While Hillary Clinton touts 51 Florida field offices, Donald Trump still has just one

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (center, standing) campaigns for Hillary Clinton at a phone bank gathering in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa on Aug. 12. (LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times)
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (center, standing) campaigns for Hillary Clinton at a phone bank gathering in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa on Aug. 12. (LOREN ELLIOTT | Times)
Published Sept. 1, 2016

SARASOTA — On Aug. 8, the Donald Trump campaign said its first two dozen campaign field offices would open across Florida within two weeks.

Since then, not a single new Trump office has opened in America's biggest battleground state, but Hillary Clinton's campaign added another 32.

The Republican nominee only has a Sarasota statewide headquarters open in the state he absolutely must win to be elected president, while the Democratic nominee has 51 offices even though she has multiple paths to winning that don't require Florida's 29 electoral votes.

"We are running a 67-county strategy. We're not taking any vote for granted, and that includes making sure we are within the communities where the people are that support this campaign," said Simone Ward, Clinton's Tampa-based Florida campaign director. "You've got to build a strong ground game, and you can't wait until the last minute to do that."

Four years ago, Mitt Romney had opened two dozen Florida campaign offices by early June, but Trump is running a far less conventional — and less expensive — campaign.

Karen Giorno, a Florida-based senior adviser to the Trump campaign, noted that they have 67 "county CEOs" helping identify and mobilize Trump supporters, 70,000 active volunteers, and three RVs working as "mobile field offices" criss-crossing the state and stopping at local festivals, gun shows and other functions to help organize Trump voters. Two dozen field offices are poised to open during the week of Sept. 5, she said.

"Probably all of them will be online by the end of next week. We're just waiting on some tweaky things with the leases. Each location has been identified, we've talked to the landlords," said Giorno, noting that another 25 campaign offices jointly run by the Trump campaign and the national and state GOP will open soon.

Minutes after Republican VP nominee Mike Pence concluded a rally in Sarasota on Wednesday, Giorno noted that Clinton had not set foot in Florida for more than three weeks and that she struggles to generate nearly as much excitement from her supporters as Trump does from his. (Trump was in Tampa a week ago, and Democratic VP nominee Tim Kaine was in Tallahassee and Broward County last week, and canceled a planned north Florida trip this week due to weather.)

Florida is shaping up to be yet another neck-and-neck race, with the average of recent polls compiled by showing Clinton leading Trump 44.3 percent to 41.6 percent. The tighter the race, the more important a strong get-out-the-vote operation is. It can be the difference between winning and losing.

The Clinton campaign is targeting Florida's diverse electorate with at least a quarter of its paid staff speaking Spanish or Creole, and a dozen coalition directors concentrating on specific constituencies: LGBT, millennials, veterans, seniors, Hispanics, African-Americans, Caribbeans, Jewish, labor and Muslims.

"We've got hundreds of staffers on the ground. ... We are hiring people every day, and we are building a staff that looks like Florida," said Ward, who used to be national political director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. "This is a big state, it's like six or seven states in one, and you have to run a strategy that meets the needs of every corner of the state. You can't take any part for granted, and that means it takes a long time to build out that apparatus. We are building that ground game, and ultimately that is what's going to give us success in November."

This week alone, the Clinton campaign is opening 17 campaign offices: New Port Richey, Temple Terrace, Town 'N Country, Largo, North Port, Panama City, Coral Springs, Palm Bay, Quincy, Punta Gorda, West Palm Beach, Deltona, Naranja, Little Haiti, two in Jacksonville and a DNC headquarters in Sarasota.

Having fewer offices does not necessarily mean doing less important campaign work, Giorno said, noting that the Republican National Committee and Republican Party of Florida have been doing grassroots campaigning for two years, and Florida Trump supporters have been doing it for nearly a year.

"You can see it in the fact that we are outpacing the Democrats in voter registration. If we were not doing activities in the field, you would not have those numbers," she said.

Democrats now have a 259,000-vote edge over Republicans, only half of what it was four years ago.

Clinton allies say many of those newly registered Republicans were registered Democrats who consistently voted Republican in statewide races anyway and that Democrats claim an advantage in newly registered voters, and especially non-white, new voters. Of the 534,000 new voters added to the rolls this year, Democrats say more than 180,000 are Democrats and nearly 156,000 are Republicans. Less than 4 percent of the nearly 63,000 new African-American voters are Republican, and just 16 percent of the new Hispanic voters are Republican.

Contact Adam C. Smith at Follow @adamsmithtimes.