Maybe it's time to cool the speculation about Barack Obama writing off Florida's 27 electoral votes.
The day after the Illinois senator is expected to win a majority of the delegates for the nomination, he is planning to make up for lost time by kicking off a three-day Florida campaign swing in the Tampa Bay area on May 21. He also recently sent a campaign worker to Miami to work on voter registration, and more are expected soon.
"It just confirms what everyone on the Obama campaign has been saying — not only will we compete in Florida but we'll compete in every part of Florida," said Miami lawyer Kirk Wagar, Obama's Florida finance chairman.
"He has to introduce himself to the people in Florida in a way that he won't have to in all the other primary states (where) he's competed, but he has the time and the resources and the message," Wagar said.
Obama hasn't exactly acted like a candidate eager to win the hearts and minds of Florida voters.
Since August, he has done no campaigning in Florida except private fundraising. He signed a pledge to boycott Florida's officially meaningless Jan. 29 Democratic primary, has refused to talk to Florida reporters, and repeatedly brushed off Hillary Rodham Clinton's calls to count the 1.75-million votes in that Democratic primary.
Obama will likely arrive for his first big campaign swing in America's biggest battleground state with state Democrats still uncertain whether they'll have a voice in the nomination, and with Obama still saying only that he wants Florida to have a presence at the nominating convention.
"One of the first things I think he should be talking about is honoring all the votes,'' said Democratic activist Nancy Hoppe, a retired teacher in Largo who supports Clinton. "If he wants to win Florida, and I'm not saying he would, that would be the biggest step he could take because a lot of people are still very angry about that."
Obama is pivoting to the general election with the nomination nearly clinched. While Clinton is expected to win today's primary in West Virginia, Obama has picked up more superdelegates than Clinton and will likely reach another important threshold next week when Oregon and Kentucky vote: winning a majority of the 2,025 delegates needed to win the nomination (a figure that excludes Michigan and Florida).
On Wednesday, he will campaign in Michigan, which like Florida lost all of its delegates as punishment for scheduling a primary earlier than allowed by the national Democratic Party.
His schedule is not set for the Florida trip, though a canceled trip earlier in the month was to have featured a rally at the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida. After the afternoon event May 21 in the Tampa Bay area, he will hit Orlando that night and then Palm Beach and Broward County and finish May 23 in Miami-Dade. Fundraising receptions are planned in Orlando and Hollywood.
The average of recent polls compiled by the Web site RealClearPolitics.com shows Clinton narrowly beating John McCain in Florida and Obama trailing by nine percentage points. Still, at least one recent poll showed Obama neck-and-neck with McCain in Florida.
"He's got a lot of work to do and the time to do it, and I have no doubt he can do it," former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis said of Obama's Florida prospects. "Florida is a purple state. Just as the country was in the mood for change two years ago, I think Florida is in the mood for change this year, and Sen. Obama has a unique opportunity to be heard."
Campaign spokesman Josh Earnest dismissed the notion that Obama will be at a disadvantage because of his position on the Democratic primary vote.
"No, because he'll be focused on the issues Florida voters care about the most, like getting health care for every American and helping families cope with the home mortgage crisis," said Earnest. "With the general election now less than six months away, Sen. Obama will make the case to Florida voters that they have a clear choice between his vision for bringing the country together to change Washington and Sen. McCain's plan to extend so many of President's Bush failed policies."
Florida Republicans, of course, are only too happy to talk about the Democratic primary debacle.
"Barack Obama shouldn't exactly be on the lookout for a welcome wagon, since it's been months since we've seen or heard from him after he signed a pledge to boycott the state,'' Florida GOP spokeswoman Erin VanSickle said. "Adding insult to injury, Obama also refuses to say how or if he'll seat Florida's delegates, effectively disenfranchising the 1.7-million Democrats who voted in the primary."
Frank Sanchez, a top Obama fundraiser and adviser in Tampa, said that any Democrat would have had to play catch-up given the problems with Florida's primary but that Obama is committed to competing in Florida.
"The Democratic Party, both state and national, created a very difficult situation for all the candidates, as did the Republican- controlled Legislature,'' Sanchez said. "We understand that we've got to engage here, and I think you're going to see Sen. Obama visit quite often between now and November."
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727)893-8241.