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Tuesday
Oct232018

14 Days Out to Election -- and FSU basketball

To:       People who love democracy and dogs.

From:   Steve Schale

Re:       2 more weeks

It is great to be writing this from America’s county, Duval.  It isn’t so great to be writing this while riding in a van – so forgive me if there are any more typos than normal.

Yesterday was the first day of in-person early voting, as 113,750 people went to the polls.

Not surprisingly, it was a record first day for a midterm election, but how much of a record might surprise you.  More people voted yesterday than the first two days of early voting in 2014, combined.  This happened to coincide with Joe Biden being in Florida. I am not necessarily saying the two are correlated, but the two events are facts. 

In total, about 25% of all the ballots cast to-date were cast yesterday.  Between VBM ballots, and in-person early vote, more than 300,000 votes were processed.

Today was also the first day that Democrats “won” – driven by their small advantage among in-person early voting.  Vote by mail looked like it has pretty much every day last week – with the GOP winning the day there by a few thousand votes.

As we enter early voting, there have been 1,260,846 total ballots returned. 

Republican ballots 545,327 (43.25%)

Democratic ballots: 496,104 (39.35%)

NPA ballots: 291,415 (17.4%)

Total GOP advantage:  49,223 (3.9%)

Monday’s numbers were 930,657 total votes with GOP advantage: 50,399 (+5.75%)

And for comparison purposes, 14 days out in 2014, the election looked like this.

Total ballots returned (2014): 1,609,835

Total Republican advantage:  141,433 (+8.8%)

Assuming turnout at 7,000,000 voters, roughly 18% of the potential total turnout is in. 

Just to stress one point – this time just for my Democratic friends:  There are 118,508 more Democratic ballots sitting on kitchen tables or in piles by the front door than there are Republican ballots.   

In terms of in-person versus vote by mail, right now, vote by mail accounts for 90% of ballots processed so far, though more people are likely to vote by mail than vote in-person early.

The Republican advantage in vote by mail is 53,745

The Democratic advantage in early voting is 4,522

In total, 31.5% of all requested ballots have been returned, with Republicans returning 35.81 % of their ballots, Democrats 29.8%, and NPA returning 26.93%

As I said yesterday, this isn’t going to be a deep dive.  I will be back to some more normal schedule tomorrow, plus after a few days of early voting, there will be more data to look at in terms of the make-up of that voting universe.

Couple of quick notes though:  voting in Broward and Miami Dade was strong.  Overall, voting in the three southeastern main Florida counties made up about 37% of all the early votes cast yesterday.  One flag on this stat – in person early voting isn’t up statewide until Saturday, so the early returns will favor the larger counties. 

The Panama City and Tallahassee markets continue to really lag where they should be, driven by the 8 counties most impacted by Hurricane Michael.  As I laid out a few days ago, I don’t expect the impacts of Michael to change anything but the most 2000-esque types of elections, but this is something to continue to watch.   The Jacksonville market is also lagging, though this should catch up as early voting continues. 

Look for more tomorrow.  Until then, thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

Monday
Oct222018

Florida 2018 15 days out -- It is Early Voting Time!

To:       People who love democracy and dogs.

From:  Steve Schale

Re:       15 Days out and the Jags suck again.

By the time you read this memo, early voting will have begun in Florida, as the polls open as Americans come to grips with one simple fact:  The Jaguars are terrible again.  There is a decent chance that by the time we get to week two of early voting, the Jaguars will be holding open tryouts at early voting sites. 

As we enter early voting, there have been 930.657 vote by mail ballots returned. 

Republican ballots 408,696 (43.9%)

Democratic ballots: 357,165 (38.4%)

NPA ballots: 164,796 (17.7%)

Total GOP advantage:  51.531 (5.54%)

Last week we saw steady days of 100,000 or more ballots processed daily, with Republicans increasing their advantage by a few thousand ballots every day. 

Saturday morning GOP advantage: 50,399 (+5.75%)

And for comparison purposes, 15 days out in 2014, the election looked like this:

Total ballots returned (2014): 1,472,104

Total Republican advantage:  138,385 (+11.5%)

For a 2016 comparison, Democrats trailed by about 20,000 ballots going into the first day of early voting.

Assuming turnout at 7,000,000 voters, roughly 13.3 % of the potential total turnout is in

To give some comparison: nearly 20% of the total final turnout had voted in 2014 before early voting started.   In 2016, it was closer to 13%. 

Just to stress one point – this time just for my Democratic friends:  There are 115,880 more Democratic ballots sitting on kitchen tables or in piles by the front door than there are Republican ballots.   

In total, 28.69% of all requested ballots have been returned, with Republicans returning 32.59 % of their ballots, Democrats 27.09%, and NPA returning 24.55%

I also had a chance yesterday to take my first look at the electorate, and it looks like the earliest vote by mail universes tend to look:  Republican, white, and heavily Tampa/Fort Myers.

White voters make up about 78% of all the vote by mail ballots returned so far.  About 80% of all ballot returners voted in 2014.  The new voters – or those who didn’t vote in 2014 are basically a wash.  In other words, among the early ballot returners, there isn’t a surge of unlikely voters on either side.

Based on return rates, I’d argue this is decent news for Democrats – and here is why:  the highest returning counties for Republicans are in some of the places Trump surged.  If those returns were being driven by the new Trump Republicans who showed up in 2016, we’d see a bigger chunk of non-2014 voters showing up in those returns – but there is nothing abnormal.  As I told a buddy of mine Sunday night, the people you’d expect to vote are the ones who are voting. 

Not that this is an excuse for you 115K or so more Democrats who have a ballot somewhere in the pile under a bunch of catalogs you have no clue why you get.

The other thing that is interesting – the one group that is voting:  women, specifically, Democratic women.  In fact, the single largest gender subgroup who has voted are Democratic women.  Women are about 54.5% of all voters so far.  Democratic women alone are over 23% of all voters so far.   Again, it is important to remember that we are only talking about 13% of the total likely electorate, but it is nonetheless, interesting.

But while I think these are good signs for my side, there are warning signs entering early voting:  namely, in the places where DeSantis and Scott need to grow from their 2014 margins, people are generally voting, though worth noting, they are voting across party lines.  Take Hernando County, a place where Trump’s vote share was 15 points higher than Scott in 2014, a full 44.2% of Republicans who have requested a ballot have returned their ballot – though among Democrats, the number is 40.9%, still well above the Democratic average.

On flipside, places we need people to vote to grow from our 2014 margins, voting has been sluggish.  Just 17.4% of Democratic ballot requesters in Dade, and 25.75% in Orange have returned their ballots, both below the party’s state average. 

Now these things could all change after a week of early voting, but if someone asked me what I am most worried about today as a Democrat, that is what I am most worried about.   Keep in mind, I am a worrier, and I am not overly concerned – but I would like to see some correction over the next week.

33% of early absentee returners are in the Tampa media market, and another 13% are in Fort Myers.  Optimistically, these two markets will top out around 32% combined after all ballots are cast through election day.

On the flipside, southeast Florida is behind what it will look like after election day.  The Miami and Palm Beach markets, which should end up somewhere around 28% of the statewide vote, currently make up about 22% of early vote by mail returns. 

Orlando is about where it should be, and North Florida is well below where it will be by election day, in part because this market tends to be a little more Election Day and in-person early focused, and because Hurricane Michael has disrupted return rates in a handful of counties in the Tallahassee and Panama City media markets.

Going forward, voting will be fast and furious.  We should easily see 2.5-3 million Floridians vote in the next two weeks, so the electorate will begin to mold into shape.  The electorate will get more diverse, it will balance out from a partisan standpoint, and it will start to look more normal in terms of geographic distribution.  There isn’t a whole lot so far that leads me to think we are headed to anything other than a pretty close election, but let’s see how the week goes.

We will see who ends up starting next week for the Jaguars, who thankfully go to London to play Paul Kane’s Eagles, a team that has looked equally disappointing.  But at least if that game is going to suck, there will be a week’s worth of early voting to analyze instead – that and trying to figure out how to get from second to first in my fantasy NASCAR league.  Priorities people. Priorities.

Until tomorrow.

Saturday
Oct202018

Florida 2018 - Darrell Waltrip Days (17) Until the Election

To:       Fellow hacks, fellow Americans, and all the FSU fans who are reading this while in line at the store buying their last-minute tailgate supplies.

 From:  Steve Schale

 Re:       17 Days out.

 

At the time I am finishing this memo, we are now:

45 hours until the first early voting sites open.

403 hours until the polls open on Election Day

415 hours until the polls close in the Eastern Time Zone counties

416 hours until the polls close in the Central Time Zone counties

417 hours until opening tip for FSU basketball


As of this morning, there are 877.782 ballots vote by mail ballots returned. 

Republican ballots 386,101 (43.99%)

Democratic ballots: 335,702 (38.24%)

NPA ballots: 155,979 (17.77%)

Yesterday was another day this week, just like every other day this week, with the GOP returning slightly more ballots than the Democrats.  This was the slowest day this week, though I am also pulling the data earlier in the morning, so as the day goes on, the total number of ballots processed on Friday could grow.  The basic make-up of the day isn’t likely to change.

One note from yesterday, we saw ballots processed in Bay County for the first time since the storm.  The eight counties most impacted have been, as to be expected, focused on other priorities.  There are still two counties: Gulf and Liberty, both who were significantly impacted, who haven’t reported since before Michael. 

Today’s GOP advantage: 50,399 (+5.75%)

Yesterday GOP advantage:  46,104 (+5.83%)

Thursday GOP advantage: 43,098 (+6.31%)

Wednesday morning GOP advantage: 40,179 votes (+7.28%).

And for comparison purposes, 18 days out in 2014, the election looked like this:

Total ballots returned (2014): 1,186,083

Total Republican advantage:  136,180 (+11.5%)

Assuming turnout at 7,000,000 voters, roughly 12.4% of the potential total turnout is in. 

To give some comparison: nearly 20% of the total final turnout had voted in 2014 before early voting started.   In 2016, it was closer to 13%. 

Yesterday, another 21,345 VBM requests were processed, moving the total number of requests to 3,224,028.

Democrats have a 63,592-voter edge in total requests, meaning Democrats have 113,991 more ballots yet to be returned.  The new VBM request number has steadily declined every day this week, which is common at this point in the cycle. 

Just to stress one point – this time just for my Democratic friends:  There are 113,991 more Democratic ballots sitting on kitchen tables or in piles by the front door than there are Republican ballots.    Come on people, I know we are all bummed about the start of the Jaguars season, but let’s get those things back in.

In total, 27.23% of all requested ballots have been returned, with Republicans returning 30.95% of their ballots, Democrats 25.61%, and NPA returning 23.43%

As I mentioned yesterday, when I think about these races, there are a few buckets of counties I will be watching, particularly as in-person early voting starts.  And let me repeat something I’ve said a lot – these numbers are just what they are: numbers subject to interpretation.  The things I see in them are things I see, based on watching a lot of elections in Florida.  But they aren’t predictive.  So, take them for what they are worth – my notes. 

Basically, these memos are the same thing I would do when I worked on more actual campaigns – try to spot trends, try to find holes, and try, when possible, to fix issues.  Since I am not working on this one, I am sharing my thoughts with you (well, most of my thoughts).    I am grateful there are people who find these things interesting – and I do try very hard to try to provide a little look behind the Florida curtain.

As we get into in-person early voting, it is likely we will see record vote counts, so significant chunks of the electorate voting each day, and there is a lot to be gleaned from that data.   But as Trump/Clinton showed us, the candidate who wins going into Election Day isn’t always the one that wins. 

I am confident of one thing:  This election is going to be very close, in all five statewide elections.  Several of the ballot measures will probably pass or fail by tens of thousands of votes.   I can parse through this data and find things would excite both sides.  For example, the Republican margin is nowhere near what it was in 2014 – in fact, the margin is 86,000 voters better for the Democrats today than it was on this election day in 2014.  On the flipside, in the places where Republicans need to do well to win, ballot return rates are high across the political spectrum.  It is shaping up to be a Florida election.

This is a long way of me saying what is obvious.  If you care about this election, get on the google, figure out the nearest place you can volunteer, and go grab a clipboard.  If you live in a state that doesn’t have a competitive election, you can pitch in here, by making calls and sending texts.  And if you don’t like data in here, use it as motivation.  If you don’t know how to help, tweet at me and I’ll give you some ideas.

You can make a difference.  So, go make a difference – or as my old boss says, “Don’t boo – vote.”

I am not going to write a memo tomorrow (you are welcome) – I am going to do a big table setter for in-person early voting that will be out on Monday.  For your planning purposes, with Vice President Biden in the state early this week, my Tuesday memo will be short, then we will get back to normal

The form of these will be like 2016.   I will be watching a bucket of counties that I think are important to both sides, these memos will track them over time.  If you are curious why I chose these counties, keep reading.   We will also track the state’s two primary swing counties this cycle: St. Lucie and Pinellas.

To recap yesterday - for Democrats to win, we win our votes in a handful of counties, and generally try to keep margins in play elsewhere.  For the Nelson/Gillum math, there are a few places where Clinton’s vote shares outperformed Crist in 2014.  

On this side, there are three base counties:  Orange, Osceola, and Dade.  The latter has seen a lot of organic growth towards the Democrats, but the former two Central Florida have been turnout issues in midterm cycles.    If Dems can get those two counties to perform closer to Presidential cycle margins, the math starts to look good.  In all three, vote by mail returns have been slow, which is normal.  We will be looking to see if the first few days of early voting start to bring the overall numbers more in line with what a Democratic win model would look like.

On the defense side, two counties where Clinton outperformed Crist worth watching:  Escambia (Pensacola), and Duval – also known as DUUUUVAL, which is Jacksonville.  The key for the ticket in those two places will be increasing African American participation.  These are also two communities that both DeSantis and Scott will want to look more like they did for Scott in 2014 than they did for Trump in 2016.   In Escambia, both parties are seeing strong return rates – with the rate running pretty even (GOP leading in ballots, as is expected).  In Duval, both parties are slower as of now, though the GOP has returned about 27% of their ballots, compared to 21% for Democrats.  In 2016, which is the model Democrats will want to see here, the vote by mail return rates got better for Democrats as the cycle wore on, and Early Voting really drove the close margin here.   Hopefully the Jaguars will win here on Sunday and energize folks to get out and vote!

Secondly, for the Republicans, to counter balance the growth the Democratic ticket is likely to see in the urban counties, there are about a dozen counties where Trump (2016) outperformed Rick Scott (2014).  While the GOP ticket is unlikely to see the same kind of raw vote margins Trump won in these counties, they will want the final percentage spread to look more like Trump than like Scott.  Most of these counties are in the I-4 corridor:

North of Tampa will be watching Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco.  These three counties, stacked north to south, are the bulwark of the kinds of places where Trump won Florida.  Scott won these three counties by 13,753 votes in 2014.  Trump won them by 110K votes – nearly 75K more than Romney four years earlier. Combined they make up about 5% of the total statewide vote – but for DeSantis, they are probably his biggest targets of opportunity.  Absentee returns in all three counties have been robust.

South of Tampa, we will be watching both Manatee and Sarasota. Again, north to south, Manatee tends to be slightly more Republican than Sarasota, which typically looks very competitive when Democrats do well, with the exception to the rule being 2014, where Crist did well, despite losing Florida.   Sarasota is looking quite competitive right now, with Democrats holding a slight lead in returned ballots.

In the Orlando market, will be watching two of the exurban counties: Marion, home to Ocala, part of The Villages, and Florida horse country, and Volusia County, which is home to NASCAR, and home to a significant blue-collar manufacturing base – and a rapidly growing Puerto Rican population.    Scott won these two counties by about 26K votes, Trump by nearly 80K – which was a 50K vote improvement over Romney in 2012.  Right now, like the north of Tampa counties, ballot return rates are all above the state average.

And finally, will be watching Charlotte county near Fort Myers, and Martin county near West Palm Beach.  Both are interesting in that, like the others, both saw Trump really grow from Scott.  And both are right in the middle of the Red Tide mess.   Scott won these two by about 18K votes, Trump by about 50K, about 20K more than Romney.

Lastly will track Florida’s two swing counties: St. Lucie, and Pinellas, both which had gone for the top of the Democratic ticket in 08, 10, 12, and 14, then went for Trump.  Right now, Democrats have a slight edge in returns in St. Lucie, and Republicans in Pinellas, though in both, GOP return rates are slightly higher.

Oh, and one last thing – nearly 50% of Democratic absentee ballots have been returned in Sumter County, the primary home of the GOP base The Villages.  Republican ballots are out pacing Dems, but Dem return rate is higher.   Good to see my Democratic friends there rushing in their golf carts to get their ballots in! 

Looking ahead, as I mentioned yesterday, we should see a pretty big in-person early voting day on Monday, when the counties that opted to open early voting for two weeks will open, then if tradition holds firm, the rest of the week will level out, and just like vote-by-mail this week, I suspect midweek will look a lot a like from day to day. 

Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Friday
Oct192018

Florida 2018 - Peyton Manning Days (18) until the Election

To:      Friends, Romans, and FloridaMen

Re:      Friday of Texans Hate Week -- 18 days out from Election and FSU Hoops

 

As of this morning, there are 791,438 ballots vote by mail ballots returned

Republican ballots 348,222 (44.00%)

Democratic ballots: 302,118 (38.17%)

NPA ballots: 141,098 (17.83%)

The week has been exceptionally consistent – Republicans winning the day by 3,000 or so voters, with Democrats chopping into the lead a percentage of all ballots.  I fully expect this to stay consistent for the next few days.

 Today GOP advantage:  46,104 (+5.83%)

Yesterday GOP advantage: 43,098 (+6.31%)

Wednesday morning GOP advantage: 40,179 votes (+7.28%).

And for comparison purposes, 18 days out in 2014, the election looked like this:

Total ballots returned (2014): 1,017,704

Total Republican advantage:  131,509 (+12.9%)

I will probably move this number once early voting starts and the final voter registration numbers are posted, but for starting purposes, estimating turnout at 7,000,000 voters, meaning roughly 11.31% of the potential total turnout is in. 

Yesterday, another 26,512 VBM requests were processed, moving the total number of requests to 3,202,683.

Democrats have a 67,492 -voter edge in total requests, meaning Democrats have 113,596 more ballots yet to be returned.  

Republicans are chipping away a bit at the Democrats’ request lead.  The Dem advantage has dropped a few thousand each day.   I don’t think this is significant, but just interesting.  In total, 24.71% of all requested ballots have been returned, with Republicans returning 24.6%% of their ballots, Democrats 23.2% of theirs, and NPA 21.4% of theirs.

I apologize this memo is going to be a little shorter – or maybe, you all will appreciate that.  But I want to give a little heads up about what is coming next.

When I think about these races, there are two things I will watch. 

First, for Democrats to win, we win our votes in a handful of counties, and generally try to keep margins in play elsewhere.  For the Nelson/Gillum math, there are a few places where Clinton’s vote shares outperformed Crist in 2014.  

On this side, there are three base counties:  Orange, Osceola, and Dade.  The latter has seen a lot of organic growth towards the Democrats, but the former two Central Florida have been turnout issues in midterm cycles.    If Dems can get those two counties to perform closer to Presidential cycle margins, the math starts to look good.

On the defense side, two counties where Clinton outperformed Crist worth watching:  Escambia (Pensacola), and Duval – also known as DUUUUVAL, which is Jacksonville.  The key for the ticket in those two places will be increasing African American participation.  These are also two communities that both DeSantis and Scott will want to look more like they did for Scott in 2014 than they did for Trump in 2016

Offense:

Miami Dade (Crist 58.4%, +99,704 votes, Clinton 63.7%, +289,898 votes)

Orange (Crist 53.5%, +36,556, Clinton 60.4%, +134,537)

Osceola (Crist 51.8%, +6,026, Clinton 61%, +35,080)

Offense to Play Defense

DUUUUVAL (Crist 41.5%, -34,381, Clinton 47.5%, -6,060)

Escambia (Crist 34.1%, -27,285, Clinton 37.7%, -31,347)

Secondly, for the Republicans, to counter balance the growth the Democratic ticket is likely to see in the urban counties, there are about a dozen counties where Trump (2016) outperformed Rick Scott (2014).  While the GOP ticket is unlikely to see the same kind of raw vote margins Trump won in these counties, they will want the final percentage spread to look more like Trump than like Scott.  Most of these counties are in the I-4 corridor:

Tampa market:

Hernando (Scott 47.9%  +2,013 votes - Trump 62.9%, +27,211 votes)

Citrus (Scott 53.7%, +8,881 – Trump 68.3%, +31,667)

Pasco (Scott 46.8%, +2,859 – Trump 58.9% +51,967)

Pinellas (Scott 41% -39,659 – Trump 48.6%, +5,551)

Sarasota (Scott 48.7%, +4,972 – Trump 54.3%, +26,541)

Manatee (Scott 51.7%, +12,356 – Trump 57.0% +30,647)

Orlando Market

Marion (Scott 55.3%, +19,869 – Trump 61.7%, +45,806)

Volusia (Scott 48.8%, +6,434 – Trump 54.8%, +33,937)

Charlotte – Ft Myers DMA (Scott 52.5%, +8,273 – Trump 62.5%, +26,781)

Martin – West Palm DMA (Scott 55.3%, +9,220 – Trump 62.0%, 23,091)

These numbers might give you a good sense why Joe Biden is coming to Tampa, Orlando, and Jacksonville for the ticket next week.

I hope to dive into these places in a little more depth this weekend, as well as to take my first real look at who is voting, and if we can begin to see any meaningful trends.  

Looking ahead, as I mentioned earlier, I suspect we will see a pretty big in-person early voting day on Monday, when the counties that opted to open early voting for two weeks will open, then if tradition holds firm, the rest of the week will level out, and just like vote-by-mail this week, I suspect midweek will look a lot a like from day to day. 

The next big change after Monday will be next Saturday, the day before Jacksonville takes on the Eagles in London, when early voting opens statewide.

As always, thanks for reading, and while everyone reading this memo may not always agree on politics, I think we can all agree on one thing:  May the Jaguars beat the Texans on Sunday.

Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Thursday
Oct182018

Florida 2018 - Johnny Unitas Days (19) to the Election

Dear Fellow Floridians, and Future Floridians. 

10 days until Jaguars/Eagles in London.

13 days to buy candy for Halloween

19 days left until Election Day

And...67 days left in the Christmas shopping season.

OK, here are the basics:

As of this morning, there are 682,504 ballots vote by mail ballots returned. 

Republican ballots 301,825 (44.22%)

Democratic ballots: 258,727 (37.91%)

NPA ballots: 121,942(17.87%)

Yesterday’s GOP advantage was : 40,179 votes (+7.28%).

Today’s GOP advantage is: 43,098 (+6.31%)

Subject to change, I am starting my estimated turnout at 7,000,000 voters, meaning roughly 9.75% of the potential total turnout is in.

Yesterday, another 47,463 VBM requests were processed, moving the total number of requests to 3,176,171. 

Democrats have a 69,619-voter edge in total requests, meaning Democrats have 112,717 more ballots yet to be returned.  In total, 21.49% of all requested ballots have been returned, with Republicans returning 24.6%% of their ballots, Democrats 20.0% of theirs, and NPA 18.7% of theirs.

Reminder to my Democratic friends – requests don’t vote.  In 2014, Democrats left 70,000 more requests unreturned than Republicans. 

For some reason, I have managed to lose the data from 19 days out in 2014.  But to give comparison to where were then:  20 days out in 2014, there had been just under 870,000 ballots returned, with the GOP advantage at 119,078 (13.7%), and 18 days out, there had been 1,017,704 ballots returned, with the GOP advantage at 131,509 (12.9%).  Split the difference, and any way you cut it, Democrats are ahead of where they were in 2014.

This week, ballots have been coming in at a faster clip than the same window in 2014, meaning as I mentioned yesterday, we should catch up to 2014 over the next week or so.

I don't expect this week to see any big changes in the trajectory, so for that reason, I thought I would use the next few days to tackle a few of the storylines around this election.  Today, this memo is going to take a look at Hurricane Michael, and the practical impact of the storm on voting -- and by practical, I mean literally the storm's impact on the electorate and votes, not the politics of who won or lost the storm.

Over the last 48-72 hours, I’ve gotten a few calls from folks wanting to explore the politics of it.  I will be honest, I am cautious to go there, given that there are so many of our fellow Floridians who are just digging out, but given the compressing calendar, here are a few things to consider.

While the greater North Florida region is about 19% of the statewide vote, for those who do not live in Florida, or who aren’t super familiar with the geography, the area known as the “Panhandle” – or as the President calls it “The Pan Handle,” while geographically large, only makes up between 8-9% of the statewide vote.

Fortunately for the state, the storm, while absolutely devastating where it hit, was fairly limited in terms of its direct impact – with the bulk of the severe damage limited to 8 or 9 counties.   In total, those counties make up about 2% of the statewide vote.   To give some sense of the politics, Scott won these counties in 2014 by about 30,000 votes out of the 115,000 total votes cast in the region.

I mention these numbers for one reason:  While it is important to do all we can do to make sure everyone can vote, I do believe whatever disruptions might occur in voting because of the storm will be limited, and highly unlikely to impact the outcome.  Further, this isn’t an area where vote by mail is particularly robust, with the vast majority of voters historically casting their ballot in-person early or in their precinct on Election Day, so disruption in mail service won’t have as big of an impact.

This a long way of saying, simply, as terrible and horrific as this storm is to the families who have lost everything, I don’t think the logistical impediments to the election are likely to impact the outcome.  As for the politics of the storm – well, we just have to watch that.   

On to the bigger picture.

The most remarkable thing about the data so far is its relative lack of being remarkable.  Republicans are expanding their voter lead in places you’d expect them to, Democrats are in the places that they should, and the places in the middle are looking as they should.

If you are a Democrat, couple of highlights: Yesterday was a better day in Broward, continue to hold a slight lead in the number of people who have returned a ballot in Sarasota, and continue to slowly gain on the Republicans in Pinellas – a county that voted for Obama twice, then Trump.   Also, the percentage of Democrats who have returned a ballot in the GOP-heavy county Sumter, home to The Villages continues to outpace the Republicans, though the GOP holds an advantage in total votes.  Overall though -- and while I recognize in a lot of people have just gotten their ballots -- and I get this happens every single year, I do t need to note that, with the exception of Hillsborough, return rates in Democratic counties are lagging the rest of the state.  (Hint, return your ballots)

On the Republican side, there continue to be robust participation coming out of Southwest Florida, with the GOP lead in total ballots being driven by turnout in Lee and Collier counties. Republicans should feel good about the energy of return rates in places like Volusia (Daytona), as well as a few of the counties that helped drive Trump, such as Hernando and Pasco. That being said, the GOP isn’t running up the kind of lead it traditionally does in a midterm cycle, though in fairness, some of that is more Democrats just choosing to vote by mail.   I hope tomorrow or over the weekend to really dive into this question.

Reminder, in person early voting starts in some counties on October 22nd, and will be open everywhere by October 27th.

Lastly, I want to close on a little point of personal privilege.  Today is the birthday of a friend of mine, Matt Grindy.  Matt is 38, or well, he would be, if he was here.  For Matt's friends, celebrating his birthday is an annual tradition.

I started graduate school in 2005, and Matt was one of the first guys I met, and I immediately liked him.  We shared a love of politics, and spent a lot of 2007 sparring over the primary – with me being an Obama guy, and Matt being more of a Richardson guy, though I eventually got him in my camp.   He wanted to try his hand at campaigns, and he knew I really wanted my shot at running my state for my guy – and pushed me constantly to go for it – saying often “why not you” under the caveat that if it was me, I would bring him along.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, Matt never made it to that campaign.  The call I wanted to make more than most never happened, as the mostly incurable cancer that was there for the entirety of the our friendship got him early in that year.  And while Matt never even saw 28, he lived a life fuller than most: marrying a remarkable young woman, writing a book, completing his Ph.D. literally from his death bed, and touching lot of people with the way he did all of these things with a death sentence hanging over his head.

While Matt’s story is all too common, I don’t tell his story today out of sadness, but I remember him today the way I often do – a guy who believed in unicorns, who saw dreaming big and chasing rainbows – all while refusing to take himself too seriously, as central to life, regardless of the obstacles in the road. 

My friends, be more like Matt.

19 days.  

Wednesday
Oct172018

Florida 2018 Memo- Josh Gibson (20) Days until Election Day

Dear Friends, Fellow Dog Lovers, and Casual Twitter Followers:

We are 20 days out from the start of Florida State’s basketball season, and since that 9:00 PM eastern standard time game tip happens to fall one hour after the midterm polls close in the central time zone in Florida, that means it is election memo time!

A lot has happened in the world since the last memo in 2016.  We had a solar eclipse.  Florida State made it to the Elite 8.  Our President can now text us on a regular basis, and the Jacksonville Jaguars went to the playoffs.

This point is important.  Bear with me.

The last time a non-incumbent Democrat won statewide won in Florida was 2008.  His name was Barack Obama.  The season before, the Jaguars, led by quarterback David Garrard, went to the playoffs.  In the playoffs they beat the Steelers on the road, before losing to the Patriots in the playoffs.

Fast forward to 2018.  Since the primary, every single poll has shown the Democrats’ non-incumbent candidate for Governor ahead:  Andrew Gillum.  And yes – the Jaguars last season went to the playoffs, beat the Steeles on the road, then lost to the Patriots. 

Just saying.  

This first memo isn’t going to be super long.  For a little background, I tend to think by writing, so these memos are the product of me processing the data that is before us, so as we have more and more interesting data, the length of these memos are going to get longer. Right now, the data is still to thin to mean much. 

Secondly, as you know, my region of Florida was just rocked by one of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall in American history.  By rocked, I mean there are areas that are functionally unrecognizable, so like many others - this hack is trying to spend what free time he has pitching in, meaning in short term, less time for writing and cranking through the voter file.  Once we get more votes – and I get more time, there will be more depth to the analysis. 

So, with that, here we go.

As of this morning, there are 554,350 ballots vote by mail ballots returned. 

Republican ballots 247,350 (44.65%)

Democratic ballots: 207,171 (37.37%)

NPA ballots: 99,649 (17.98%)

Subject to change, I am starting my estimated turnout at 7,000,000 voters, meaning roughly 8% of the potential total turnout is in.  That number could move up as we see more ballots returned.

In total, there have been 3,128,708 ballots requested.  Democrats have a 73,674 edge in total requests, meaning Democrats have 114,033 more ballots yet to be returned.  In total, Republicans have returned 20.5% of their ballots, Democrats 16.2% of theirs, and NPA 15.5% of theirs. 

*Quick aside – before you all start sending me twitter DMs, for ease of my process, NPA stands for people who are No Party Affiliates.  I also add in all the minor parties, meaning NPA in my data is anyone who isn’t a Republican or Democrat. 

Compared to this day in the election (20 days out) in 2014, two things stand out.  One:  far fewer ballots have been returned.  At this point, just under 870,000 ballots had been returned.  And secondly, the Republicans, while leading now, were leading by considerably more in 2014.  In fact, the GOP advantage was about 13.6% on Day 20 in 2014, or roughly 119,000 ballots.   In 2014, Republicans went into Election Day with a 90,000 voter advantage -- it is highly unlikely that will be the case this year.

I don’t think the decreased number of this ballots means anything – today.  In most places, people have only had their ballots about a week, and while it isn’t a huge impact on the total number, there are places where the storm has kept counties from functioning.  I suspect this number will catch up over the next week.

Couple of notes:

The GOP advantage is being driven by very robust return rates in southwest Florida – basically the Fort Myers media market.  This is the heart of the Republican base, and it was an area that was both robust for Scott in 2014, and Trump in 2016.   How important is this area for Republicans:  while it is less than 7% of the statewide vote, it will account for about 8.5% of the Republican vote.

Counties such as Collier (Naples), and Lee (Fort Myers) have seen Republican ballot return rates at 38 and 33% respectively, compared to 20% statewide.  This gives the GOP nearly a 22,000-voter lead just in these two counties – accounting for 54% of their total statewide lead. In fact, Lee and Collier alone account for 16% of all the GOP ballots returned to date. 

In fact, over 49.5% of the total ballot returns have come from the Tampa media market (34% of state total) and the Fort Myers (15.5% of state total) media market.  This number will probably land around 32% once all ballots are cast.  In terms of Tampa, a few counties I want to keep an eye on.

First Pinellas (St. Petersburg/Clearwater) – Pinellas voted for Obama twice, both Sink and Crist, and then Trump.  It is also a county that is predominately vote by mail, with a slight edge to the GOP in terms of registered voters.

Right now, Democrats have about a 2,000-ballot lead in ballots mailed out – about 39.3% to 39%, out of the 275,000 total VBM ballots.  But in terms of returns, the GOP leads by about 5%, or about 2K votes.  Not surprising:  Republicans tend to be better VBM voters, but as a Democrat, I would like to see this tick up.

I also want to keep an eye on Pasco.  Pasco is a county just north of Pinellas and Hillsborough (Tampa).  It will go Republican, though both Obama (in 08 and 12), and Crist, kept it competitive.  That changed with Trump who won the county by 37K more votes than Romney did in 2012.  In fact, that number is higher than the number of every county in North Florida, combined.  For DeSantis, he will want Pasco to look more like it did for Trump than it did for Scott in 2014, or Romney in 2012.

Right now, there is robust activity on both sides.  Republicans have about a 4% edge in all ballots mailed, but about a 5.3% edge in ballots returned, however, both parties have seen about a quarter of their ballots returned.  This is also a place where we saw a tremendous GOP turnout edge on Election Day, so will need to track who is actually voting by mail here going forward.  Overall, the Tampa market is pretty close to where it should be, and definitely better than this point in 2014.

The only media market in Florida that is pretty much where it should be is Orlando, which makes up about 20.5% of the ballots cast so far, and will be right around there in terms of its share of the state, with Republicans carrying a slight lead in ballots returned, again, right where it should be (actually, probably a little better than it should be for Dems). 

On flipside, the big Democratic counties in Southeast Florida, specifically Dade and Broward, tend to be more early voting focused, though we’d still like to see stronger return rates.  The Miami media market is now at about 12% of all ballots returned, and by Election Day, it should be 17-18%.  Right now, Dade is at 8% return for Democrats, and Broward at 12%.  Nothing to panic about, because it is early, but something to watch.  

The counties where Republicans are returning their ballots the fastest (% of ballots returned compared to requested):

Collier (Naples):  37.7%

Sumter (Villages): 35.2%

Charlotte (Cape Coral): 34.5%

Hernando (North of Tampa): 33.2%

Lee (Fort Myers):  32.4%

 

The counties where the Democrats are returning the fastest:

Sumter: 37.0% (Yes, Democrats are returning faster in Villages than Republicans)

Charlotte: 33.5%

Collier: 31.5%

Sarasota: 30.9%

Martin (Stuart): 29.5%

One quick note here:  Sarasota.  Sarasota tends to be an indicator for Democrats of good things.  When Dems overperform in Sarasota, they tend to win – Crist 2014 being the exception to the rule.  Sarasota is a GOP-leaning county, but with several moderate pockets.  Right now in Sarasota, Democrats are not only returning ballots faster than Republicans as a percentage – more Democrats have actually voted than Republicans.  I will watch this going forward.

All in all, we have a long way to go, and at this point, both sides have a lot to hang their hat on:  Republicans are seeing turnout where they want to see it, and Democrats are seeing better overall return rates than four years ago, leading to a much closer margin than existed on day 20 in 2014.

I am going to try to do a little note each day this week.  Again, I have not had time to spend any real quality time looking at the voter file to provide more context to these numbers, and hope to do that later in the week, or on Friday.

In the meantime, two things: If there are questions you’d like to me to track in these, drop me a note, and if you have any questions, about what is in here, please let me know.

Steve

 

PS – While the Patriots won the AFC Championship game, which is excellent news for Andrew Gillum’s chances, let the record reflect:  Myles Jack Wasn’t Down. 

Wednesday
Oct102018

The Politics of Hurricanes

Like today, writing this blog while Hurricane Michael passes just to our west, when you live in Florida, hurricanes are just part of life.  

For me, growing up in a family in the marina business in St. Augustine, dealing with these things became part of my DNA.  I remember as a kid, we’d track these storms on hurricane charts, with the full knowledge that the family business was in the hands of Mother Nature – as it remains today. In 2016, in the middle of the presidential campaign, I was back in St. Augustine, working the docks at the family marina during Hurricane Matthew with my stepfather.

That is a small example of how politics intersects with hurricanes.   From late summer through October, tropical weather is hardly ever not threatening Florida, and every two years, that reality for Florida families runs head first into the electoral calendar.    Traditionally here, candidates err on the side of caution, choosing to stand down while Floridians deal with these storms.  Occasionally, candidates try to thread the needle and get away with a little politics in the eye of the storm, and the way candidates manage these moments often becomes the center of debates. That’s what’s happened this week in the Governor’s race, with Ron DeSantis’s decision to run negative ads against Andrew Gillum – on the issue of storm recovery – in the markets being hit by the storm.

My first experience of managing the politics of a natural disaster happened in 1998, a year that northeast Florida was impacted by some of the most serious wildfires in state history, and the legislative district I worked in was largely ground zero.   Today, if you drive down I-95 through Flagler County, it is still noticeable how the trees through the City of Palm Coast are different than the trees further north, and the trees further south.   Summer wildfires that year burned hundreds of homes, tens of thousands of acres, and cost lives.  It was all hands-on deck for anyone elected, or working for an elected – but my situation was different for two reasons:   my boss represented the most Republican seat held by a Democrat in the Legislature – and we were target #1 of the GOP – and my boss was a member of the Florida National Guard – and got called to active duty for several weeks – in the midst of our re-election.

Being a bull-headed and opportunistic 24-year-old hack, and with a boss literally wearing the uniform of his nation to help manage the fires, my instincts said “this is an opportunity and we must take advantage of it” – but it was my boss, Doug Wiles, older and much wiser, who reminded me that if we just kept our heads down and did our jobs, voters would remember.  He was right.  In a district Jeb Bush won by like 15 points, we won re-election by a point – less than 1,000 votes – thanks entirely to the large margin we won in Palm Coast.

In 2008, I faced it at a different level.   Tropical Storm Fay was off the coast of Florida and looking like it could become a hurricane.  We were smack in the middle of ramping up our field operations and we had only been on TV a few weeks – and were still trailing McCain.  Suddenly we were faced with decisions:  Do we stay on TV?  What do we do with our field staff?  After thinking about it a bit, the decision became clear:  shutting it down for 36 hours wasn’t going to cost us the race, plus at a time when people were worried about their families and property, the last thing they wanted to do is see our ads or hear from our volunteers.  The same day, John McCain cancelled a major fundraiser in Miami.  Both sides decided we could punt our fight a few days down the road, and let people get through the storm.

I get these decisions aren’t always black and white.  Incumbents have legitimate jobs to do -- for example, both Rick Scott and Andrew Gillum have spent a lot of time on TV this week, and sure, while they benefit from the exposure, it is also their job.

Challengers want to be seen ready to lead, or if nothing else, willing to be helpful.    Take the question John Kerry faced in 2004 after Hurricane Charley rocked pretty much everything from Port Charlotte across the state to Daytona Beach – do you travel to the damaged areas to lend support, even if it is just moral support, at the risk of just getting in the way?  Or do you wait, and face criticism of not caring enough to show up?  That same year, politics and elections literally stranded me in South Florida, where when the airports closed, I ended up with a 15 hour ride up the Reagan to get home after a 04 campaign meeting.  Trust me, that will give you a new perspective on what people go through to get out of harm's way.

Most campaigns make the same decision that most real people make in these storms:  shut it down and ride it out, choosing caution over politics.   As my Republican friend, former Bush and Romney Florida advisor Brett Doster, said about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 as the state was facing the aforementioned Hurricane Matthew: “The two candidates are going to have to be very careful because there’s a tremendous risk if it looks like they are politicizing it (the storm) in the least.”   Or as Jeb Bush said today: “Candidates should shut down ads in impacted areas – the exclusive focus needs to be be on preparing, rescuing, and recovering.”

While Rick Scott is pushing that edge, running an ad touting his hurricane recovery leadership – Ron DeSantis' decision to run negative going after Mayor Gillum on the issue of hurricanes during a hurricane…in a town being battered by a hurricane is a new standard -- and not one we should hope to repeat.

In a campaign, you can only control the things you can control.  Challenges control that their opponents are incumbents thrust into high profile moments, in this case 27 days out, but they can control what their own campaigns do.  I suspect that DeSantis’ decision to break convention and run negative ads in the markets impacted by the storm during the hurricane is mostly a function of the fact he’s trailed in every single poll taken since the primary, and the clock is starting to run out.  

The reality is there's no easy way to measure what all of this means.  In a state like Florida where elections are decided in the margins, everything matters, and nothing matters.  Rick Scott rebuilt his image through hurricane response, yet still trails Bill Nelson in many recent polls out there.  Republicans have attacked Andrew Gillum on hurricanes, yet the Mayor has led every single public poll since the primary.

In the end, as Doug Wiles said to me during those fires, the only thing that matters in a hurricane is doing the right thing and taking care of people --- and that is why most campaigns make the decision to stand down.  As my grandmother would say, “this too will pass” and the time for politics will return, quickly.

 Will DeSantis pay a political price for breaking this tradition?  Does anyone think if he loses it will be because he chose to run negative ads during a natural disaster?   Or on the flip side, will his decision to run negative ads during the storm thrust him to victory?  The answer three is surely no.  I don’t think any candidate will win or lose their race solely because of this event.  But that is a different question than should he have pulled his ads earlier in the week?  The answer to that, at least from this guy, at least in the markets where storm was coming, is yes.

I pray everyone who was near the storm has made it through safely.  The pictures from the coast are really terrifying, but if there is one thing I know about this part of the state:  it is resilient, and it is a community.  Our neighbors who were most directly impacted by the fury of Michael will recover, and may God Bless them -- and may we all support them -- as they work in the coming weeks and months to put their lives back together.

 

 

Wednesday
Oct032018

Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Florida, But Were Afraid to Ask -- v.2018

So what is Florida?

10 media markets – many big enough to be battleground states (11 if you count Holmes being in the Dothan DMA)

Nearly 21 million Florida Women and Florida Men.

13 million registered voters.

Possibly as many as 7 million voters in 2018.

A fast growing and diverse Hispanic population.

A fast growing Caribbean population.

Last two Governor’s races decided by one point.  Last two Presidentials decided by a point.

An NFL team that was one blown call away from the Super Bowl.

Florida. Florida. Florida.

For regular readers of my semi-regular blog, this piece is a bit of an update from a piece I wrote in 2016.  You can read that one here.

The goal of the piece is to give outsiders, and folks generally interested in this place a bit of a baseline – a way to think about Florida, and some sense about how the place ticks.

Every political journalist asks the same question:  what is the single key to winning it?  (ok, jonathan martin first asks where to get good bbq).

The secret, as my friend Kevin Sweeny would say, is there is no secret.   The place is geographically huge, almost prohibitively expensive, exceptionally diverse in many ways, with huge chunks of voters who cancel each other out.  It is a place, that structurally, wants to be hyper competitive.  Take the Senate race – I’ve argued for nearly a year that despite what the polls say, both Bill Nelson and Rick Scott have a floor of 47 or 48%.  Both parties have huge and loyal bases – neither has a clear base path to 50%.  A handful of voters decide every election – and within that cohort one will find very few commonalties.    The place is both fascinating, and maddening. 

So, what makes it tick?  Why are the politics like they are?  And at a more basic level, what exactly is Florida?

Florida is a state, not a place.

Most states are places. Think about Texas, or even a state like Iowa, there is a sense of place to it, a commonality of experience – or as a marketer might say, an identifiable brand. Most states have it. Florida really doesn’t, that is, outside of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Florida isn’t a place in the same sense. It is a political circle, drawing 20 million people from vast, and I mean vast experiences and cultures into one spot. And almost everyone here has come from somewhere else.  When friends of mine joke about Florida Man, I often will paraphrase something noted American politico Christine O'Donnell once said:  "We are not a witch - we are nothing that you think - We are You."  Florida tends to reflect the nation, not stand out from it.

When I give talks about Florida, I often tell folks to think of our state as the new Ellis Island, except our ships come as cars and planes, from inside the borders of the country, and outside.  The same dream that drove people to come to America for centuries drive people to Florida today

Between now and 2030, Florida will add as many as 5 million more residents, grow to as much as 30% Hispanic, with a total population of well more than 50% coming from what are typically considered ethnic minorities.

The old saying about Florida is you go north to go south. North Florida feels like the traditional south, large rural areas, conservative towns like Jacksonville and Pensacola, liberal college towns, etc., while the rest of the state feels like wherever it came from. Go to Tampa, or most anywhere on the west coast, and there is more of a Midwestern feel – as most who got there, came down the I-75 corridor.  Go to a Chicago Bears/Tampa Bay Bucs game these days, and you might wonder who the home team is. 

Travel down the east coast and you can feel more northeastern influences, homage to the I-95 corridor and before that, the Flagler's railroad that brought them here.   Stay to the coastal side of the interstate, and the place is busy, almost one continuous city that goes on for hundreds of miles up and down the coastline.  Go to the interior of the interstates, and with the exception of Orlando – which is its own unique culture, the place is still very much Old Florida, with large expanses of agriculture and open space.

Then there is Miami-Dade, easily one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. 87% of the population is non-white (meaning non-Hispanic white), and that number is growing. It is really its own city-state, much more like a Hong Kong, or a Singapore, than it is a city within a state.

Politically, all these places basically cancel each other out. The simple way to think about Florida is North Florida being Republican, South Florida being Democratic, and the state balancing along I-4 – though as this piece tries to show, it is a lot more nuanced.  However, it is true that Florida tends to be like a self-correcting scale – for every Democratic trend, there seems to be an equal, and countervailing Republican trend, which keeps the state exceptionally competitive – and while there definitely is a bit of a north/south split – these trends are playing out all over the state. 

This piece is long (and could be 2-3x longer) – and again, it covers a lot of the same turf as I covered in the similar piece in 2016, but hopefully, if you choose to follow my memos throughout the cycle, it will give some context to the places you will hear me talk about.    Also, while I recognize there are five statewide races on the ballot, for purposes of this, I will use Governor’s race numbers from 2010 and 2014 – for several reasons:  1. It is the cleanest comparison, and 2. Scott is on the ballot again in 2018.

So let’s get started.

People look at Florida different ways – I’ve settled on it being home to 5 states. 

North Florida

Home to 3.5 million residents, and close to 19% of the vote in a midterm, think of North Florida as the I-10 corridor, running from Jacksonville to Pensacola, with the addition of Gainesville. It has the lowest Hispanic and highest African American percentages but is over 2/3rds white. The region is slightly bigger in population than Iowa.

The distance between Pensacola and Jacksonville is roughly 360 miles, along a fairly sparse I-10, home to America's #1 truck stop, the Busy Bee at the Live Oak halfway point. Rural north Florida feels much more like Georgia or Alabama than the Florida that most people think of. While the population is growing along the coasts, creating red counties that are just getting redder, the reality is population in this part of the state is stagnant compared to the rest of the state. 

Florida’s two dry counties are located here, as are two of its largest universities, as well as the seat of state government. In addition, the region is book-ended by two of the oldest cities in America: St. Augustine and Pensacola. Both ends of north Florida have a large military presence, as well as significant acres of state and national forests.  America’s team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, also calls the region home, as does the leading college men's and women's basketball programs in Florida:  the Florida State Seminoles, and the school that can beat neither: The University of Florida.  It is also home to the state's public HBCU, Florida A&M University, also the alma mater of the Democratic nominee, Andrew Gillum.  

It is the most conservative part of the state, though in midterms, can bounce around.  For example, Scott won the region by 13 points, or about 139,000 votes in 2010 – but four years later, he grew his margin to nearly 22 points, winning by 246,000 votes.  Keeping in mind his statewide win margins were virtually identical in 2010 and 2014, Scott’s growth in North Florida is the primary reason he was re-elected.    And while there is room to grow for DeSantis (and Scott) from his 2010 numbers, a lot of that room is in places with very small numbers of voters.  Moreover, Scott’s margin of 22 points across North Florida was higher than Trump (19), meaning DeSantis will need to exceed Trump – and possibly even Scott to hit his vote goals.

In the past, Bill Nelson has done very well here for a Democrat, but this race is different.  It is hard to imagine a scenario where he does as well here as in the past – though it isn’t hard to imagine him doing better than the average Democrat, and in a race likely decided by 100,000 votes or less, this will matter.

That being said, a Nelson win would be keeping Scott between his 2010 and 2014 numbers, where for DeSantis, it is hard to see him winning without at least matching Scott in 2014, if not growing further.   For Scott, few places are as important to him as the Jacksonville market – home to 8.7% of the vote, it provided over 11% of his vote in 2014.  If Nelson takes some of that away, Scott’s path gets difficult, quickly.

There are also places to watch for Gillum.  There is a significant African American population in Duval which helped propel both Obama and Clinton to stronger than typical performances there, as well as in Pensacola, and around Tallahassee.  Add the significant student populations in Gainesville (UF), Tallahassee (FAMU, FSU), and Jacksonville (UNF, JU, Edward Waters), and there is definite room for him to grow.  Even marginal increases in turnout here significantly change the GOP math for winning.  I think he could very well replicate the Obama/Clinton numbers in Duval.  In fact, I’ll bet dinner to the first person willing to take me up on it that he will.   And go back to that Scott versus Trump number a few graphs ago – the biggest single contributor to Scott winning North Florida by a larger percentage than Trump:  Scott running up the score in Duval, while Clinton getting Trump to almost a push.  #DUUUVAL

Orlando

Home to just over 4.2 million residents, or 20% of the state’s population, Orlando – in this case, defined as the Orlando media market, is the fastest growing market in the state. 25% of the total population growth in Florida since 2010 can be found in Orlando, and it arguably the place that has seen the most change over the last 25 years. The third largest market in Florida, would alone be the 27th largest state -- roughly the size of Oregon.   It will make up 21% of the vote in 2018.  If you want a really deep dive, I wrote a piece a few months ago about the market. You can read it here.

Just to provide some perspective, Orlando added over 500,000 new residents since 2010, and nearly 45% of them who are Hispanic, largely due to the migration of Puerto Rican families to Central Florida, as well as the growth of existing families. Hispanics have grown from 20% of the population to 25% of the population – in just seven years. Almost all of this is happening in two counties: Orange and Osceola, or more simply, metro Orlando, which sets up some interesting politics in the region.

There is a lot going on here. Drive south from Jacksonville, and you enter the market in Flagler County, a county which boomed in the 90s with a ton of retirement migration from the New York area, then just bottomed out, and in doing so, has gone from an emerging Democratic county to a reliably Republican one. Volusia to the south, home of NASCAR, and Brevard south of that, home to the Space Coast, both longtime manufacturing economies, have been hit hard over the last decade and a half, with Scott winning Volusia both in 2010 and 2014. Not surprisingly, Trump did very well in all three counties.  I believe a Democratic wave will impact counties in Florida – though I don’t expect much of it here.

Move down I-4 from Daytona into metro Orlando, and you see a different story. The economy is humming along, growth has returned, though there is still real income pressure. You also in these counties can see just how much the demographic changes have impacted the politics. Consider this, Crist won the three metro Orlando counties, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole in 2006 by over 50,000 votes, while Sink won the three counties by 25,000 in 2010, and Crist by 32,000 in 2014.

But one of the problems for the statewide math for Democrats, while the numbers in the urban core of Orlando are better for Democrats, the drop off in turnout in the urban Orlando counties, particularly in Orange and Osceola, has played a big role in the Democratic losses in 2010 and 2014.  For example, in both 2008 and 2012, President Obama won these three counties by over 100,000 votes, and Secretary Clinton by 166,000 votes in 2016.  If Gillum just splits the difference in margin between Clinton and Crist (+67K votes), these three counties alone more than make up the Scott win margin in 2014 (64%).

Now one of the interesting things at play here:  Puerto Ricans lean Democratic but are not solidly Democratic.  And Maria migrants, while not insignificant, aren’t the panacea that some national observers suggested a year ago.  This is both a persuasion, and a turnout question.  Honestly reversing the trends of Puerto Rican voters dropping off in midterms is a much bigger imperative than the Maria migrants (though both are important)

The other issue for Democrats, further north of Orlando is the Villages, a fast growing heavily Republican retirement community, largely of retired Midwesterners, and Ocala, which is home to Florida’s horse country. And what is interesting, when you combine the “Villages metro area” with the old manufacturing counties on the east coast, you find the Republican trends there almost balancing out the Democratic trends in the metro Orlando area. Scott in 2014 won the area by roughly 62K votes, increasing from his 44K vote margin 2010 – more than offsetting the Democratic gains in the urban areas.  And like Gillum, DeSantis does have room to grow in the market, largely due to these counties.

Despite all the trends that should benefit the Democrats, Scott increased his margin of victory in the market from 4.7% to 5.3%, and his margin in the market, 65,000 votes, mirrored his statewide win margin.  But there is all kinds of room for growth in the market for Democrats – even with Trump running up record margins in the exurban counties, Trump won the market by a comparably smaller margin of 2.9%.   

To win, DeSantis and Scott will want to see the market numbers model what Scott saw in 2014.  Given the likely growth in Democratic margins in SE Florida, anything closer to the Trump/Clinton margins is good news, though for Nelson and Gillum, if Puerto Rican turnout picks up, there is a real opportunity to this market closer to a push – and if they see those results, they are both going to have a very good night.   

Tampa and SW Florida

The biggest “state” in Florida, almost 30%, or 6.25 million residents live in Tampa and SW Florida. The Tampa media market alone is the size of Louisiana, but when combined with the SW Florida counties, you are looking at a region the population of Missouri, equal to 10 electoral votes.

In fairness, Tampa alone could be a standalone region, but I add SW Florida here because it is more culturally aligned with the Tampa area than it is with its neighbors across the River of Grass. 

North to South, this region is well over 200 miles, yet drive down coastal US 19 and 41 from Citrus County in the north to Naples at the far south, and with very few exceptions, it is one now one urban area.  Interstate 75 runs through here, carrying with it a distinctly Midwestern feel to the people who have moved to the region.   In fact, 25-30 years ago, before the area really earned its own identity, if you went to a Tampa Bay football game against then division rivals Green Bay or Chicago, these games were basically home games for the away team. It is not quite as bad today, but you will still see large contingents in their hometown garb.

This midwestern feel is also key for another factor:  the wave.  Wave years tend to crash harder in the Midwest, home to a lot more “swing voters” and if you think of regions of Florida as a mirror of the places where residents moved from, if the Democratic wave really impacts the midwestern US, it will also be felt in this region.

The region is as “white” as North Florida and has the smallest African American population in the state (8.8% of registered voters, compared to 13.3% statewide). There is a fast-growing Hispanic population, which is starting to impact politics, particularly in Hillsborough County (Tampa), but outside of the traditional Cuban population in urban Tampa, the Hispanic population here is much more “Latin” (particularly Mexican) than the eastern and central part of the state, which meant a larger delta between Hispanic residency and voting. However, that is changing. Since 2008, of 42% of the voter registration growth has been Hispanic, though Hispanics still only make up 10.2% of the registration (compared to 16.4% statewide). Overall, among registered voters, the electorate is 75% non-Hispanic white, compared to 64% statewide.

As you move south from Tampa towards Sarasota and beyond, it gets more Republican and you see more wealth. Sarasota is a funky political place, quite Republican in registration, but culturally more progressive. It is a county that of late tends to bounce around according to national trends.  Despite Trump winning it by a healthy margin, earlier this year, Democrats retook a State House seat in a special election, a seat they last won in 2008, and in 2018, Democrats are making a serious play for the Congressional seat held by Vern Buchanan.

But in all these counties, life out by the interstate is quite different than life close to the Gulf. Take Lee County, home to Fort Myers, and during the financial crisis, home to the largest foreclosure crisis in the country – with many communities still underwater. Travel further south into Collier County, and out east of the interstate, you will encounter massive Hispanic populations, including the neat community of Immokalee, a place that feels like almost no place else in the state.  The communities west of the interstate in Charlotte, Lee, and Collier (Naples) Counties make up the one of the key foundational cores of the Republican base.

Scott won these markets by a little over 5%, which was down from 2010, where he carried it 7.5%.  The narrower margin was driven by Crist’s drawing on his traditional strength in the core counties around his home in Pinellas.   Scott has always proven very strong in the Fort Myers market side of the region, winning these counties by nearly 100,000 votes.  Just to drive a finer point on Scott’s strength here:  while the Fort Myers market in 2014 accounted for 6.8% of all the statewide votes, the market accounted for nearly 8.5% of all his votes.  The only market where his disparity was higher was Jacksonville (8.7% of all votes, 11.0% of Scott votes).

Hillsborough (Tampa) used to be the bellwether, though in recent years, demographics have moved the county reliably into the Democratic county.  It is likely the new state barometer will be Pinellas, a county that went for Obama twice, and both Sink & Crist, only to go Trump in 2016.   Another county to keep an eye on is Pasco, a GOP county just to the north of Tampa that was very competitive for President Obama, as well as Sink and Crist, only to go overwhelmingly Trump in 2016.  For Gillum and Nelson, returning these two counties closer to their performance between 2008-2014 will significantly help their win prospects.    Two other places for Democrats:  Imperial Polk County, located just inland from Tampa, and home to a large African American population, and Sarasota, roughly 45 minutes to the south of Tampa, home to a very high percentage of college educated voters, which as mentioned before, tend to break from their GOP roots in years when Democrats do well.  These are places where Gillum and Nelson can make up ground.

For DeSantis, if you compare the region to Trump, there is a lot of room to grow.  Crist’s totals in the counties around HIllsorough were significantly better than Clinton earned 2 years later.  If you take the circle around Tampa – Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Hillsborough, Manatee, and Sarasota:  Crist actually won these counties by a fraction of a point – in a GOP wave year, whereas Clinton four years later lost these counties by nearly 6 points. For DeSantis, this should be a place to play offense – yet as mentioned earlier – this is also where the effects of a Democratic wave could be most strongly felt.

So for DeSantis the math is simple:  maintain the Scott margins in Fort Myers and try to replicate the Trump margins in the counties surrounding Hillsborough.  The trouble for him – in this environment, that will be much harder than it sounds.

Keep an eye on this on election night. Pasco County, a large bedroom community north of Tampa, typically first in the state to report its early and absentee returns right at 7:00PM EST on the Supervisor’s website. If Gillum and Nelson are ahead, or only behind by a few thousand votes, it will probably be a decent night for the Dems.  And overall, if Gillum can get in the vicinity of the Crist numbers around Tampa, given what could happen elsewhere, he’d be in pretty good shape.

Palm Beach

State four – moving back east across the is the Palm Beach media market.  In previous years, I used to group Broward County in with Palm Beach, because it demographically tended to be closer aligned to its county to the north than its county to the south.  This is no longer the case.  Palm Beach is very much its own animal now, and while it is reliably Democratic, at times, has proven to be a little tricky for Democrats.

In terms of Palm Beach, the county is home to just about 2.1 million residents, and in terms of the rest of the state, is incredibly stable.  At the 2010 census, it was 10.2% of the state’s population.  Today, it makes up 10.2% of the state’s population.  And I project the market will make up roughly – wait for it – 10.2% of the statewide vote.

Diversity is changing this market rather rapidly.  Since the 2010 census, the non-Hispanic white population has dropped from 63.4% to 58.6% -- in just eight years.  Correspondingly, since 2008, the non-Hispanic white share of registered voters has dropped from 77.6% to 70.1%.  Palm Beach is no longer just the Del Boca Vista Phase II of years past.  For Democrats, if we get turnout right, this is a very good thing – as some of the smaller margins in recent cycles can be tied to lower white support.

The market, for all purposes, at least of I-95 is pretty dense. While there are some less dense areas in Martin County and Indian River, if you drive down US #1 from Melbourne to the Broward County line (and onward to South Dade), you probably aren’t going to go more than a mile or two without passing a gas station, and if you drive all the way to the Keys, it might take you three days with all the traffic lights.

That being said, west of I-95, things get pretty rural very quickly, and the region still has large areas dedicated to agriculture.  If someone dropped you from a plane into one of the communities around Lake Okeechobee, you’d never think that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago was in the same county.

Palm Beach County is a Democratic county, but the other market counties to the north tend to be more Republican.  In 2010, while Sink won Palm Beach County by nearly 70,000 votes, Rick Scott held Alex Sink’s total margin of victory in the market to 55,000 votes, and thanks to a stronger performance in both St. Lucie County and Palm Beach, Crist extended it to just over 73,000 votes.  However, nothing is certain here.  St. Lucie County, located two counties north of Palm Beach County, had been getting more Democratic over the last decade, only to see the county go to Trump in 2016.   

For Gillum, there are real opportunities here to increase African American and Caribbean turnout.  While the Black share (African American and Caribbean American) share of registered voters has remained stable over the last decade, at around 13%, the Black share in this market has grown from 11% to 13%.    And for Nelson, the region has been an area of strength for him, even as the market has bounced around a bit for other Democrats.  Crist won 53% of the vote in the market, though I would feel better if that number was up closer to 55%. 

For DeSantis and Scott, two main goals here:  maintain Trump’s margins in places like St. Lucie, and try to drive down Democratic white support in Palm Beach, and essentially turn the market into a muddle (keeping that Democratic share under 53%) where the Democratic nominees can’t run up the score.

Miami

Finally, the Miami media market.

The second largest market in Florida, just fractionally smaller than Tampa, the Miami market is home to nearly 4.8 million residents, or about 23% of the state’s population.  On its own, it would be in the top 25 most populated states, roughly akin to Alabama – though population is the only thing the two places have in common.   

Yet, despite the population, Miami is the third largest voting market, home to just north of 17% of likely 2018 voters.  This delta is a function of two things:  lower voter participation, and higher rates of non-citizens.

From north to south, Broward County is the old anchor of Florida Democratic politics.  Sink won the county by 131K votes, while Crist won it four years later by 180K votes by increasing Sink’s 31% win to a 38% win.    The county, like Palm Beach to the north, is rapidly changing.  Those Democratic margins, for years driven by African Americans and retired northeastern liberal whites, are now driven by an increasingly diverse population of Hispanic and Caribbean voters.   Among registered voters, the county has dropped from 57% non-Hispanic white to 45%, in just 10 years, and based on census trends, this will continue well into the foreseeable future.

Miami is one of the most diverse areas in the world. It is becoming what London is to Europe, and what Singapore and Hong Kong are to Asia, that critical hub that serves as both an economic and political point of entry for Latin America, and about the only thing it shares with the rest of the state is the common border.

It is also exceptionally complicated. According to the 2010 census: nearly 85% of this “state” population is made up of people of color, a number that has risen to nearly 87%.  Also, the racial make-up of voters has evolved to more closely mirror the county. 

As recently as the mid-2000’s, the county was as much as 31% non-Hispanic white among registered voters, a number that is just under 18% today. Hispanic residents, who make up 65% of all residents, now make up nearly 58% of all registered voters – and keep in mind, because Hispanic is a self-identified marker on voter registration, actual Hispanic participation is typically higher than registration numbers.  Furthermore, within these subgroups exist tremendous diversity.  There is nothing monolithic about either the Hispanic, or the Black population.  

While it used to not be this way, today Dade County is solidly Democratic in statewide races– and trending even more Democratic. 

Keep this in mind:

Jeb Bush won Dade County, twice.

Jim Davis won by 8 points.

Alex Sink won by 14 points, or about 70,000 votes

Charlie Crist won by almost 20%, or about 100,000 votes.

And…Hillary Clinton won it by just a fraction under 30%. 

If Andrew Gillum were to win Clinton margins in Dade County, he’d win the county by 168,000 votes

What is driving that change?

Two things separate things are happening on a collision course: demographic inertia is pushing the area more Democratic, and the traditionally Republican Cuban constituencies are becoming less Republican. 

For Democrats, the goal is simple:  drive those trends to new record margins.  

For Republicans, the plan is more nuanced:  there are segments of the Hispanic population, as well as the Caribbean population where Republicans can scrape at the edges of the Democratic coalition.  In addition, while the younger Cuban populations are more persuadable, they aren’t Democratic, meaning there are votes to be won there. 

As for Monroe, it is a swing county – one of the few left in the state.  A winning plan would send an experienced field hack with significant statewide and swing district experience there to spend a lot of time door knocking (just DM me guys).

For Democrats, Crist won the market by 28 points (63-35), or just over 281k votes.  At likely Democratic turnout, with trends there, stretching that margin to 65-33, or 32 points is quite reasonable, would lead to a potential Democratic margin of just under 360,000 votes – or some 80,000 votes more than Crist 14.    Do more than this, and it would take some crazy scenarios to elect either DeSantis or Scott to get to a win.

So how does this plane land?

This piece is long, but Florida isn’t simple. I wanted to show how and why the main candidates are likely to approach the state to win.

But for all the different scenarios, the basic premise of Florida doesn’t really change.  The state and its regions are very stable – winning and losing happens in the margins, and candidates will work to influence where the scale tips in how they manage those margins – Dems keeping it closer in Duval versus Republicans over-performing in a place like Palm Beach, or just running up the score somewhere else.   And while I am currently bullish about my party’s chances, both from the standpoint of mood, and Dem opportunities for growth, if DeSantis and Scott are able to replicate Trump like share of the vote in the large suburban and exurban counties around I-4, things could get very tight, very quickly.

Though nothing is easy here. The state is absurdly expensive, and winning Florida means navigating different cultures, languages, and economic realities. It requires both turning out your base and persuading an ideologically and culturally diverse swing voters. When folks ask me, what is the key to winning Florida, the answer is everything, which can be a hard concept to understand.  There is no key to be found – just a puzzle with 2,000 pieces thrown all over the floor.  Find the pieces, and you win.

So here we go.  2.55 million ballots are landing in mailboxes as I write this (and for the first time in recent history, Democrats have a slight edge in the initial requests), and odds are likely that within 10 days, more than 10% of the likely turnout will have already voted – and by the time we all go to work on Monday, October 15th, that number will almost surely be north of a million votes, and by the time the polls open on November 6th, somewhere around 60% of the electorate will have already voted.

The election is on us, and every day that goes by, we will get some clues for how each side is doing on the metrics important to their win.  So, thanks for reading, and stay tuned.    

Oh and Myles Jack wasn't down.  #NeverForget

Monday
Jun112018

Florida - Persuasion or Turnout...or both?

In the never-ending quest to simplify Florida, one of the ongoing debates about winning the state is whether Florida is a state won by winning persuadable voters, or whether it is all about turning out one’s base. 

I remember when I started with Obama, I got a ton of advice – most of it unsolicited (much was helpful), though a significant portion went something like this:  “Steve, nothing matters but I-4…Steve, if you don’t maximize the Jewish vote, you can’t win…Steve, field is dumb, it is an air war state…Steve, TV is dumb, it is a field war state…Steve, you have to do better with absentees...Steve, don't waste money trying to convince Democrats to vote by mail...Steve, you have to watch your floor in North Florida, or you can’t win…Steve, you have to take Obama to Condo X, or you won't win...Steve, you have to pay for bus benches in Miami, or you can’t win.”  You get the point.

Here is the secret – all of it matters.  Florida is neither a persuasion state, or a turnout state.  It is, in my honest opinion, both.  It doesn’t matter if it is a Presidential cycle, or a midterm year, Florida is a state about managing margins, everywhere.

Avid readers of my blog (thank you to all three of you) have read me refer to Florida as a self-correcting scale.   The bases of both parties do a nice job of balancing – or cancelling themselves out, almost regardless of population or demographic shifts.   

Before we go any further – it is important to note that this phenomenon is almost exclusively a result of my party losing vote share among non-Hispanic whites.  If we were winning non-Hispanic whites at a level anywhere near Obama 2008, based on the demographic shifts in Florida, we would be a leaning to likely Democratic state.  At the same time – if Florida wasn’t experiencing demographic changes – and the Republicans weren’t losing share among voters of color – particularly Hispanics, we would be a predictably Republican state.   Functionally, if either party can broaden their own coalition, Florida quickly gets less competitive.

But these two factors have largely cancelled each other out – hence the self-correcting scale.

Let’s review quickly how Democrats and Republicans win Florida. 

Because I am a Democrat, let’s start there.  Democrats earn their votes in a handful of counties, specifically: Leon, Gadsden, Alachua, Hillsborough, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade.   Winning Democratic candidates typically do a few other things: win Pinellas, win St. Lucie, win a few North Florida counties like Jefferson, maintain reasonable margins counties like in Duval, Sarasota, Volusia, and Seminole.    They also maintain a reasonable floor in North Florida, suburban/exurban counties around I-4, and the Fort Myers media market.

For Republicans, their math is a little different – they win a lot more counties, but by relatively smaller margins.  Their win comes from winning in places like Pinellas and St. Lucie, and running up the score in places the Panhandle, the First Coast, the suburban and exurban counties around I-4, and in southwest Florida. 

I’ve written extensively about this dynamic in Presidential cycles.  You can read my primer on Florida here, or my 2016 debrief here and here, but in short, I would argue there was a lot of misreading of the Obama wins in Florida.  Yes, they were driven by significantly increasing the margins in the Democratic base counties over Kerry, and growing them in 2012.  But here’s the thing – that alone wouldn’t have won the state.  In both 08 and 12, Obama generally kept the margins in check in the GOP counties – and he won the few battleground counties that exist in Florida. 

Take Obama 12 and Clinton 16 – both races decided by a roughly one percent margin.   For all the chatter about a “less than enthusiastic” Democratic base, Clinton won the base Democratic counties by more than Obama did.  Her problem wasn’t turnout.  Her problem was Trump winning the few battleground counties, and setting new records in both share of the vote and actual vote margins in those places where they must run up the score to win, and where we need to keep it in check.  

I can read your mind – “That’s interesting Steve, but this is a midterm cycle, and you know it is different.”

Yes, it is – and no it isn’t.

Yes, it s different because the electorate is smaller, and at least in the last two cycles, been more Republican (a fact impacted by two consecutive midterm waves for the GOP), which was a change from 06, where turnout marginally leaned Democratic (and Dems won 2 statewide races). 

But there are a lot of similarities between the Presidential and midterm cycles.   Both Republicans and Democrats still need to carry their margins in the same counties as they do in Presidential cycles.  While the vote totals are different in individual regions and counties are different, the functional roadmaps for winning isn't.

Rick Scott won two elections by a point, however, the shape of those wins was quite different, and in those differences lies the path to how the Democrats can win in 2018.

In 2010, the Democratic struggles were a creature of three real problems:  Hispanic drop-off from 2008, lower participation among white Democrats particularly in Central Florida, and wave of GOP and GOP-leaning NPA voters who saw voting for the GOP as a way to send a message to President Obama.  From a math standpoint, this led to lower than necessary margins in South and Central Florida base counties.   But here is the thing, Scott ran up some very large margins in parts of the state, Sink kept him in check in many others.  In fact, she kept him in check by more than enough in many GOP counties to have a winning coalition if the Democratic counties had performed well.   But they didn't.   The lesson of Sink:  Florida isn’t alone a persuasion state.

Crist’s math in 2014 was quite different.  Crist ran on a far more progressive platform than Sink, with a fairly robust turnout operation – certainly not the size of Obama, but the largest in midterm cycle history for Florida Democrats, and as a result succeeded to run up the score in the base Democratic counties, winning the three South Florida counties by almost 100,000 more votes than Sink.   He also did well enough in the “Crist counties” – the stretch from Pasco through Sarasota, where his brand is most established, winning those counties by a total of almost 2.5%, where Sink lost them by a half of a point.   

But the floor fell out for him in North Florida.  Despite North Florida shrinking as a percentage of the electorate from 2010 (20%) to 2014 (19%), Crist lost the region by 8% more than Sink did, netting Scott’s margin roughly 107,000 more votes, more than wiping out the gains Crist made in the base Democratic counties (97,000 votes).

One other way of looking at it, Crist won the base Democratic counties by 92,000 more votes than Sink did.  He lost everything else by 95,000 more votes than Sink.   The lesson of Crist, as was also the lesson of Clinton:  Florida isn’t alone a turnout state.

If Clinton has her margins in the base counties, plus Obama’s elsewhere, she wins by a point or two.

If Sink had her math, plus Crist’s margins in the base counties, he wins by about a point. If Crist has his margins, plus Sink’s margins only in North Florida, he wins by almost a point. 

2018 will be different yet.  The Democratic nominee will benefit from an electorate that is more diverse, meaning the base county margins should rise, and I think there is a lot of room for growth in the Orlando urban core.  However, at the same time, they will be unlikely be able to count on some the margins Crist won in his corner of the state, and will have to contend with areas where the GOP population is growing.  The questions aren't as simple as how do we turnout more voters, but also have to include questions like how do we keep Duval looking more like it did for Obama, Clinton, and Sink than it did for Scott in 14 or Rubio?    

For Republicans, they must deal with the fact demographics are changing in a way that helps the Democrats, and that 2018, unlike 2010 and 2014, will almost surely not be a very good Republican year, as we've seen in each of the competitive special and off-cycle elections this year.

I believe that in Scott/Nelson, as well as in the Governor's race, Florida starts this year somewhere around 47-47 -- maybe even 48-48, and we will be fighting over the path to that remaining 150,000 votes or so that a winning candidate will need.   Some of those votes are found by increasing turnout, others won and lost in the persuasion fight.  The candidate who wins in 2018 won't find those votes by getting just one of those things right, they will succeed in building the right answer to a puzzle.  That is just how Florida works these days.

Sunday
May272018

Resiliency in the Philippines

As anyone who has participated in these kind of exchanges know, there is a typical flow to the days:  breakfast, followed by a formal courtesy call or two with a Mayor/Governor/Legislative Leader, some kind of early afternoon lunch with a mix of elected and civil society types, maybe another political meeting in the afternoon, followed by a cultural activity, then dinner with community leaders/friends of the host. 

I’ve done three overseas trips and hosted three groups, and the basic rule is pack as much in as you can.  For me, Friday was supposed to be a day like that:  Breakfast in the morning, a meeting with Joy Belmonte, the Vice Mayor of Quezon City (the largest city in Manila), lunch with a few local Mayors, afternoon meeting with a few more, and a dinner with several people I first met when I came to the Philippines in 2013.    Of all the days of the trip, this was one I really looked forward to, as it would be a chance to reconnect with some old acquaintances, including Vice Mayor Belmonte.  It was the “old home week” day of the trip.

Then the fire happened. 

A day or two earlier, a small electrical fire started in an urban home in the city, but since that home was in a tightly cramped informal settlement, by the time it was contained, it had wiped out 400 homes in the neighborhood, displacing between 1500-2000 people.  The fire destroyed everything – people who already had very little survived with nothing more than the clothes on their back.  So rather than meeting with me, the Vice Mayor said she would pick us up at the hotel, and we’d all head to the temporary camp housing the victims to help distribute relief supplies.

The temporary camp was set up in a local park with an amphitheater.  For Tallahassee residents, the park would remind you of Cascade Park, so imagine the amphitheater there being set up as temporary housing for 1500-2000 people, with the roof only providing moderate relief from the elements.   When we arrived, there was a very rudimentary health care tent, a pile of donated clothes people were wading through to find stuff that fit them, and a couple of hoses for personal cleaning and drinking water.  It’s the kind of place most of us couldn’t imagine calling home for more than a few hours, let alone for days or weeks.

Frankly, at first, I felt really out of place, completely overwhelmed and helpless, and almost exploitive being there.  I didn’t want to be the guy that just showed up because I should.  The local politicians offered to let me hang out bags, but that honestly made me feel worse – so I went in the back and helped move supplies from a truck.   In the midst of trying to be useful, I saw a woman and her kid with several bags of supplies sitting under a tree.  Assuming she might be waiting for help, I asked if I could carry her stuff to where they were sleeping – and ended up striking up a conversation.   Turns out, this woman, now homeless from what was basically a slum, was putting two children through college, literally sacrificing everything to give her kids a better life.   She was a good reminder to never judge a book by its cover.

The more I talked to people, the more I saw that despite the outward impressions of total misery, there was near universal joy among the people, and genuine kindness towards me for simply being there.  Instead of holding back tears or hiding in the back, I found myself fist-bumping with kids, and hugging grandmothers.  I left there bouyed by their optimism and spirit.

Before coming, I talked to several experts, and the words they kept using to define the Filipino people: happiness and resilience.   This is a place that has been the center of many wars, including one we fought to colonize the country, and another to free it from the Japanese.  Typhoons batter the islands many times each season.  Governance here is messy – from the Marcos years, to Duterte today, to the corruption that you hear about from nearly every one in civil society.  This is a place of survivors. 

After leaving the camp, I sat down with several mayors who are successfully taking on poverty, including Kauswagan Mayor Rommel Arnado, himself a Filipino-American who decided to renounce his American citizenship to go home and run for Mayor in his ancestral home.  Mayor Arnado developed a program called “arms to farms” to encourage separatist rebels on the island of Mindanao to give up the fight.  Basically, if you would volunteer to give up your arms, the city would help you get into organic farming.  The program is now being replicated in cities in other war-torn areas.    In another, Siayan Mayor Flora Villarosa has reduced the poverty rate from 97.5% to 60%. I asked her how, and after reeling off some deliverables, she said fundamentally it was about teaching people how to dream bigger than their next meal. 

The issues here are immense.  First, the geography of the country is almost unmanageable, and the infrastructure is woefully underprepared for a growing country of 100 million people.  Getting around here is slow, and so much productivity, and honestly, just hours of life here are lost sitting in traffic.  I’ve been in seven hotels in the last eight nights, and after hours every day in the car, I am beat – I can’t imagine doing this day in, day out.   And the poverty – it is every where you look.   But it is hard to not feel hopeful after spending a week with young leaders. 

I am writing this while traveling from my last speaking event, making the 60 mile, but nearly 3-hour journey to the airport, to fly to Manila, for my trip home.  When you drive this slowly, you can see life in slow motion.  Just as we left, we drove through a pretty significant storm, a rain that was broken by a rainbow that developed over a nearby volcano.  As the rain subsided, people came back to the streets, kids started playing basketball, road side markets got busy again, and life returned to normal.  The history of this country has been one storm after another, followed by a resilient people recovering.

This is a place that is important to America for a lot of reasons.  The strategic location of the country is an obvious reason, but so is the relationship of Filipinos to America – this place is western, and nearly everyone you meet here has family in the US.   There are a lot of reasons to be engaged here, with one of the strongest being the countless young Filipino leaders committed to getting it right – and that is the whole point of the Young Southeast Leaders Initiative, to create relationships between rising young leaders in the ASEAN region and young Americans who share common goals.  I’d argue this program, and the similar ones that operate in other regions, are some of the most important tools in our forward-facing diplomatic toolbox.

I am truly grateful for ACYPL, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and the State Department for the opportunity to come back.  I am indebted to my brother for life, L.A. Ruanto, who took a more than a week from his family to take me around the country.  The place has been kinder to me than I deserve.   Someone once said of travel that when you travel, you never feel completely home again, because you leave a piece of your heart behind.   That is certainly the case for me and the Philippines.  Nonetheless, I leave this place renewed by the inspiring leaders I’ve met, and hopeful that life won’t make me wait another 4.5 years before returning.