Believe it? Trump tied in Florida
Anybody who knows anything about politics in Florida knows to count on high-profile statewide races to be close. Barack Obama won Florida by less than three percentage points in 2008 and less than one in 2012. Rick Scott won by one percentage point in 2014 and just over that in 2010.
That said, an awful lot of veteran Florida political pros for months have quietly been questioning whether Donald Trump can even come close here considering how he has antagonized nonwhite voters who make up 30 percent of the electorate.
It's been a few weeks since the last credible Florida poll, but as of July 11 RealClearPolitics.com polling had Trump averaging 43.8 percent support in Florida and Hillary Clinton 43.5 percent. We've heard of recent private polls showing Trump especially strong in areas of Tampa Bay and gaining ground in Miami-Dade, but we've yet to hear a clear and confident analysis of why Trump is so far defying conventional wisdom and demographics in America's biggest battleground state.
"I didn't think so two months ago. I do now," former Florida Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas said when asked if he thinks Trump can win Florida's 29 electoral votes.
We should have a better sense of the landscape after Labor Day, when the general election begins in earnest, but at this point it seems a lot of Florida Democrats may be overconfident. Democrats have spent at least $15 million on TV ads promoting Clinton and tearing down Trump and the race still seems to be a dead heat.
"Florida is traditionally close. It's a large state, so we know that if we're in there with our organizing program, TV — everything — it's going to take a full dose, so we're going to be in Florida till the end," said Marlon Marshall, the Clinton campaign's director of state campaigns and political engagement.
Trump has little campaign organization in Florida so far, while Clinton has dozens of offices open and more than 200 paid staffers on the ground.
"What I have not seen from Donald Trump yet in these (battleground) states is a comprehensive ground game," Marshall said. "At the end of the day, if it comes down to being a close race, our organizing program will pull us over the top."
David Plouffe, who helped lead Obama to victory twice, is among those who think Clinton may be better positioned to win states like Florida given Trump's weakness with Hispanic voters and suburban women. He sounded skeptical of some recent Florida polls.
"There were polling outfits that stopped polling in Florida in '12 because they thought (Mitt) Romney had won," Plouffe said, referring to Suffolk University, which declared Florida a lost cause for Obama in early October 2012.
"Our own polling often showed us struggling. Florida is a really hard place to poll. We won it by one (percentage point) in '12, and it may be that close again. But I also wouldn't be surprised if Clinton won Florida this year by four or five," said Plouffe, now a top adviser to Uber and volunteer adviser to Clinton.
"Florida, to me, is the most fascinating state," he said, noting that in addition to the likelihood of strong turnout and margins of victory for Clinton in the Democratic strongholds of South Florida, she probably will perform better than Obama did in north Florida and perhaps better in suburban corridors along I-4.
"I think for Trump to win this election four things would have to happen: Historically bad Democratic turnout, historically good Republican turnout, Trump over-performing even (Ronald) Reagan in some rural areas and Clinton underperforming in suburban areas," Plouffe said. "I don't think any of those things are going to happen."