The Barack Obama campaign is scouting offices in Tampa to headquarter its Florida campaign and on Monday tapped one of the newest stars of the state Democratic Party to lead the statewide effort.
Steve Schale, the 33-year-old Tallahassee strategist who just led the Democrats' most successful state House cycle in history, will oversee a Florida campaign that Obama allies say will be unprecedented. But the announcement of Schale's hiring came as the Obama campaign helped fuel renewed speculation that the Illinois senator could write off Florida's 27 electoral votes.
At a private fundraiser in Washington on Friday, campaign manager David Plouffe told the crowd how Obama can win the nomination even if he loses both Florida and Ohio, the Associated Press reported Monday. Plouffe later said Obama would campaign "extremely hard" for both, but the strategy is not reliant on one or two states.
"You have a lot of ways to get to 270," Plouffe said. "Our goal is not to be reliant on one state on Nov. 4th."
Schale, a 12-year veteran of Florida politics who has shown a knack for winning races in competitive and conservative parts of the state, said he has no doubt Obama is aiming to win in Florida.
"When you see us reach our full staff level, you're going to see an operation the size of which this state has never seen before on our side," said Schale, who expects to have the resources to mount a targeted campaign throughout the state. "The way to win in this state is not to reach out as if Florida is just a two- or three-region state, but to go considerably deeper than that."
Obama returns this week with events Friday in Jacksonville and Saturday in Miami.
Schale said the campaign, which already has about 20 paid staffers in Florida and 400 specially trained volunteers, is looking at office space and will soon open its statewide headquarters in Tampa. The state's biggest political battleground, the Tampa Bay area is home to one in four votes in Florida, though John Kerry based his campaign in Fort Lauderdale in 2004 and Al Gore in Tallahassee in 2000.
The McCain campaign is ramping up in Florida, too. Fourteen paid staffers are here now, with two more starting next week. In addition, 17 staffers on the state GOP payroll are working to win Florida for McCain.
Obama's deputy director for Florida will be Ashley Walker, who has been working for Obama through the primary and previously worked for former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, former U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch and state Sen. Jeremy Ring. Other Florida campaign staffers are expected to be named soon.
Karl Koch, a veteran Democratic strategist who helped lead Gore's Florida campaign, called Schale a proven winner who understands Florida's ever-shifting demographics and political climate. Schale's hiring is a sign of how seriously the campaign is taking Florida, Koch said, though both the Obama and McCain campaigns will work hard in the coming months to keep each other guessing about where resources are going.
"We are now entering the phase of the masterful gamesmanship and the head games. … But don't listen to what they say, but watch what they do," Koch said, noting that McCain can't afford to lose Florida while the electoral map gives Democrats more leeway.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8241.