Monday, November 20, 2017
Politics

Obama campaign is gearing up for Florida November battle

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA — While most of the political world was still buzzing about Mitt Romney's overwhelming Florida primary win, Ashley Walker rose from her seat to address a room full of Florida field directors for the Barack Obama campaign gathered at the University of Tampa.

"We need to strive for excellence every day. Each day when we get up we need to think about what we can do to earn Florida's 29 electoral votes for President Obama,'' Walker, the Florida director of Organizing for America, told the assembled operatives last week.

For Romney allies, who boasted of five full-time staffers — a fraction of what Obama already has in Florida — and a Florida ground organization that mainly consisted of mailing fliers to absentee votes, the scene in Tampa should be intimidating. Four years ago, Obama won Florida with the largest voter mobilization effort ever seen in Florida. This year's effort could dwarf that.

"There's never been an operation this size in Florida 10 months out from an election, not for a presidential (campaign), not for a gubernatorial. But we're going to grow," Walker told her Florida lieutenants. "Very soon, we're going to be in a position where the only place we can do trainings is in a hotel ballroom."

Obama, though, may need every last campaign operative in Florida to carry the state again. Nine months before Election Day, a host of signs point to an uphill battle for the president in America's biggest battleground state:

The economy. Obama no longer is the fresh face of change campaigning to succeed to an unpopular president. Now he's the incumbent running in a state with nearly 10 percent unemployment and where nearly half of Florida homeowners are underwater on their mortgages. Signs point to a steady uptick in Florida's economy, but few economists foresee a dramatic improvement by November.

Money. Four years ago, Obama won Florida by less than 3 percentage points after outspending John McCain more than 2-1. Early predictions that Democrats would have an overwhelming financial advantage in 2012 look increasingly unlikely. "Super PACs" that can accept unlimited campaign donations from corporations, unions and individuals are significantly narrowing Obama's fundraising advantage. Anti-Obama super PACs are far outpacing their Democratic counterparts in money raising.

Voter registration. Florida Democrats boasted for more than a year before the 2008 election about their growing voter registration advantage in Florida. But that Democratic advantage has dropped nearly 30 percent since November 2008, down to about 470,000 registered voters. The number of Floridians opting to register with neither party has jumped nearly 10 percent.

Key demographic groups. Every vote matters in a close election, and ominous signs abound for Obama nine months out. While Obama won independent voters by 7 percentage points four years ago, a recent Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll by Mason Dixon Polling & Research showed Obama and Romney neck and neck among independents.

Obama lost Florida voters older than 65 by 8 percentage points in 2008. A recent Quinnipiac University poll suggested it could be worse this time. Only 38 percent approved of his job performance. He won Florida Hispanic voters by 15 points four years ago, but a January poll of Florida Hispanics by the GOP firm Resurgent Republic found him leading an unnamed Republican nominee by just 7 points.

"Close elections are about momentum, and the momentum in Florida is moving in the direction of the Republican Party right now," Republican National Committee political director Rick Wiley said. "In spite of its nickname, the Sunshine State looks awfully cloudy for Obama and may very well rain on his parade in November."

Polls this far out mean little, however. At this point four years ago, Obama trailed McCain by double digits in Florida, and many observers questioned whether he would even compete here if he won the Democratic nomination.

Last week the Times poll showed Romney leading Obama by 4 points in Florida, while an NBC News/Marist poll had Obama leading by 8 points. But independents and swing voters tend to decide elections in Florida, and they also tend to make up their minds late.

"I think the Republican National Committee learned from McCain when he put Florida in the safe column after he clinched the nomination," said Republican strategist Slater Bayliss. "I don't think anyone is going to put Florida in the safe column this time."

In the last five presidential elections, Republicans won twice, Democrats won twice, and 2000 was essentially a tie.

"If it's a close election nationally it may be within 1 point in Florida,'' said Tallahassee-based Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Obama's Florida campaign in 2008. "When push comes to shove, if the race is that close, you can't underestimate the organizational advantage president Obama will have in Florida."

While few people are watching, the Obama organization every day is building the capacity for a massive volunteer-driven campaign built around an ever-growing number of teams reaching out to neighbors and friends. Whether it's Spanish language phone banks, nearly 200 State of the Union parties across the state, African-American supporters in beauty salons and barbershops, or the recruitment of volunteers via Facebook and Twitter, the campaign sets goals for everybody on the campaign and measures results constantly.

"You have to have a three-pronged approach. There's a voter registration component, there's a persuasion component, and there's a get-out-the-vote component," said Walker, the state director, dismissing the suggestion that Democrats won't be as enthusiastic as they were four years ago.

"I fundamentally disagree with the premise that there's a lack of passion. I wouldn't be seeing the reports that come across my desk each day, and the number of volunteer team leaders we have and the number of core team members we have if there was an enthusiasm problem."

Team Obama rewrote the grass roots campaign playbook for winning Florida four years ago, but the approach in 2012 is considerably different. Not only have the technology and ability to organize on social media advanced, but in an ever-changing state like Florida, the electorate and the avenues of opportunity have shifted as well.

Schale, for instance, pointed to three Orlando area counties with fast-rising Puerto Rican populations. In 1996, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties made up about 7.4 of the statewide vote, and while winning the state comfortably, Bill Clinton lost those three counties by 12,000 votes. In 2008, those counties made up about 9.2 percent of the statewide vote and gave Obama a 100,000-plus-vote margin of victory.

Obama has a several paths for winning the needed 270 electorate votes without winning Florida, but no Republican since Calvin Coolidge has won the presidency without winning Florida.

Brett Doster, who ran Romney's successful primary campaign this year, expects Republicans to be much better prepared to compete in Florida, but he holds no illusions about the strength of the Obama campaign.

"I don't by any stretch of the imagination think it's going to be an easy campaign for Romney," he said. "Obama is going to have a tougher time than he had it last time, and I think Romney's the guy to make it tougher. But they're going to pull out all the stops to win here, and this is going to be battleground central."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott’s tourism chiefs at Visit Florida spend a lot of public money taking trips to exotic places to promote Florida as a top worldwide destination.Four former top-level staff members at the state’s tourism promotion and its c...
Updated: 9 hours ago
As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday that the White House is willing to remove a contentious provision taking aim at the Affordable Care Act from the GOP tax overhaul plan if politically necessary, a move ...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Many Christian conservatives are backing Alabama’s Roy Moore

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama’s Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn’t fit the evangelical mold. ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

WASHINGTON — It’s been nearly six years since the Senate Ethics Committee conducted a major investigation of a sitting senator. Next year, the panel could be working nonstop, deciding the fate of up to three lawmakers, including two facing allegation...
Published: 11/18/17
Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners recently decided to go after the pocketbooks of several residents who filed unsuccessful ethics complaints against one of their colleagues.If history is any indicator, the maneuver is more likely to cost taxp...
Updated: 11 hours ago
In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

UTICA, N.Y.Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath."You need a little bit more oil," the mechanic said."Five quarts wasn’t eno...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17
As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

As sex scandals topple the powerful: Why not Trump?

WASHINGTON — "You can do anything," Donald Trump once boasted, speaking of groping and kissing unsuspecting women. Maybe he could, but not everyone can. The man who openly bragged about grabbing women’s private parts — but denied he really did so — w...
Published: 11/17/17
Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

Allegations against Alabama’s Roy Moore dividing GOP women

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Standing on the white marble steps of Alabama’s Capitol, Kayla Moore surrounded herself with two dozen other women Friday to defend husband Roy Moore against accusations of sexual misconduct that are dividing Republicans, and women...
Published: 11/17/17
Franken apologizes to woman who says he kissed, groped her

Franken apologizes to woman who says he kissed, groped her

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Sen. Al Franken personally apologized to the woman who has accused him of forcibly kissing her and groping her during a 2006 USO tour, saying he remembers their encounter differently but is "ashamed that my actions ruined that ...
Published: 11/17/17
Negative mailers trace back to campaign of state House candidate who denies them

Negative mailers trace back to campaign of state House candidate who denies them

An 87-year-old widow from Melbourne, a mysterious direct mail company in tiny Buffalo, Wyo., and a tangled web of political committees all were linked to the onslaught of negative mailers that helped Lawrence McClure win the Republican primary in Pla...
Published: 11/17/17