THE state that famously decided the 2000 Presidential contest no longer holds its preeminent position as ground zero for campaign Battlegrounds (that distinction is shared by Virginia and Ohio today). But Florida is still supremely important with its 29 electoral votes and often close polling results. Today, Adam Smith in the Tampa Bay Times has a meaty write-up on the nascent and expanding efforts of the Romney campaign in the Sunshine State and even a Battleground county mention.
Obama won Florida by less than 3 percentage points in 2008 after mounting the largest statewide campaign operation ever seen here. The effort promises to be even bigger in 2012, but Republicans are banking on a turnout operation more like George W. Bush’s formidable 2004 campaign than McCain’s. The latest Florida polls show a dead heat, and both sides understand that if Romney loses Florida it’s next to impossible for him to win the White House.
Despite the reality that Florida is not mandatory for an Obama re-election, his campaign is unloading on the state with both barrels:
For 10 months, President Barack Obama has been steadily building a voter mobilization army here and now has about 100 paid staffers, 27 field offices and thousands of volunteers working almost every day to deliver Florida’s 29 electoral votes. A click on Romney’s Florida campaign website Thursday found no upcoming events in the state, while Obama’s site showed 194 events within 40 miles of downtown Tampa.
A rather daunting operation for a candidate who until recently had little more than a skeleton operation. But “optimism abounds among Republicans across Florida”:
Veteran activists see the start of a Florida campaign operation far more robust than John McCain’s anemic effort four years ago, and they see a Republican electorate fired up to defeat Obama. “The difference between 2008 with (John) McCain and 2012 — I could cry with relief. The people running the Florida campaign today are professional, they’re sharp, they’re disciplined. It’s like we have grownups in the room, people who know what they’re doing and lots of enthusiasm from volunteers.”
In political discussions, Florida is often analyzed as three different states. Northern Florida is distinctly Republican while South Florida is distinctly Democrat with the middle “I-4 corridor” laden with swing voters who decide most statewide elections. The Romney campaign is making strategic decisions with this exact phenomenon in mind:
In a departure from past presidential campaigns in Florida, the Romney campaign and Republican National Committee are basing their headquarters for turning out voters in Tampa, rather than in Tallahassee with the state GOP. The “Victory” headquarters on Harbour Island just opened and is a two-minute drive from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where Romney will accept the nomination in August. “Placing the office in Tampa makes it easier to focus on the all-important I-4 corridor,” said Molly Donlin, director of Romney’s Florida campaign.
By Sunday, the campaign expects to have 23 “Victory” offices open across the state. These are opened by the Republican National Committee to coordinate voter mobilization efforts with the Romney campaign and state party. At least another 20 should be up and running by July, when roughly 40 Romney and Republican National Committee staffers should be on the ground in Florida. In Polk County, GOP vice chairman Steve Maxwell said campaign offices already are open in Lakeland and Winter Haven and another is coming soon in Lakes Wales, with volunteers phoning tens of thousands of voters every week.
Interestingly, in addition to their different stages of organization, the two campaigns thus far have distinctly different approaches to voter appeals:
Romney overwhelmingly won Florida’s Republican primary in January, mainly by burying his rivals with negative TV ads. The campaign’s grass roots effort largely consisted of mailing absentee ballots to supporters, rather than the kind of person-to-person communication the Obama campaign is focused on.
We’ll see when and how the Romney campaign changes its messaging and outreach for the general election but until then it is nice to see enthusiasm and immediately successful contrasts with the often frustrating 2008 effort.