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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Americans for Prosperity sees opportunity in Florida elections



Two weeks ago, 72 people boarded a pair of buses in Orlando and made the 850 mile trek to Washington where they joined an enormous rally featuring Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. But the day before, the group huddled in a D.C. hotel for a crash course in political messaging, phone banking, shoe leather campaigning and blogging.

They are part of a larger army being mobilized by Americans For Prosperity, a conservative group that is making a big national push in the midterm elections. "There is a strong desire for individuals who do not want to be involved in an organized party to make a difference," said AFP Florida director Apryl Marie Fogel.

The effort to shape tea party unrest is similar to what FreedomWorks is doing (story here how it is helping Marco Rubio) and demonstrates the depth of support Republican candidates enjoy outside traditional channels.

AFP began phone banks on Tuesday and next Friday will begin to dispatch volunteers for door-to-door work, which will include giving voters palm cards bashing Gov. Charlie Crist for his stimulus support. Activists have been taught how to keep the focus on fiscal issues and not social ones or immigration.

The organization, a nonprofit that does not have to dislose its donors, does not directly advocate for candidates but its literature and TV ads (here's one against Democratic Reps. Alan Grayson and Suzanne Kosmas) make it clear who they do not support. Nationwide, the group has said it intends to spend $45 million on the midterm elections.

Fogel said AFP claims about 75,000 "activists" in Florida, which she defined as people who have had to show some initiative: calling a congressman, attending a rally, signing a petition.

But the more active core that will engage in the midterm elections include a couple hundred in Miami-Dade and Tampa and slightly more in Orlando due to tight congressional races in which Republicans hope to knock off Grayson and Kosmas. The group's activists also are working against Panhandle Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd.

Americans For Prosperity was founded and by billionaire libertarian David Koch, who with his brother Charles runs Koch Industries, a major player in the oil industry and owner of brands such as Brawny, Dixie cups and Stainmaster carpet. A recent New Yorker article described Koch's "covert" war on President Obama.

Grayson is trying to turn the opposition into a fundraising pitch. In a recent letter to donors, he mocked, "David Koch is the owner of the second largest private company in America. He made his money the old-fashioned way: he inherited it. Incredibly, his father got rich helping to industrialize and arm the Soviet Union."

[Last modified: Thursday, October 7, 2010 5:28pm]


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