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  1. Florida Politics

Donald Trump won Florida on strength of suburban white vote

From left, Marjori Lobman, 52, Angel Rodriguez, 35, Larry Beaududoin, 69, and Beverly Minardi, 55, cheer after one news channel projected Donald Trump to win in Florida during a presidential election watch party at The Hideaway in downtown Tampa on Tuesday. (ANDRES LEIVA | Times)
Published Nov. 10, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Florida campaign largely achieved what it set out to do: mobilize voters in the state's most diverse urban areas — especially Miami-Dade and around Orlando — to beat Donald Trump.

Clinton won 81,000 more votes in Miami-Dade than President Barack Obama did four years ago when he won Florida largely by winning huge there. Likewise, she won nearly 53,000 more votes in Orange County than Obama did and across the state, helped drive a big increase in Hispanic turnout.

What the Clinton team neglected — and what the far-outspent Trump Florida campaign targeted — was everywhere outside the urban centers.

In other words, the white vote.

Trump crushed Clinton in the suburbs and rural areas, capitalizing on enormous enthusiasm for his anti-status quo message. The Florida win catapulted him to the presidency.

"We assumed that's what their campaign would look like because that's what we'd seen over several cycles," said Susie Wiles, the Ponte Vedra Republican who ran Trump's Florida campaign. "The work-around for that these days is suburban versus urban, and that only works if you can harness enthusiasm and turnouts are high in suburbia where you've targeted. It was unparalleled enthusiasm for this man and his message."

Tampa Bay delivered Florida to Trump. He won the state's swing voter battleground by nearly 153,000 more votes than Mitt Romney did four years ago, and he won Florida by nearly 120,000 votes or 1.3 percentage points.

In addition to flipping Pinellas County to the GOP, Trump won Pasco County by nearly 30,000 more votes than Romney did, Hernando by nearly 13,000 more and Polk by more than 25,000.

Only more diverse Hillsborough County remained a Democratic stronghold, with Clinton carrying it by more than 40,000 votes, 52 percent to 45 percent. Four years earlier, Obama carried the county by about 36,000 votes.

Four of the five counties where he improved most over Romney's showing in 2012 — Lee, Pasco, Polk, Pinellas and Volusia — are on the I-4 corridor and three are in the Tampa Bay area. The common thread? These counties are whiter, older and mostly less-educated than the state as a whole.

"The white working-class has been ignored and marginalized for too long by the political class. HRC called these folks Deplorables!" Monica Russo, executive vice president at 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, lamented in an email.

Exit polls conducted for the networks and other news outlets found that Clinton performed slightly worse with African-Americans than Obama in Florida — 84 percent versus 95 percent — and slightly better with Hispanics — 62 percent versus 60 percent — but she won just 32 percent of Florida's white vote, compared to 37 percent by Obama.

Had she matched Obama's performance with white voters, she would have won.

"For him to run up the kind of margins that he ran up in places like Pasco and Polk and Volusia and Lake shows a complete failure in her ability to talk to white, economically insecure voters," said Democratic consultant Steve Schale, who ran Obama's 2008 Florida campaign.

Ashley Walker, who ran Obama's 2012 Florida campaign and this year led a political committee aimed at mobilizing largely minority voters in 14 Florida counties, said Democrats failed to reach out to white voters enough but also missed the overall mood of the electorate, as evidenced by Midwestern states and parts of Tampa Bay swinging so sharply to Trump.

"It's this simple — Americans are not doing well outside the DC/Tallahassee beltway," said Henry Kelley, a Republican activist in Okaloosa County. "People disengaged from the process because it's clear it is a pay-to-play system. Trump provided the only voice that spoke to this condition, and it's real. Not sure if he can solve a thing, but he's the only candidate I believe that is motivated to try."

Countless voters agree with Trump that the system seems rigged against them.

"To a lot of people he sounded crazy, but that's the same kind of talk I hear when I go home to Indiana," Democratic consultant Walker said. "I think everybody totally misread where the majority of America is, and I don't think she helped. Just like people didn't want a second Bush, they didn't want a second Clinton."

For all the pundits and skeptical Republicans who said Trump was the only nominee incapable of beating Clinton, his success in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and parts of Florida suggest he may actually have been the Republican best equipped to beat her.

Wiles is sure of it. She had no internal campaign data to guide her going into Election Day in Florida, but said she felt in her gut that Trump would carry the state based on the enthusiasm behind him. The driving concern of voters? "The control of the United States of America by special interests and donors," Wiles said.

Countless voters had concerns about Trump's temperament, his record, his position on certain issues. "Everybody had a caveat, though, and that's that we can't keep doing what we're doing," she said.

The exit polls showed the first woman nominated for president won 50 percent of the women's vote in Florida, less than Obama did, while Trump took 46 percent. She won 54 percent of Florida voters under age 30, compared to 66 percent won by Obama. She lost self-identified independent voters 43 percent to 47 percent, while Obama won them, 50 percent to 47 percent. Sixty percent of Florida's voters are 45 years old or older, and Trump beat Clinton among those voters 56 percent to 42 percent.

Hours before the voting ended Tuesday, former Pinellas GOP chairman and pest control company owner Tony DiMatteo predicted with utter certainty that Trump would win Democratic-leaning Pinellas, Florida and the presidency.

"The people know what shape they are in, and there are a lot of hurting families, here in Pinellas and the country," he said Wednesday. "Last night was not a surprise to me because I work with many people from all demographics and I knew that Trump would win Pinellas, Florida and the election. Now let's see if with all of the control in our hands, I hope we don't screw up the end game."

Contact Adam C. Smith at asmith@tampabay.com. Follow @adamsmithtimes.

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