For Democratic presidential candidates, Florida has long been a risky bet. Republicans in modern history have had no choice but to play hard to win the state, but for Democrats the Sunshine State is an immensely expensive and complex target that ultimately they don't have to win.
Even as President Barack Obama's campaign spent millions building up a massive ground operation in Florida for much of 2009 and 2010, top advisers remained uncertain about whether to fully commit to the state until two months before the 2012 election.
But after the national conventions, team Obama decided to go all in to win Florida's 29 electoral votes, campaign officials recounted the other day at a conference at Harvard's Institute of Politics.
"One of the things we had discussed internally was the state of Florida and how we were going to treat Florida. We had made a decision that we were going to wait until mid September, after the conventions, and see where we were in Florida before we fully committed. We were in, we had invested a lot in Florida, but we hadn't been in Miami, for example, the Miami media market," senior adviser David Axelrod said. "When we emerged from the conventions not only had we gotten a little bump in our numbers but we saw that Florida remained very competitive despite the fact that they had their convention there. And we made the decision to go full-out in Florida."
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina: "The Florida decision was a big decision for us. It was a $40 million decision and (we) decided right after the convention we were going to go and go hard. That was a big moment. … They didn't do enough to fix their Latino problem in their convention — although I thought (Marco) Rubio gave a great speech. We looked at that and said, 'We're going all the way in Florida.' "
Mitt Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades acknowledged the campaign's struggle to win Hispanic voters, at least in Florida and Nevada: "We obviously had some work to do on the Hispanic voter front. … We put a focus on the Hispanic vote in Florida. We shifted resources to try to improve our numbers with Hispanics in Florida. We also did the same in Nevada. We did see some movement … in Florida, but we definitely had issues that we inherited."
They may have moved some numbers, but Romney still overwhelmingly lost among Florida Hispanics, with exit polls showing he won just 39 percent of the vote compared with 60 percent for Obama.
West vents, plans next move
NPR's recent interview with outgoing Rep. Allen West is worth a listen, as he sounds off on his election (blaming negative attacks while ignoring his own torrent of ads at rival Patrick Murphy) and how he'll miss liberals such as Dennis Kucinich. He also adds voice to criticism of Florida's election process.
"Right now, there are a lot of people that are losing trust and confidence in the electoral process in the United States of America," said West. "If people start to believe that their vote is not being counted, then we don't have the consent of the governed and we have something that is far less than what this country was intended to be. And then, look, Florida needs a lot of help because it just continues to be a pain in our side as America — that Florida is consistently seen as having problems with its voting practices and procedures and processes."
As the interview wrapped up, West observed to host Michel Martin: "And always remember, Abraham Lincoln only served one term in Congress, too."
What's next for West? The speculation in Washington and back in Florida is that he could pursue a career as a conservative talking head while he waits for the next political opportunity. He has a large national following that made him a fundraising powerhouse.
Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report.