Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida GOP meets in secret as Obama passes McCain in polls

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Republican leaders hastily convened a top secret meeting this week to grapple with Sen. John McCain's sagging performance in this must-win state.

Their fears were confirmed Wednesday when four new polls showed Sen. Barack Obama leading, a reversal from just a few weeks ago when McCain was opening up an advantage.

The polls come amid a cascade of bad news about the economy, an issue that McCain has struggled with in recent days.

With some grass roots organizers complaining about coordination problems with the campaign, Republican Party chairman Jim Greer gathered top officials at the state headquarters in Tallahassee on Tuesday afternoon. He swore the group to secrecy.

When asked about it by the St. Petersburg Times, Greer confirmed the meeting. He largely declined to discuss what was said, but sought to play down any strife.

Over the course of an hour, described by some as tense, Greer offered a forceful assessment of where McCain stands in Florida and what needs to be done to win in a battleground state that could decide the election.

"I have a responsibility to make sure things are done right, and we win these campaigns," Greer said. "I'm sure everyone in the room understands that I take that responsibility very seriously."

One of the concerns has been the relationship between grass roots volunteers across the state and far fewer paid campaign staffers. Complaints range from not getting yard signs quickly enough to knowing who will speak at events and overall manpower coordination.

"The biggest challenge is communication," said state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, who is involved in the campaign but was not at the meeting. She said the Broward County effort is running smoothly but that her overall impression is that state campaign officials are somewhat limited due to national directives.

This friction and fretting goes on all the time in stressful campaigns, and especially when one side's candidate has hit a rough patch, as McCain has. Buzz Jacobs, the campaign's Southeast regional director, who sat in on the meeting, denied any tension and declined comment.

McCain supporter and former Republican Party of Florida chairman Tom Slade said he's been hearing rumblings over the past few weeks that the campaign is not fully utilizing volunteers, though he said that was not the case in Jacksonville.

"I get the sense that on the statewide basis, the grass roots Republicans don't quite feel like they have a natural fit within the McCain organization," Slade said.

The four polls released Wednesday show Obama leading, and for the first time, he has broken the 50 percent approval mark in the biggest battleground state.

What's more, a rolling average of Florida polls shows Obama ahead, albeit barely, for the first time.

• Quinnipiac: Obama leads 51-43.

• InsiderAdvantage/Poll Position: Obama leads 49-46.

• CNN/Time magazine: Obama leads 51-47.

• Suffolk University showed Obama leading 46-42.

• Real Clear Politics average of all Florida polls: Obama up by 3 percentage points.

"The Wall Street meltdown has been a dagger to McCain's political heart," said Peter Brown of the independent Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, who also cited a softening in enthusiasm for McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The Quinnipiac poll, with 5 percent undecided and 1 percent saying they would vote for another candidate, involved 836 likely voters and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. It was conducted Sept. 27-29, after last week's debate, which focused heavily on the economy.

The McCain campaign dismissed the poll findings.

"Between now and Nov. 4th there will be numerous polls, but the only one that matters will be the last one on election night," spokesman Mario Diaz said.

Palin remains a big draw, and the McCain campaign plans to bring her to Clearwater and Fort Myers on Monday, and Jacksonville and Pensacola on Tuesday.

The participants in the Greer meeting included McCain's top Florida staffer, Arlene DiBenigno, as well as RNC staffers by phone from Washington.

Greer, whose hands-on approach has sometimes come across to fellow Republicans as too controlling, has spent the past two years, along with Gov. Charlie Crist, making inroads in the African-American and Hispanic communities. Greer said he wanted to make sure the campaign is adequately tapping those resources, along with state party staffers he has made available. The McCain campaign is housed in the state headquarters.

"It was just to ensure the ship is on its proper course as it relates to working with local party leaders and the grass roots volunteers," Greer said of the meeting. "I felt confident that the campaign is doing that."

Florida GOP meets in secret as Obama passes McCain in polls 10/01/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 1:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What to watch this weekend: 'Star Trek: Discovery,' 'DuckTales' returns


    Boldly go: Star Trek: Discovery

    It's been more than 50 years since the original Star Trek premiered, but the new CBS series is set 10 years before Kirk and Spock. Star Trek: Discovery explores the war between the Federation and the Klingons while following the USS Discovery, an exploratory …

    Sonequa Martin-Green in Star Trek: Discovery on CBS.
  2. First lady Melania Trump heads to White House garden for planting, harvesting


    WASHINGTON — Melania Trump is heading out to the White House garden to do some planting and harvesting.

    First lady Melania Trump picks peppers with a girl with the Boys and Girls Club of Washington in the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Washington. [Andrew Harnik | Associated Press]
  3. New aerial photos show Puerto Rico devastation; at least 6 dead in Hurricane Maria aftermath


    SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — Early aerial images of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria here show waterlogged neighborhoods, roofs peeled off homes and shopping centers, and once-lush landscape …

    Aerial photo of flooding in the costal town of Loiza, on the north shore of Puerto Rico. [Photo by Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for the Washington Post]
  4. State rolls out food assistance program for residents affected by Hurricane Irma


    Help is on the way for Florida residents struggling to put food on the table after Hurricane Irma.

    The Salvation Army Mobile Food Pantry hlped out with free food in Largo after Hurricane Irma. Now, the federal government is expanding access to food for people affected by the storm. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  5. Kriseman proclaims Buy Local week in St. Pete to quicken storm recovery


    Mayor Rick Kriseman has proclaimed next week to be "'Burg Buy Local Week" in an appeal to residents to help small businesses struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman wants St. Pete residents to help small businesses recover from Hurricane Irma