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18 days out -- Are Dems gonna Dem? 

Yesterday, in Orlando, I watched my friend and respected journalist Ron Fournier describe this election to a room of about 1,000 influential health care leaders as a "shitstorm" -- and it seemed pitch perfect. As a total aside, I've typed that word so many times this year, my phone no longer corrects it.

Thank God this awful excuse for a national election is quickly hurling towards a close. Here in Florida, about 1 million votes are in -- well over 10% of all likely voters. At this point, we know this: unless something else crazy happens, Clinton will win Florida, maybe by as much as 4-5 points. As my friends know well, I am not one for certain predictions, but this one I feel really good about.

After that, we honestly don't know anything. And the thing that has driven every conversation I've had for 3 days: Is this going to be the cycle that Democrats absolutely misses the opportunity.

Another journalist friend of mine, Gary Fineout, once said to me that Democrats are so bad at taking advantage of opportunities that we literally miss opportunities to miss opportunities. And prior to 2008, my brother in politics Dan Gelber said to me as I took the reigns of Florida Obamaland, "your job is to keep the movement going in the right direction, and not do what we always do, which is get in its way."

More succinctly, my first boss Doug Wiles, who spent 27 years in the military, used to observe that our problem was simple: when we went to battle, our troops would rather line up in a circle, instead of in a straight line, when firing their weapons.

So how does that apply in 2016?

Let's take a quick look:

In the US Senate, Patrick Murphy, with little more than some tweets of encouragement from national Democrats, has put his race on the verge of defeating a man who many, including me, thought would be the GOP nominee for President.

In the Congress, Democrats could move the 17-10 GOP advantage to 14-13 GOP (+3).

In the State Senate, while 16 seats is a solid year, they are actually in play in enough races to get to 19.

In the State House, they should pick up 3-6 seats, though there are as many as 22 races that you'd have to say today are in play.

But for all that being said, this could just as likely happen:

Rubio has the edge right now to win, particularly given the DSCC decision to not play here.

Congress could come back 17-10.

Senate could flatline and come back 26-14.

House could leave a lot of seats on the table.

Now this isn't a piece bashing the Florida Democratic Party. While I have some fairly strong views on the role of the party, when it comes down to this kind of blocking and tackling 18 days out, there is a point at which they can only do so much. Patrick Murphy has carried this race on his own shoulders withoutthe help of national Democrats.

I have a lot of smart friends on the other side, and they are going to make smart decisions on defense. No Democrat can think that our team will win seats because the Republicans will give up.

But the Democrats have a good team too. Smart operatives like Beth Matuga and Josh Weierbach in the Senate, and Dan Newman and Steve Jackson in the House have more competitive races than money from their traditional backers. And I've been in those underfunded efforts, and their conversations aren't "where can we invest to win?" but instead are "which winnable seats do we have to walk away from?"

In other words, they aren't in a place to make good decisions.

In fairness, some of this wasn't truly predictable. Four weeks ago, it looked like Florida would be a dog fight, meaning that we'd be looking at a traditional battleground. And many of us, me included, overestimated Trump's ability to up his game and run a campaign that was worthy of the office he was seeking.

But then the video happened, and the tax issues, and the train wreck of debates. All of the sudden, Florida doesn't look so close anymore.

And these things magnify down ballot. While a 3-5 point shift may not sound like a ton, districts that have higher proportions of Hispanics, or whom are home to larger populations of college educated white women will feel that shift magnified. Moreover, redistricting has left a lot of seats held by Republicans that are just outside the range of being a true "swing seat" -- but definitely become one with a small shift in the electorate -- just as this happened to my party in 2010 and 2014.

For the sake of America, God willing this shitshow of an election is a once in a lifetime occurrence (though I don't think so -- more on this later), but for my party, it is also turning into an unprecedented opportunity.

I had this problem in 2006, but it was largely solvable: I went and begged my traditional donors for money. In 2006, and again in 2008, the party had largely centralized operations. Everyone had one playbook. And you know what, look at the scoreboard - it generally worked. But the world on my side of the aisle, partially due to Citizens United, just doesn't function like that anymore.

I am not in this business anymore. Other than the Presidential election in 2012 and Congresswoman Graham in 2014, I haven't made my income from partisan politics since 2010. And trust me, my life is much happier as a result.

Typically, the way cycles go is they conclude, and everyone looks to take credit, or blame everyone else. It is one of the things I just got tired of. I'd much rather do politics on my own terms, helping as a volunteer the people that I like, playing "observer" and spending my time working on other causes.

But I also means in 2016 that I don't have a dog in the fight, nor do I have a lane, or a wall, or a client.

So Democrats, consider this a warning flare.

It may be a decade and it may be never that you see an opportunity like this. Winning in politics is not just matter of timing and opportunity -- you have both -- it is also a matter of being prepared for the moment. Secretary Clinton's operation is very capable - and they are winning -- and their organizational heft is going to provide a lot of ground cover for candidates. There are also the resources out there, between all the SuperPACs, traditional donors, donor alliances, and candidates, to take advantage of it. And I really don't want to spend my November reading stories where groups are pointing fingers at the others, or answering reporter questions in 2019 if Democrats regretted not spending a few more bucks to beat Rubio. The opportunities at this point is very clear, and in Marco's case, the outcome is as well.

In 19 days, we will all know what happened, and if this is just another in a history of Democratic missed opportunities.



Florida is gonna Florida, 2016 Version


Dear:     Reporters covering Florida, Other Observers, and the Nation of Twitter.

From:    Steve, #FloridaMan and Disgruntled Jags Fan.

Re:        BREAKING, 2016 version: Florida is gonna be close

For much of the window between 2000 and 2012, the conversation about Florida, driven at times by Nate Silver himself was “is it really a swing state?” This year, the new narrative is “why isn’t Clinton crushing it in Florida.”  Both then, and now, those statements were and are absurd.

Let’s settle one thing, for good.  Until further notice, Florida is an exceptionally competitive swing state. In fact, it is the most competitive.

When you look at the last four Presidential elections in Florida, Republicans won two, and the Democrats won two.

Over those four elections, roughly 30.5 million voters have had a Presidential vote counted, and the difference between Republicans and Democrats?  Try 71,000 votes.  That is a margin of 0.24%. 

No other state in the country was closer.

To take it further, the last three major statewides: the 2010 Governor’s race, the 2012 Presidential, and the 2014 Governor’s race, the margin of victory respectably was 1.1, 0.9, and 1. 

Just look at today’s NYT poll, the first poll using the actual file of registered voters.  What was the margin? One point.

Florida is just wired to be close.  And 2016 will be no different.  Here are a few reasons why.

The Electorate is Closely Divided – And Both Sides Are United

There are 12 million voters, and Republicans and Democrats are separated by just over 2% points.  Among the most likely voters, it is even tighter.  So in other words, we basically start at a push.

Florida used to be a state where, particularly on the Democratic side, partisan loyalty was not a given.  But over the last decade, voters have generally migrated to the “correct” party for their voting behavior.  According to exit polls, in 2008, both D’s and R’s won 87% of their own partisans, in 2012, it was 90 and 92 respectively and in 2014 Governor’s race, 92 and 89%.  In today’s New York Times poll, they were at 88 and my side at 86, so in other words, at this point, particularly with the anger of partisans towards the other nominee, once undecideds go to their camps, both candidates will start with about 90% of their own likely voters.

Moreover, like most places, independents aren’t all that independent – and look a lot like the partisans.  In 08, Obama won them by 7. In 12, by 1.  Story is the same in Governor’s races: Scott won them by 2 in 2010, and Crist by 2 in 2014.  In the New York Times poll today, he was +4.

So let’s do a little math:  If the electorate is 40 Dem, 39 Rep, and 21 NPA, and both sides get 90% of partisans, and Trump wins NPA by same as Obama 08 (7%), well he’d win by the massive margin of 0.5%, or just about 40,000 votes.  If Clinton wins NPA by Obama 12 (1%), she’d win by a point.

And if Trump carries them by 4, the margin in the NYT race, under my model, we are living 2000 again.  That’s Florida. Everything is about the margins.

Regional Performance is Relatively Stable

So the consensus is Florida is always changing.  Well it is, but even so, the “states” of Florida perform very consistently. 

For the sake of space, let’s look at Florida in three regions.  I-10 (5 North Florida markets), I-4 and SW Florida (Orlando, Tampa, and Ft Myers), and SE Florida (Miami and West Palm).

If you compare 2000 and 2012, despite the massive changes in the electorate, the vote share in these regions is absurdly similar. 

In North Florida, both Gore and Obama 2012 received 40.4% of the 2-way vote.  On our best day, in 2008, we got to 42.  On our worst, 2004, we got 38.5%.  Hillary Clinton will almost certainly win between 38-40%.

Along the I-4 corridor – adding Fort Myers, Gore won 47.4%, and Obama 12 won 48%.  Our best day got to 49.6%, and our worst, 44.8%.

And in SE Florida, same story:  Gore was 59.8%, while Obama 12 was 60.8%.  In 08, we were 60.5%, and in 2004, we dropped to 57.7%.

In other words, even as the state margin ranged from Obama +3 in 2008 to Bush +5 in 2004, there just was very small movement within regions.

Let’s project forward to 2016.  If you assume HRC gets the best share in each “region” of the state, her upper end is 51.6%, her lower end is 47.5%.  In other words, forget what the polls say, based on the history of the last four elections, we are talking about a state that might have, tops, 5-6% of real swing vote.

And note- I understand that this is more than a 2-way race, but it doesn't change the conclusion - Florida is close.  

But Steve, Hispanics…

Those of you all who know me understand my affection for people who live in the 202 or 212 area code lecturing us about our state.  Just last week, during a trip to DC, one of the smart ones tried to tell me that she should win here by 6-8 points, because, you know, Hispanics.

Demographics are big, and they are Clinton’s edge, just as they were the driving factor in Obama’s 2012 win.  But when I mean big - it means the demographics are a huge advantage to my team this year and going forward, not that she’s going to win Florida by six or that we are on the verge of being a perpetual blue state.

If you take the exit polls as truth, Obama won 61% of the Hispanic vote in 2012, after winning 57% in 2008.  Keeping in mind that in terms of nation of origin, Florida’s Hispanics look nothing like Colorado, Nevada or New Mexico’s Hispanics, let’s say she just crushes it – wins 70%.  Given the higher floor among Hispanics in Florida due to the large Cuban Republican population, it is hard to imagine her above +40 among these voters.  And again, +40 would be Historic, given that in 2004, exit polls said Bush won Hispanics by 12 over Kerry!

Let’s start at scratch.  We won by .9%.  So let’s say she wins the same share of white, and black (African American and Caribbean) voters – and the latter turn out at their 2012 share, but wins Hispanics by 40 points, instead of 22- she’d win by 4-5 points.    The only way it becomes a blowout is if Clinton can really take back ground with whites, but so far, there’s been no evidence of it happening.

But what if she gets the same share of the white vote as Crist, 36% - so instead of losing whites by 24 (Obama), she loses them by 26?  Her lead slips to 3.  And if that number drops to 35, so we are talking about 28-point Trump win among whites?  Her lead goes to 1.

In other words, you can see how capitalizing on Hispanics moves the needle for her, but in no way does it move the state into some kind of slam dunk, or safe seat kind of place.


So what does it all mean?  And what should you watch for?

First, what we are seeing is Florida is being Florida.  She has a self-correcting political equilibrium that causes the state to find its competitive center.

Of Florida’s 67 counties, 60 of them have voted for one party or the other in each of the elections from 2000 to 2012.   Only one of Florida’s 67 counties, Hillsborough, split it 2-2, voting twice for Bush and twice for Obama. 

In fact, I can predict with almost total certainty that Democrats will win 11 counties in 2016, Republicans will win 54, and there are only two where I am uncertain – and neither candidate will win either of these two counties by more than 500-1000 votes.

In a nutshell, the more things change here, the more they stay the same.

I do believe Clinton has a narrow edge for two reasons

Demographics:  The state is getting more diverse, and while that doesn’t guarantee her a win, it does give her a cushion.  Based on growth alone, Obama’s 0.9% win in 2012 is probably worth closer to 1.2-1.5% in 2016, simply based on demographic trends.  She has a cushion to bleed a little among whites, and still win.

Organization.  This is where the Clinton operation will reap its investment. By registering voters, and turning out more of the lower propensity Black and Hispanic voters, her campaign can capitalize on the demographic advantages.  Organizations are like kickers in football – they aren’t vital in blowouts, but you better have a good one in a close game, and they are building an organization designed to win a close election.

Here are a few places to keep an eye on.  I’ll update this closer to election day so you can look for keys on Election night.

Hillsborough:  As Beth Reinhard called it, Hillsborough is the “molten core of the political universe,” and while it is trending a bit bluer these days, it is really must win for both sides.  If she is winning by a few points here, she’s almost surely winning.  When you add in neighboring Pinellas, you have between 11.5% and 12% of the statewide vote in one tight, very much swing area.

Dade and Orange:  This is where she can really move bigger margins than 2012.   Enthusiasm is hard to measure in polls or talking to man on the street, but her organization in these two places will be stout.

Duval:  In 2008 and 2012, we took away one of the GOP’s strongholds, cutting their 61,000 vote margin in 2004 to roughly 10,000 in the two Obama wins.  For Trump to win, he’s got to retake that ground.  If she can hold his margins down here, it is pretty much over.

Volusia: Once a blue county, it is now a lean GOP county.  How much it leans towards Trump will be an indicator for if he’s expanding his white vote share.

So yes, Florida is close.  It has been close since 1992, and it will be close in 2016, 2020, and 2024.  And Trump has to win it, as the last President to go to the White House without Florida was Calvin Coolidge.  So pull up a lawn chair, grab a six pack from your local brewery (#DrinkLocal), and settle in.

What is not a close call is whether the Jaguars should fire Gus Bradley, today.  But more on that in a future memo.

I hope this has been helpful.  As always, please feel free to call or email if you have any questions.


The State Senate, Post Primary

Now that the primary is behind us, I wanted to take a fresh look at where things stand in the Florida State Senate.  This is an update from the Senate piece I wrote in January.

Let's start with the easy ones:

Republican Safe Seats:  19

District 1:  Doug Broxson.  After winning his primary, he can start looking for apartments in Tallahassee.

District 2: George Gainer:  Gainer comes to the State Senate the best way possible: Unopposed.

District 4: Aaron Bean: Re-elected without opposition.

District 5: Rob Bradley (R-Busy Bee): Re-elected without opposition.

District 7: Travis Hutson faces nominal Democratic opposition in a seat Romney won by 17.

District 9: David Simmons returns without opposition.

District 10:Wilton Simpson re-elected without opposition.

District 12:  Dennis Baxley's primary win leaves him just a write-in on his way to the Senate.

District 14: Dorothy Hukill will easily beat her NPA candidate.

District 16: Jack Latvala faces only a write-in.

District 17: I wish I thought my friend Amy Tidd had a real shot, but Romney won by 15. Senator Mayfield.

District 20:  Tom Lee wins without opposition.

District 21:  Soon to be Senate President Bill Galvano wins without opposition.

District 22: This seat gets interesting in Presidential years, but the Dem candidate here isn't strong. Stargel wins.

District 24:  Jeff Brandes could spend the entire election in a driver-less uber drinking craft beer and still easily defeat his write-in.

District 25:  Incoming President Joe Negron's seat will be competitive when he leaves (Run Larry Lee, Run!), but not in his last election.

District 26:  Denise Grimsley wins without re-election.

District 27:  Fellow American Council of Young Political Leaders alum Lizbeth Benacquisto faces only a write-in to complete her re-election.

District 28:  After a bruising primary, Kathleen Passidomo only has a write-in left on her road to the Senate.

Likely Republican: 3

District 23:  Had Patterson, Holder or Pilon won the primary, this would be in the safe category.  Steube, who was a perfect fit for a primary is not as much in a more moderate Sarasota-centric general, and while he will likely win, i've seen two polls showing the race is surprisingly tight. However, the Democrats have several million problems here, namely, other than the GOP lean of the seat, they are several million dollars short of being able to compete here. 

District 36: There is no reason to think Rene Garcia will lose, but when the GOP nominated Donald Trump, who will lose Dade County by historic margins, there are no seats in Dade that the GOP can take for granted.

District 39:  See above, and replace Garcia with Anitere Flores.


Democratic Safe Seats: 14

District 3: Bill Montford faces nominal GOP opposition on his way to re-election.

District 6:  Audrey Gibson returns without opposition.

District 11:  After winning a tough primary, Randolph Bracy faces just a write-in on his way to the Senate.

District 13: While there are some that want Asher to be competitive, there is no reason to believe this seat that Obama carried by 13 -- and Clinton will carry by more, won't also send Linda Stewart to the Senate.

District 15:  Vic Torres' opponent will make some noise, but in this Obama +17 seat, Torres will cruise.

District 19:  Darryl Rouson's GOP opponent may have the most interesting story on his website, but the challenge will be far easier than his primary victory.

District 29: After winning an open primary, Kevin Radar heads to the Senate.

District 30:  Powell faces a wealthy GOP opponent, but in a seat Obama carried by 15, he just needs to block and tackle to win.

District 31:  Jeff Clemens beat a sitting state legislator who spent 2 million dollars.  His write-in will offer much less resistance.

District 32:  Lauren Book goes to the Senate unopposed.

District 33: Perry Thurston won without opposition. 

District 34:  Gary Farmer won a tough three way primary, and while he has a Republican opponent, this is Broward County.  My former boss is heading to the Senate.

District 35: Democratic Leader Designate Oscar Braynon will return without opposition.

District 38: Daphne Campbell faces former State Rep Phil Brutus as an NPA, but should win easily with the district's overwhelmingly Democratic lean. 


The Battleground: 4

These seats are in numerical order, not any kind of ranking.

District 8: Rod Smith v. Keith Perry.  

This district and race has all the markers of a classic southern battleground seat: a liberal college town, growing republican-leaning suburban neighborhoods, rural communities and a sizable African American population.  It is also the kind of district my party must win, not only to get to a majority in the State Senate, but to compete in the south generally.     

It is a fascinating race on many levels.  Rod Smith is the best perfect Democrat for the race, and Keith Perry is a proven winner.  Rod has the kind of profile to win some southern Democratic votes, while at same time, this is a district Trump should win - which is the one factor that helps Perry.  Neither candidate should have a spending advantage, since this is one of the cheaper districts in the state. If Rod can run up the score in Gainesville, and keep his floor in the outlying counties above Hillary, he should win.  And Perry's recent dust-up with the police isn't going to help.  I like Rod's chances, but it is the kind of race that will always be close and uncertain.

Senate District 18:  Young v Buesing + Redner & Upthegrove

This is the classic Tampa Bay area competitive race.  Dana Young is a proven political figure and an excellent fundraiser.  Bob Buesing is the kind of candidate on paper that hack's love: longtime community record coupled with no actual political experience.  And in the mix, the ultimate Florida Man, Joe Redner, Tampa strip-club king and perennial candidate.

On paper, this is a jump ball. Public polling shows two candidates with relatively low name ID, in a district I suspect Clinton wins by a few points, largely fueled by a strong showing from the 25% or so of voters who are either African American or Hispanic.  

For me, this race comes down to four questions:  How much will Clinton turnout in minority communities help Buesing?  Can Young hold on to moderate women in South Tampa who may lean Clinton? What does Redner do and how much will it hurt Buesing (assuming Redner stays in)?  And will Buesing ever have enough money to compete?  Honestly, it is that last question which is by far the most important, and for that reason, the race starts advantage Dana Young.

Senate District 37:  DLP vs JJR

The battle between Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Jose Javier Rodriguez is the kind of race my party has been dreaming about for almost a decade, a real legitimate shot at breaking up the Republican hold on Miami's Hispanic districts.

Like the other two races, on paper, this has everything you want.  DLP is a Republican who has tried to carve out a moderate voting record & who has built a broad coalition of support, running in a district that is quickly running away from Republicans.  JJR is a Harvard-educated Democrat, who has won two exceptionally tough general elections in a row, and is the kind of bright star that my party can build around in the future.  The race really boils down to one thing:  Can DLP overcome what will almost surely be a very strong Clinton win in SD 37?

In 2012, Maria Sachs beat Ellyn Bogdanoff in a similar kind of race between two established candidates, laregly on the back of a strong Obama performance in Palm Beach County.  For this reason, I'd argue JJR has a slight edge, but the story here is a long ways from being written.

District 40:  Bullard v Artiles

This race confounds me, to be honest.  On paper, you could make an argument that it should be a sure thing for either one of them.  

In the Artiles column, the district will be well over 60% Hispanic, and roughly 10% Black (both African American and Caribbean).  

In the Bullard column, Obama won his district by 10, and give the woes of Trump, Clinton could win it by as much as 20 points.  To give some context, that would mean this district is roughly as Democratic as the one Gary Farmer is running for, or as Republican as the one held by Travis Hutson.  In no world would any operative give the other party much chance in either of those races.

And unlike the District 37 race, where both candidates have some crossover appeal, Artiles and Bullard are two of the most partisan members of the Florida Legislature.

There is no question that Artiles will vastly outspend Bullard, but at some level, it may make no difference.  Most of the Republicans I talk to think Bullard wins, based on party alone.  I am not convinced yet, which may be because I lost a race early in my career that came down to ethnic loyalties over party.  In SD 40, will party matter more, or ethnic loyalties?  That is really the only question that matters here.


As of today, the Republicans hold a 22-14 advantage in the Senate.  As the above describes, the Democrats could run the table and get to 18, but that is a very hard road.  Winning the Bullard seat makes it a lot more likely they get to 17, but overreaching elsewhere could bring them back at 14-15.  I will say this:  Oscar Braynon is running the best Senate political operation I've seen in years, and outside of District 8 -- where he arguably has his A candidate, all of the races are being played in districts Clinton will win. If Oscar continues to play his cards right, he should get to 16 or 17, and as anyone who follows the Senate knows, that small shift will make a huge impact.

I'll take another stab at this in October, but in the meantime, if you have any questions, give me a holler.






Everything you wanted to know about Florida 2016 but were afraid to ask.

Florida. Florida. Florida.

The largest battleground state in the country – by a lot.

The tightest battleground state in the country since 2000.

Has been won by every GOP President since Coolidge.

10 media markets – many big enough to be battleground states

20 million residents

9 million voters.

So what makes it work? What is its story? Or more simply, what is it?

Every few years, I get the same question from national media: Explain Florida to me in a nutshell, and what is the one thing that is key to winning?

If only it was that simple.

I’ll get more in to the math and some of the more interesting markets later this month, but this piece is designed to paint a picture of the place I call home, and the funky odd state that picks Presidents.

Let’s start with one key thing: 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 marketers might say, almost a brand. Most states have it. Florida really doesn’t.

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.

Florida is the new Ellis Island, except our ships come as cars and planes, from inside the borders of the country, and outside.

Over the next 15 years, we might 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. The east coast can feel more northeastern in attitude, homage to the I-95 corridor that brought them here.

There is also a coastal/interior split. 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. 85% of the population is non-white, and that number is growing rapidly. It is really its own city-state, much more like a Hong Kong, or a Singapore, than it is a city within a state.

Florida as a 5 state commonwealth

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

North Florida

Home to 3.5 million residents, or 17% of the vote, think of North Florida as the I-10 corridor, running from Jacksonville to Pensacola. 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. Population is growing fairly rapidly on the coasts, creating red counties that are just getting more red. That being said, there are still literally hundreds of miles of rural coastline in this part of the state, mostly through the Big Bend area.

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 bookended 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.

It is also by far the most conservative part of the state. Mitt Romney won just shy of 60% of the 1.6 million votes cast in 2012, a margin that is north of 300,000 votes. To give a sense of scale, that is almost 100,000 more votes than Obama carried Miami-Dade in 2012. Outside of the two college towns: Gainesville and Tallahassee, there are very few places for Democrats to do well.

Trump will look to grow here, particularly in the Jacksonville media market. The Bush campaign in 2004 won Duval County, home to Jacksonville, by 61.000 votes, a margin that Obama cut to 8,000 in 2008, and about 15,000 in 2012. He will also look to take advantage of population growth in places like St. Johns County, and some of the Panhandle communities between Pensacola and Panama City. For Trump to win Florida, given the changes happening down south, I would suspect he would need to carry this part of the state by about 400,000 votes, stretching Romney’s win in upstate to over 62% of the vote. For Clinton to win, anything between Obama 2012 (40%) and Obama 2008 (42%) would make it difficult for Trump to find the necessary votes elsewhere.


Home to just over 4 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. It is also 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.

Just to provide some perspective, Orlando added about 350,000 new residents between 2010 and 2015, and over 50% of them were 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 18.6% of the population to 21.4 of the population – in just five 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. 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. Both moved redder in 2012, with Volusia going Republican for the first time since 1988. Not surprisingly, Trump did very well in all three.

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, Bush won the three metro Orlando counties by 9,000 votes in 2000 and 35,000 in 2004, while President Obama won both times by about 100,000 votes. To put that further in perspective, about 20% of the total change in margin between Bush’s 2004 win and Obama’s 2008 win happened in just these three counties.

But it isn’t all great news for Dems, further north 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. In fact, since 2000, Republicans have increased their margins in these counties by nearly 75,000 votes – and the change between 2008 and 2012 allowed Romney to sneak a small win the market in 2012.

To win the state, Trump needs to continue to grow those margins in the counties to the north and east of Orlando, and hope that the Clinton margins in the metro Orlando area don’t grow. Realistically, he would need to get to at least 52% of the two-way vote to meet a Florida win goal, or carry a margin of 75,000 votes or so. For her to win, the opposite needs to happen – run up the score – drive the margins in metro Orlando up closer to 125,000 or even higher, and stem the tide outside of the area, hence Tim Kaine’s first stop being in aforementioned Volusia County, with the goal of breaking even in the market. She does that, and there is almost no math for Trump to win.

Tampa and SW Florida

The biggest “state” in Florida, almost 30%, or 6 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.

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 stretching well over 200 miles. Interstate 75 runs through here, and thus, there is a distinctly Midwestern feel. 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, and it felt like a home game for the away team. It is not quite as bad today, but you will still see large contingents in their hometown garb.

The region is as “white” as North Florida, and has the smallest African American population in the state. 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 43% of the voter registration growth has been Hispanic, though that trails the state overall of 53%. Also by comparison, 33% of the registration growth here has been white, compared to 18% 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. Obama nearly won the county in 2008, something that hasn’t been done since FDR. But in all of 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.

Romney won this “state” by about 5%, driven by a robust performance in the Fort Myers market, where his win margin matched Bush’s in 2004. Hillsborough is the traditional bellwether here, though in recent years, demographics have moved into more of a base blue county. To win Florida, Trump will need to really drive up numbers, which in a perfect world would be doable. The population is older, and more white, and tends to come from many of the same states where Trump hopes to expand the map. But thankfully for my side, Trump has been a complete mess. Realistically, to make up for what he is going to lose in SE Florida, Trump would need to win the region by 3% more than Romney, taking Romney’s 150,000 vote margin and pushing it well over 200,000.

For Clinton, the task is pretty basic: Just keep it where it was for Obama, and try to ride a more Democratic Tampa to a win in the Tampa media market, and a slightly smaller loss than overall region. And trust me, they understand it, as she has made two trips to the Tampa media market in just over two weeks.

Keep an eye on this on election night. Pasco County, a large bedroom community north of Tampa, reports its early and absentee returns right at 7:00PM EST on the Supervisor’s website. If Clinton is ahead, or only behind by a few thousand votes, I think you can call Florida for her. If she is down more than few thousand, then hang on for a close one.

SE Florida

State four – moving back east across the state to the Palm Beach and Broward county areas, we find a region as big as Orlando, home to almost 4 million voters (20% of the state), and actually a slightly bigger voter block (about 21% of the statewide vote). Like Orlando, think Oregon when describing this size of this market. This state is defined as the Palm Beach County media market, as well as Broward County. I’ve always tended to find Broward more aligned with Palm Beach than it is with Dade, with whom it shares a media market. However, that might not be the case for long, as Broward’s demographics change before our eyes. More on that later.

This is the hub of the traditional Democratic base in Florida. Before Miami burst onto the scene in 2008 as a place where Democrats could run up the score, Democratic wins were defined by how you did in this area. In Bush v Gore, Gore won this area by over 300,000 votes. The only other region he won was Miami, by just under 50,000. He lost everywhere else. Today’s vote model for Democrats is more balanced with Dade, but it is still critical to do well here.

The region, for all purposes, is basically one big city, at least east of Interstate 95. While there are some less dense areas in Martin County and Indian River, if you drive down US #1 from Melbourne to Homestead in Miami-Dade, you probably aren’t going to go more than a mile or two without passing a gas station, and it might take you three days with all the traffic lights. Certainly from the Palm Beach County line, it is just one continuous city all the way to the Keys. That being said, out west in the Palm Beach County market, things get pretty rural. There are still large areas dedicated to agriculture, and when you get out towards Lake Okeechobee, you’ll find communities that are as different from the town of Palm Beach as we are to Mars.

At the southern end of the area, Broward County is pretty close to built out. Growth here runs right up to the Everglades. For many years, it was called the 6th Borough of New York, and for good reason, literally everyone you met came from the northeast – moving right down I-95. It is home to the state’s largest Jewish population, and Democratic wins here were based on a coalition of liberal Jewish voters and African Americans. Not anymore. Broward is exploding with diversity, driven by both forward leaning Hispanic and Caribbean Black populations. In fact, in just five years, Broward County has actually seen a decrease in the white population of nearly 40,000, with Hispanics growing by 93,000 and Blacks (both African American and Caribbean American) growing by nearly 70,000. In Palm Beach County, the story isn’t much different, with the white population growing by less than 10,000 over the last five years, with the bulk of the growth among the Hispanic and Black populations.

This trend is what is bad news for Donald Trump. Broward County is actually getting more Democratic as it gets more diverse, driving opportunities for larger margins. Where he has room to grow upstate and on the Gulf Coast side, he has to hold on here. Obama carried this region with 58% of the vote. Given Trump’s absolute struggles in the Black and Hispanic communities, not to mention the demographic growth, and while he really needs to keep Clinton at the same level of support that Obama won in 2012, it is hard to imagine Clinton her share of vote to 60%. If she gets any higher than this, he’s pretty much done, as there just isn’t that many more places for him to make it up.


Last but not least, Miami, which in this scenario also includes the Keys.

Roughly the population of Nevada, 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 in common with the rest of the state is the common border. It is also exceptionally complicated. According to the 2010 census:

At just under 14% of the statewide population, nearly 85% of this “state” population is made up of people of color. In terms of voter performance, the area makes up just under 11% of the statewide vote, a difference which points to the sheer number of non-citizen residents in Miami.

Today we consider this base Democratic territory, but that definition really only applies to the last eight years. In the disputed election of 2000, and again in 2004, Gore only carried the two party vote by 6 points. Fast forward to 2008, and the margin grew to nearly 16%. In 2012, the number grew to 23%.

What is driving that change?

Let’s start by looking back.

The key factor driving the relative competitiveness of Miami was the strength of the Republicans with exile-era Cubans. As recently as 2000, 56% of Hispanics in Dade were Republican. In 2006, the number had dropped to 49%. In January of this year: 36%. In terms of raw voters, the GOP advantage among Hispanics has dropped from about 130,000 in 2004 to about 40,000 today. It would not surprise me if this number was close to parity by Election Day 2016. Over the same time, the percentage of Dade County voters who are Hispanic has risen from 44% in 2000 to 57% today. Over the same time, non-Hispanic white has dropped from 31 to 19%. In other words, the largest share of the Miami vote is getting bigger, and more Democratic. Even Donald Trump could do that math.

Looking at it just since the 2008 election, Democrats have added more than 31,000 Hispanics to their Miami area rolls, while another 65,000 have signed up without party affiliation? Republicans: They have lost nearly 11,000 Hispanic voters. It boils down to this, Republicans are failing to replace their aging exile-era Cuban base, as later generations of Cubans are not as loyal to their elder’s party affiliations AND Miami is rapidly diversifying within the Hispanic population, and those non-Cuban voters are performing much more like non-Cuban Hispanics elsewhere: overwhelmingly Democratic.

So what does this mean? For Republicans, absolutely nothing good.

Two things separate things are happening on a collision course: demographic inertia is pushing the area more Democratic. One could argue that if Democrats did nothing at all, the Clinton margin of victory would probably push towards 28-30%, which would increase her margin of victory by 50-60K votes.

But combine this with Trump, and now you have the chance for a truly generational change in Miami, one that could change the look of the county, not just at the top of the ticket, but at all levels of the ballot. Let’s say the Trump factor pushes Clinton to carry the two party vote in Miami Dade county by a margin of 70-30 (keep in mind Obama won Miami Dade with 61%), now she carries the county by 350K votes or more – a significant increase over 2012. Two things happen: She wins Florida, no questions asked, and lots of local Republican office holders go home. For Trump to win, he needs to keep the Miami margin under 30 points, which means he needs to find his footing with Hispanics, and stem demographic energy – two really tall tasks.

So how does this plane land?

This piece is long, but Florida isn’t simple. I wanted to show in a traditional election, how the two main candidates should approach the state to win. I understand that nothing about this election is traditional, and that multiple candidates in this race will change win goals in each of these markets.

But for all the different scenarios, the basic premise of Florida doesn’t really change.

Politically mine is not a state that is moved by what happens in a number of battleground counties – these days, I am honestly not sure I could list more than 2 or 3 such counties, but instead the state is like a scale, balancing on the fulcrum of the I-4 corridor. Candidates will work to influence where the scale tips in how they manage the margins – how much you win or lose different areas – Dems keeping it closer in Duval versus Republicans running up the score somewhere else. At its most basic level, for Trump to win, he needs to tip that scale to the north, running up big numbers, more than she runs up South Florida. For Clinton to win, the math is reversed. There aren’t many reasonable experts on either side who at this point wouldn’t give her the advantage.

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. But the reality is Florida isn’t competitive because of its unique nature, like an Iowa, but it becomes competitive in sum when you add up all of its many parts. Furthermore, the state seems to be growing in such a way that even as the state grows and gets more diverse, the competitive nature of it isn’t really changing. Honestly, that is why I love working in this state.

I am not as blindly optimistic as some in my party are about what demographics mean, I do know this, in 2016, I’d much rather be her than him at this point, by a long shot.


So about that Melania Trump/Michelle Obama speech...

I've written a fair number of speeches in my career. Anyone worth their salt who has written understands the intentional nature of speechwriting -- particularly a speech designed to be delivered to a major audience. Every word, every pause, and every transition is considered. You play it out in your head -- you have the principal practice it. Nothing is unintentional. Nothing. Ever.

Whoever wrote Melania Trump's speech knew what they were doing - they were sabotaging the moment. They wrote a speech that they knew cribbed not only from Michelle Obama, but also from Rick Astley -- the latter of which is the dead giveaway. And honeslty if they didn't do it as intentional sabotage, then the Trump campaign is a bigger goat show than we all thought.

I suspect the speech shibacle had one of two goals: Either, the campaign itself wanted to marginalize her following reports that she was unhappy with the way the VP selection went -- or, some disgruntled speechwriter/comms staffer is just over the campaign and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. To believe the third option, that this was just an accident, would be to believe that the Trump campaign is being run with the competence of a dysfunctional city council campaign -- and one completely unprepared to run a national government.

Very few things in campaigns are secrets, so I suspect we will learn what happened in the next 24 hours. And no, I don't think the moment will have a single impact on the actual campaign. However, it does provide just another insight into just how bad the Trump campaign is at this politics thing.

I genuinely feel bad for her. All in all, she did quite well in a space for which few are comfortable. Sadly for her, that's not what anyone will remember.


Watching Algae Politics? Here is a race to Watch

In the last two weeks, I've gotten more calls from reporters and political types wanting to talk about the political implications of the Everglades than I've gotten in the last ten years. Algae is on everyone's mind.

Environmental issues typically poll well, however, they aren't the type of issues that drive votes. Why? They aren't top of mind. Sure, who isn't for better drinking water standards, but unless your water is contaminated, it isn't the kind of issue that will drive your vote decision. This is the same kind of reason why voters will eagerly vote in favor of local funding schemes to buy more park land, but tell pollsters they worry about the cost of environmental regulations. Environmental issues tend to be the epitome of back yard concerns.

But what happens when the river in your backyard looks like a guacamole plant upstream exploded -- when your concern for the Everglades becomes something you are literally staring at every day, impacting your perception of quality of life, and potentially negatively impacting your property values?

Well, we might have a test case: House District 83. State Representative Gayle Harrell versus Crystal Lucas

OK, before we go any further, I couldn't pick Crystal Lucas out of a line-up, nor am I predicting she will beat Harrell. I am just saying this is a race worth watching given the unique nature of the local dynamics.

Harrell is a well known commodity in her community and Tallahassee, seeking her final term in her second go around in Tallahassee. She's served the St. Lucie and Martin County area for 14 of the last 16 years in Tallahassee. She's made her career working on health care and children's issues, and outside of that, has been a generally reliable Republican vote.

Crystal Lucas, according to her website, is a former teacher, a small businesswoman, and has been fairly involved in her community. She also might have the nicest yard sign I've ever seen (check it out on her site), but her bio -- or her yard sign isn't why I find this race interesting. No, what is interesting is she appears to be running for the legislature by turning her race into a referendum of on environmental issues, and specifically the algae issue.

Now, I understand solving the algae issue is hyper complicated. But if you are an outsider in politics, running on an issue like this isn't.

While this is not a race on anyone's spreadsheet, it isn't completely uncompetitive either. Obama won it in 08, Romney narrowly carried the district in 2012, and Crist narrowly won it in 2014. Without a question, in 2018, this should be one of the most competitive open state house races in the state. Typically legislators in 'swingish' seats get a pass in their final term, given the odds of beating someone in their fourth (in this case, eighth) state house race are far lower than winning an open seat. And if the algae bloom had not occurred, I probably wouldn't have given the race a second thought.

Most cycles, there is a race or two that come out of nowhere. Fitzgerald in my 06 cycle, Zimmermann over Nehr and Clelland over Dorworth in 2012, and Coach P beating Saunders in 2014 are all examples. And when you think about this cycle, given the uniquely acute attention paid to algae on the Treasure Coast, I am going to be watching this one -- and whether Lucas can gain traction running a largely single issue campaign could be quite instructive looking ahead to battleground races in 2018.


Short Note on Q Poll

Just a couple of observations on this Q poll today.

I continue to have real issues with the way that Q does its polling, particularly in Florida. But here's easier argument why you should take ALL of their numbers in Florida with a grain of salt: they were wildly inaccurate throughout the 2012 cycle, and based on their first two polls: Clinton +8, and Trump +3, one can reasonably assume they haven't fixed whatever issues they had from four years ago, where I am not sure they could have accurately counted the final score of Florida/Florida State (it was 27-2 FSU if you have forgotten).

For what is worth, I was pretty vocal on their Clinton +8 poll a few weeks back as well -- much to the dismay of some in my own party.

In 2012, the Q poll was a total dumpster fire in Florida. In May, Q held a press call and basically declared the state for Romney, showing us -6. Then the next four polls were Obama +4, Obama +6, Obama +9 and Obama +1, while at the same time, the race remained exceptionally constant. Over the same time, the RCP average in Florida went from Obama -1.4 to Obama -1.7.

In 2008, they weren't much better. They had about 12 point swing between May and September.

For as much of a mess as Florida can be, it is a remarkably consistent state. There just isn't 10-12 points of movement here. The movement that is here comes from slight shifts in turnout (is black 13% or 14% of the electorate), how big is the Hispanic margin (Obama won by 14 in 2008 & 21 in 2012 - as the state gets less Cuban), and what happens among a couple of subgroups of whites (Obama won in 2012 with 37% white). But the little bit of movement that will occur among these groups over the cycle adds up to a handful of points, not 11 points in three weeks.

I am not a Democratic apologist on this. I was one of the first Ds to really raise the flag that this could be a lot closer than folks on my side want it to be. Keep in mind, the last four statewides in Florida (potus and gov) have had the following results: D+3, R+1, D+1, R+1, so the state is just wired to be close. Close -- and consistent.

In fact, no state in the union has been closer over the last six Presidentials, with Democrats winning the state in 1996, 2008 and 2012, and the GOP the other three (I will continue to dispute one of them!). Over those six elections, a total of just over 41 million ballots have been cast, with the Democrats holding a 130,664 vote advantage (47.8-47.5). To put it another way, under state law, we'd be in a mandatory recount of 41 million votes -- and if you narrow down to just 2000-2012 elections, of the 30,458,980 ballots cast, the partisan difference is just 71,058 votes. In terms of the average margins, no battleground state has been closer than Florida over the last four or six elections.

So keep those numbers mind, Florida is close and will be close. But the shifts in the Q poll are more due to the variances in the way Q polls Florida, not that the state is subject to big swings.

PS -- One note to add to this -->  If you look at the range of results in 2012 in Florida from the nine outfits that looked at Florida the most between May and November, Q showed a 15 point swing (ranging from Obama +9 to Romney +6).  No other pollster had more than 8.  The average was less than seven.  In reality, the movement was even less than that.  Q's methodology in Florida leads to the massive swings in their data, even though these swings aren't really happening -- as the other pollsters prove.





Couple quick tidbits from the 2015 census data

Here are the fifteen quick notes I put on twitter today about the new census data.  More coming on all this soon:

1/2015 census estimates out today. Some really interesting things in Florida.   First, population up almost 1.5 million to just over 20.7 m

2/Florida is growing at a slighlty slower rate than 2000-10, but is adding more people. We will push 22 million by 2020.

3/Big Picture, Florida is getting really diverse, really quickly.  

4/Tampa and Miami media markets almost exact same population - both roughly 23% of state.  Orlando growing faster though, now 20%.

5/Hispanics make up 51.1% of the population growth.  Non-Hispanic whites made up 19.4%

6/Another way to look at: in 5 years, FL Hispanic population grew 14.9%.  Non-Hispanic Black 8.9%, Non-Hispanic White 2.5%

7/In 5 years, Hispanics have grown from 22.5 to 24.% of population.  Non-Hispanic white dropped from 58.0% to 55.3%.

8/At current pace, Hispanics will be close to about over 26% of population at next census, or 5.7m of statewide 21.7m residents. Compare this to 18% in 2000.

9/Miami (which includes Broward) media market is now majority Hispanic.  Three biggest markets for Hispanic growth: Miami, Orlando, and Tampa.

10/In fact, there are almost more new Hispanics just in the Orlando market than there are new people of all races across all of I-10.

11/Hispanic growth faster on I-4 than Miami.  Hispanic grew 18.6% on I-4, 11.6% in SE Fl. 

12/In fact, over 47% of the population growth on I-4 can be attributed to Hispanics.

13/Counties where the Hispanic share of the population growing fastest: Osceola, Broward, Orange, Polk and St. Lucie Counties.

14/This all lines up almost exactly with voter reg change. Since 2008, Hispanics make up 53.% of voter registration growth. 

15/All this means one thing: Florida in 2016 will have a more diverse electorate than 2012 -- and more diverse yet in 2020.


So about the Busy Bee

For those of you all who follow Florida politics, you are probably aware of my little obsession with a certain gas station in Live Oak, Florida.  You'd be amazed how many questions or comments I get about the Busy Bee, even sometimes when I am giving a speech in public.  I've joked more than once that I always dreamed of starting a movement, I just never thought it would be a movement for a gas station.  I even had a friend catch me doing a CNN appearance on the TV screen in the bathroom, as if in his words, two parts of my life were colliding.  So in honor of the Busy Bee just being named the #1 truck stop in America, here is how it started for me.

First, for the record: I am not an investor, and am not, nor ever have been paid by them.  If the Busy Bee owners were standing in front of me, I wouldn't know who they are.  OK, now that is out ot the way.

Over the last twenty years, I have put more miles on my cars driving between Tallahassee and Jacksonville/Orlando/Tampa than most Americans drive in a lifetime.  I've driven it so much, I can pretty much tell you where I am just by the bumps in the road.  And like fellow road warriors, I can recite with some level of accuracy the food and fuel options at every single exit.

Want ice cream?  The outdoor DQ at exit 358 north of Ocala, or the truck stop at Exit 258 in Madison.

Dying for Mexican?  There is a Tijuana Flats just off I-75 on Archer Road.

Starbucks?  What road warrior hasn't met someone for coffee at the one just off Newberry Road.

And then there is exit 283 on I-10.

For Tallahassee road warriers, 283 is a perfect stopping spot.  An hourish from home, its a chance to get that extra cup of coffee in the morning, or get a little more gas and walk around on the way home.  Other than one stop in Madison and one in Live Oak, there isn't much else around here.  Plus 283 has a bit of everything - a Shell and Chevron stations, McDonalds, Wendy's and Taco Bell -- or if you wanted a little healthier, a Subway down the street in that WalMart shopping center.  During the Obama campaign in 2008, when I often would make the trip from my house to Tampa in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, a Waffle House breakfast often got the week started right.

Everything at 283 is on the south side of the road. On the north side stood an old Penn Oil station, which had seemingly been closed for a while.  Like all good observant drivers of I-10, it became clear in early 2014 that something was happening on that land.  A new truck stop, the Busy Bee was coming.

A little background on this area.  Exit 283 on I-10 is in Suwannee County. Suwannee is a rural, land-locked county, located roughly right where the Florida Panhandle begins.  It is about an hour to the west of Jacksonville, an hour to the north of Gainesville and an hour to the south of Valdosta, and an hour to the east of Tallahassee. In other words, it is basically in the middle of nowhere.

Like a lot of small towns, the economy isn't great here.  While the unemployment rate is respectable, since 2007 (pre-crash), despite the fact there are 5,000 more residents living here, there are roughly the same number of jobs as existed 8 years ago.  As the ecnonomy evolves, like a lot of places around America, Suwannee County lives in-between places that are doing well, as it just treads water.  I grew up in Illinois in an area quite like this - once thriving, today it looks just like it did when we moved in the 80s, just older and more worn out.  

But what the county does have one major selling point:  It is basically located at the intersection of two of America's great highways: I-10 and I-75.  In fact, if you look at the Suwannee County Economic Development website, this is their number one attribute.   For folks in the transportation and logistics business, it is one of those places that could make a lot of sense -- if you knew the place existed.

Back to me and the Busy Bee.

One afternoon, driving home from somewhere, I got off at 283 to get a last shot of caffeine.  I decided to go north to see how the new truck stop was coming along, and lo and behold, it was open.  Turns out by dumb luck, I had hit the Busy Bee on its opening day.  

For those of you who haven't been, it really is quite the place.  The store itself is massive, part currio store, part candy shop, part actual convenience store, the place also has two fast food restaurants and bathrooms that would give those in the lobby of any 4 or 5* hotel a run for its money.  It quite literally is the nicest place within 50-70 miles along that interstate corridor.

They sell a lot of locally made products, including a wide selection of homemade beef jerky.  So being a good North Florida boy, I picked up a nice selection, headed to the counter and made a comment to the guy checking me out that "this is quite a place."  His response was pretty amazing - paraphrasing, he talked about being out of work, how this new truck stop was creating a ton of new jobs, how it was the "biggest thing to happen here in a long time" and how he hoped that if more people stopped there, that more people would come back.  In other words, maybe the Bee would be more than a shot in the arm of the county's economy - mabe it would get people to stop and look around, and with that attention would come jobs.

I think my first tweet/facebook post called it something like "the jewel of I-10."  For our partisan differences, the community of Tallahassee political road warriors is really quite close, and Twitter tends to be our most common form of communication, and it just took off.  People started posting pictures of their stops on Facebook, including two sitting Members of Congress.   More and more of our ilk went, and before long, the place had created a bit of a cult following.  Maybe, just maybe, we were all helping the place make it. 

For the travelling Florida political class, it has become our unofficial home.  In a world where people in politics don't talk to eachother enough anymore, in an odd way, it has become one thing that we can all agree on.   But more importantly for the Suwannee County community, that truck stop has become a destination, and today people who move goods and services around the planet recognize it as one of the finest places to stop.  And for the fine people of Suwannee County, oddly, that might be the lifeline the community needs.




Questions Rubio Should Ask Himself

As it looks more and more possible that Marco Rubio will reverse himself and run for re-election, the Florida political universe is bracing for another earthquake.

But does it make sense for him to run? Surely he is under immense pressure from the GOP to do so, but let's remember, all politics is personal. Forget what the national party wants him to do -- what should Rubio do?

I believe, as I will argue below, for Rubio this decision is all risk with little reward. This isn't a decision to be made lightly, so if he were to ask, here are the questions I would give him to work through this weekend:

1. Do you want to be a Senator?

In the constant analysis of political decisions, too often the most important question is left out. Why do you want to go back? Maybe Rubio went back to the Senate after the campaign and realized he actually enjoys it, or maybe the Orlando tragedy drove a change of heart. If that is the case, give yourself a point for running. But if you are running out of a sense of party loyalty, or just a fear of being out of the national conversation, then think twice.

2. When do you want to run again & do you think Trump wins?

At this point, I would be shocked if Rubio doesn't seek the Presidency again, and honestly, he should. For all the obits on the 2016 election, one of the underwritten observations is how conventional the primary system was in this sense: the winners of early states were the last candidates standing, just like every other cycle in the primary era. He didn't lose because he had a bad debate performance, he lost because they were way too cautious in how they approached th early states. Had he gone all-in in Iowa, the outcome might have been different. So no reason he can't run again.

But when does he see himself running right away again? He is a young guy, and certainly could wait. Twelve years separated Reagan's first run and his eventual election. Dole was sixteen years between his run, and winning the nomination, but obviously lost the Presidency. Other than that, there aren't a lot of examples of successful pols who waited a decade or more.

So if he is leaning towards going through the national meat grinder at the next opportunity, the next question is Trump. If he thinks Trump is going to win, going to the Senate and keeping an eye on 2024 makes sense. If he thinks he is going to lose and he plans on challenging Clinton, then there is no reason to run for re-election. Just take a few year break and crank up the machine again.

3. Do you want the hassle of another primary?

The Beruff people are trying to argue that they have claimed Rubio's space, and that he should be scared to run against them. This is utterly ridiculous. Rubio would beat Beruff, and would be a far superior nominee to him, but it doesn't mean after spending a year under the bright klieg lights and national TV cameras that he wants to spend the next four months driving two lane roads to talk to rooms of 50-100 partisans.

4, How confident are you versus Patrick Murphy?

Functionally, Rubio has to win. While Nixon proved you can run and lose -- and run again for President, that is a harder lift in the modern political world. First, Rubio has more competition on the R side than Nixon had. Secondly, the media is far less forgiving. It is the reason why I've never believed that Rubio would run for Governor, because for all of the reward, the risk is exceptionally high. He needs to win.

Here is the challenge: because Republicans have done such a good job of nationalizing elections, the number of swing voters, particularly between the races at the top of the ticket in Presidential years, is pretty narrow. Look at the last three: (Nelson got 50 in 00, Gore got 49; Castor got 49 in 00, Kerry got 47; Nelson got 55 in 12, Obama got 50). In other words, let's say Clinton beats Trump by Bush v Kerry margins: 5 points - are there enough swing voters who will vote Clinton and Rubio? I'm not convinced. Rubio could run a good campaign, and still lose.

5. Is all of it worth the risk?

Rubio has been in office, or running for office, for every bit of the last 18 years of his life. I am sure a part of this, even subconsciously, is the a fear that if he is out of sight, he is out of mind. And sure, that is a risk. But is it worth the risk of losing?

Republicans are smart to put a lot of pressure on making the decision to run. The party's strongest general election candidates appear to be struggling, and the GOP's dream of a Grayson nomination is quickly wilting as Murphy builds a strong campaign and Grayson can't keep his campaign out of the ditch. So in an election cycle where the Democrats have an excellent chance to take back the US Senate, Florida could well be the key vote. So yes, Rubio would be doing his party a huge solid by getting in.

But for Rubio, this is far from a sure thing. His statewide numbers make him look vulnerable, and his top of the ticket makes a dumpster fire look good. Trump at this point appears to be building no real campaign, so Rubio will be on his own, communicating, and building a statewide turnout operation -- and he will spend the next five months answering for Trump's nutty comments and policy ideas. And let's remember, Rubio only won 49% of the statewide vote in the single best year for Republicans in a century, so it isn't like he is a Florida political juggernaut. 2016 will be a far better year for Democrats than 2010.

It is this simple: if he wins and Clinton is President, he gets to go to DC and take bad votes for two years, and then be an absentee Senator running for President. And if he loses? Well then he gets to watch the whole thing from the sidelines for the foreseeable future.

If Rubio wants to be a Senator, or just has a need to be in the public spotlight, he should run. But if his goal is to be President, which i suspect has been his goal since running for the West Miami Commission in 1998, he should resist the temptation and trust what was clearly his plan up until a few weeks ago.

But then again, he isn't asking me!