election, but she suggested we clear our minds and ask one of her home-made spiritual dowsing rods. It predicted an Obama win, but Green is an Obama supporter and may have been willing it to say so.
Medium Trish Smith also took a pass: “We don’t predict the future. What we do is we guide people, give them different options.”
She said she told one recent client to check the lug nuts on his tire. He laughed it off, until that very tire fell off while he was driving. Still, she said, elections are different.
“There are so many variables. One candidate could have a really powerful campaign ad. Or there could be some major event that changes the whole race.”
It doesn’t take a psychic to understand that.
Before every recent Florida presidential election, pundits and politicos invariably question whether the Sunshine State will be out of reach for the Democrats. They see how Florida’s state government has been overwhelmingly dominated by Republicans for more than a decade, they look at the latest off-year election and see how Republicans once again crushed Democrats in the state.
But more than almost any other battleground state, Democratic performance in off-year elections in Florida lag behind Democratic performance in high-turnout presidential campaigns. Volusia is Exhibit A for the trend. It reflects the lack of a strong Democratic political infrastructure in the state.
In 2000, Al Gore won Volusia by nearly 15,000 votes, and in 2002 Jeb Bush beat Bill McBride by nearly 14,000 votes. Two years later, John Kerry won Volusia by about 3,700 votes, and two years after that Democrat Jim Davis beat Charlie Crist by nearly 1,100 votes. Obama won by nearly 14,000 votes in 2008, and in 2010 Scott beat Sink by nearly 3,300.
Few people closely involved in the campaigns see Romney having a strong shot at winning Volusia in November, but Obama faces a real challenge matching his margin of victory from four years ago. Disenchanted white, working class voters and seniors, combined with an energized local Republican electorate make Volusia Republicans optimistic.
“The Republican party had been kind of moribund in Volusia for a long time. Beginning in 2010 we began to change that. We began to work on a serious strategy for organizing the party, for reviving it,” said Volusia GOP Chairman Stan Escudero. “There is deep-filled anger, resentment and more than a little fear that the people of Volusia County have toward the Obama administration.”