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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!


Unsolicited Advice for Bernie Sanders

One of the hardest things for a campaign, particularly one completely engaged in the fight, is to see beyond itself. Typically, this only gets worse when campaigns, both ones winning and losing, reach the desperate phase -- the point when you have simply run out of options because the end is near. Every candidate wants to win, so no campaign, at any level of the ballot, is immune.

Right now Bernie Sanders falls into this box. Over the past month or so, as it became more and more clear his campaign is nearing the end, the campaign has taken on sharper edge, saying and doing things making it harder for him to land the plane softly. But now the plane is going to land regardless - and after tomorrow, there really is no tomorrow.

If he were to ask, below is the advice I would give to Bernie Sanders.

So here goes, my Memo to Bernie Sanders

1. Use Your Political Capital Wisely: You will never have more political capital than you have today, but every day that goes by, you will lose a bit of your capital. Whether you want it to or not, the party is going to move on. You want to define the terms of your exit, not have it defined for you, and in this frame, you need to figure out what deliverables they can actually give you. As you know, politics is zero-sum, so be realistic, and remember, that conversation isn't the end game.

2. You need to go all in for her: It may be counter-intuitive, but the success of your movement -- and your ability to lead it, is entirely dependent on Hillary Clinton winning. If she loses, your movement won't look to you for leadership, but instead will start looking for new candidates -- and many Democrats will blame you for the loss. But when she wins, you can use your movement to push for more progressive policies.

3. Don't obsess about the platform: No one has ever read it. No one ever will. And yes, the nomination process in both parties is messed up. But that isn't today's fight - beating Donald Trump is.

4. Help her win, then take credit for it: Right now, the sense is the Democratic Party is not united. You often say that you can't make your followers do what you want, but we all know this isn't true. Just like Hillary Clinton made it easy for her supporters to join up with Obama, you need to do the same. And when she wins in November, driven by a united Democratic coalition, the campaign obits will all give you credit for it, and all of the sudden, you will find yourself in charge of an incredibly powerful movement - with a President who can help you get things done.

5. Think long term. Change doesn't happen in Washington, change starts in local communities. Encourage and help your activists run for school boards, city commissions, and state legislatures. Your campaign has been a moment - but you can build a movement by inspiring a generation of young activists that a life in public service is an honorable one, and look back in 15-20 years and see what real change looks like.

The biggest thing you should do Wednesday is get some sleep. Go back to Burlington for a day or two, get your team off the television, and take a day or two to catch your breath. At some level, I've been there. After three months in the barrel for Joe Biden, it was hard to stop fighting. But with space and rest, the path will become clear.

And Senator, remember leadership isn't just about inspiring a movement, it is also about knowing when to lead your team off the mountain before you are trapped in a storm. Your job now is to give your movement the best chance to succeed in the future. Your loudest supporters will want you to push on -- but your job is to help them understand why it is time to move on.


Florida State House Rankings, May 2016

Six months before Election Day, now that the candidates and races are starting to develop, I wanted to take a look at my favorite of all subjects:  State House races.

For those of you all who don't know me well, I cut my teeth in the Florida House.  State House races are my first political love, and for young rising operatives, I believe them to be the best of all proving grounds.  Almost everything you do running for President, Governor, Congress, etc., you do running for the State House, just at a smaller scale.  

There are a lot of fun races this year, with the Democrats largely playing offense - though many of their best shots are against incumbents, which is typically a tougher bet.  As you will see, of the ten races profiled below, there is only one in the Democratic column.  Some folks might thing I am home-teaming this thing, but honestly, I could argue that one doesn't belong there either, as it isn't really at much risk and is included more for balance.  One other caveat, this is how I see these races today, but much can and will change.  I am pretty sure if we checked with a group of Republican and Democratic strategists, you'd find consensus that the map will be fought on the GOP side this year. 

I have ranked these seats in order of their likelihood to flip from one party to the other, with 10 being the least likely, to 1 being the most likely.   So here goes:

10.  HD 68 (Dudley Open):  Dwight Dudley's surprise decision to retire from the House has created an open seat in traditionally one of the top battleground districts in Florida.  The top of the ticket results would argue this seat is just barely a swing seat, though given both the Pinellas voter registration trends and the potential of a bruising Democratic primary, this seat barely makes the list. In 3 months, there is a good chance it will have fallen off.

9. HD 72 (Pilon Open):  If Pilon had run for re-election, this would be an honorable mention, but now that it is an open seat. it makes the first round of rankings.  The Democratic candidate, Edward James, comes from an established Sarasota family and has raised a significant war chest.  The Republican, Alex Miller, is formidable in her own right. Based on candidate quality alone, this should be higher up the list.  However, the district is quite marginal for Democrats.  Both Romney and Scott won the seat by a few points, and given the older -- and whiter make-up of the seat, it is a place less likely to be impacted by Trump.  Keep an eye on it, and ask me again in three months.

8. HD 69 (Peters Challenge):  This is one of the "swingiest" of seats in one of the swingiest of counties.  Kathleen Peters.  Both Obama and Crist won the seat by a few points, and there is no reason to think that Trump/Clinton won't have a similar outcome.  The incumbent has played it smart, avoiding ideological pits, focusing on mental health as her primary issue.  The Democratic candidate, Jennifer Webb, is a bit unknown at this point, hence this seat not being higher up the list.  In three months this could be a real race, or it might not even be on this list. But given the make-up of the district, it will be one to watch.

7. HD 120 (Raschein Challenge):  Two reasons this race makes the list:  the district's historical performance, and the problems Trump creates for all Republicans in South Florida.  As a legislator in a vulnerable seat, Holly has done everything right.  Full disclosure, she's been a friend for many years (we were staff together in the House) thus I hate even including her on this list.  Objectively, she has one of the more bipartisan voting records in Tallahassee, works hard for her district, and she's effectively scared off all top tier opponents.  But in her district, particularly in a Presidential year, any opponent is a threat.  Obama won the seat by six points, and with a good chunk of the district in heavily Hispanic South Dade, a Trump implosion with Hispanics could hurt her.  I expect her to win, but she's going to have to grind it out in a tough environment for her.

6. HD 47 (Miller Challenge):  Like HD 30 - which isn't even on the list at this point, this seat should be further up the list for Dems.  The top of the ticket statewide for the Democrats has carried the seat in each of the last four elections, but at this point, no Democratic candidate has emerged as a top tier challenger, and Miller is sitting on $100K, which is a respectable number.  However, the D's won the seat easily in 2012 against a fairly formidable opponent, and Orlando is one of those places where Trump could create problems for Republicans.  Miller starts with the edge, but can't take anything for granted.

5. HD 59 (Spano Challenge): Spano's opponent, Rena Frazier, is flat out one of the better recruits the Dems had in years.   The district is very much up for grabs at the top of the ticket, and voter registration is trending a bit Democratic.  That beind said, Spano is a heavyweight in his own right, well liked and a hard worker.  He won a four way primary in his first race over opponents he was not supposed to beat.  However, there is no question that Rena is the best general election opponent he has faced.  If Tom Lee runs for local office, and Spano takes a shot at the Senate, look for this one to move up the rankings.

4. HD 63 (Harrison Challenge):  On paper, of the two GOP held swing seats in Hillsborough, this one is definitely more favorable to the Democrats.  Obama carried the seat by a 5-6 points, and swept in Mark Danish over Harrison in 2012.  This time around, he faces a better candidate in Lisa Montelione, a Tampa City Council member who has had a respectable early fundraising show, and a weaker GOP nominee in Trump.  A GOP wave swept Harrison into office in 2010, out of office in 2012, back into office in 2014... you get the idea. He's generally carved out the kind of voting record you need in a seat like this, but to win, he has to buck the district's recent history.  If Tom Lee runs for the Senate, and Harrison takes his shot, this seat probably moves to #2 or #3 on this list.

3.  HD 103 (Diaz Challenge):  I don't think there is a single Republican incumbent in the State House more hurt by Donald Trump than Manny Diaz Jr., who is legitimately one of the nicest guys in town.  Going into re-election, he's got three major problems:  The seat is moving away from him -- quickly, he's running against one of the D's better candidates, and Trump.  Voter registration has trended away from Republicans, and this is the kind of seat where NPA voters lean Democratic -- and that is before the Trump factor.  He will have a ton of financial support, his race will be competently managed, and as a guy who cut his teeth in a district where we were called dead every cycle, I never count anyone out -- and no one can count Diaz out either.  But unless something changes, he clearly starts out as the most vulnerable incumbent.

2. HD 114 (Fresen Open):  Always one of the better opportunities for Democrats, this open seat has quickly rocketed to the top, now that it is all but sure that Trump will be the GOP nominee.  Both parties have top tier candidates in this seat.  Both parties will play heavily in this rare Dade County open swing seat.  But the D's have two major factors helping them:  like all of Dade, this seat is trending Democratic -- and Trump right now appears to be an anchor for Republicans with Hispanics. The Democratic candidate, Daisy Baez, put a real scare into Fresen in 2014, which was a horrible year for Democrats.   In a year where Hillary Clinton will likely beat Trump in Dade County by 30 or more points, Baez at this point is in an exceptionally strong position.

1. HD 49 (Coach P Open).  With all due respect to Rene Plasencia (Coach P), who is the perfect Republican in this lean Democratic seat, and who ran a near perfect campaign -- this is not a seat the Democrats should have lost, even in 2014. Obama carried the seat in 2012 by roughly twenty points, and Crist easily defeated Scott.  Coach P, a teacher and track coach, has decided to seek re-election in a neighboring seat, much more favorable to the Republicans.  I honestly don't think the GOP is even contesting this one.  Unless something exceptionally odd happens, the Democratic candidate, my buddy Carlos Smith, will win this seat. 

And here are a few that you should keep an eye on:

HD 30 (Cortes Challenge):  If I had written this column six months ago, this seat which has flipped from R to D to R in the last few cycles would have probably 5th or 6th on this list  It has all the makings of a battleground seat - central Florida, tight races at the top of the ticket, trending Hispanic, etc.  But to date, Cortes has fended off a top tier opponent.  Depending on what happens over the next three months, this will either move completely off, or move into top tier status.

HD 9 (Vasilinda Open):  Some Republicans see this as a pick-up opportunity, but I  think this seat is far more competitive on paper than it is in reality.  The top of the ticket Democrat has carried it by respectable margins, such as Crist, who won it by more than 10.  The one blip: 2012, where Obama won the seat by a narrower 5 points.  That being said, well known and well liked former State Representative Loranne Ausley has filed, is absolutely killing it on fundraising.  The GOP also has a good candidate, though not nearly as well known as Loranne -- nor as good as Peter Boulware, who failed to win the seat in 2008.  Loranne alone is probably a 3-4 point boost on top of the seat's Democratic performance.  Plus Loranne is an Ironman finisher -- she knows how to work. By the numbers, it is one to watch, but I suspect Loranne wins by double digits.

HD 93 (Moratis Challenge):  Representative Moratis holds down the one red seat in Blue Broward.  It is one of these seats that looks better on paper for Democrats than it is in reality, but this year he has drawn an interesting opponent, former Broward County Commissioner Ken Keechl.  Keechl will have real name ID, and has a fundraising base.  Romney won this seat in 2012, but I suspect this is a seat where Clinton should outperform Obama.  In no way yet can you say Moratis is vulnerable, but that doesn't mean he or the GOP can turn a blind eye to this race.

Almost every single Dade County Republican Legislative seat:  I have felt for several years that one day, on the Wednesday after the election, we will wake up and the Democrats will have won several seats in Dade County that no one saw coming.  This might be the year.  These incumbents all live in seats Obama either one or lost in narrow margins:  Trujillo, Oliva, Bileca, Artiles (Open), and Nunez.  In the other two, Avila and Pepe Diaz, the voter registration and Presidential top of the ticket trend lines are working against the Republicans, though they are in far safer seats for Republicans than the other five.  Right now, none of the above have Democratic candidates that merit inclusion on this list, though I have heard the Democrat getting into the Artiles open could be formidable.  But that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention.  In 2012, Jeff Soloman put a much closer than expected five point scare into Bileca -- and if the D's had thrown a candidate into almost any of the other seats, Obama might have pulled another Mark Danish or Carl Zimmermann across the line.  If Trump loses Dade by 30 points or more -- which is extremely possible at this point -- I would bet lunch that at the wave carries one of the above to the Dem column.

Like everything in politics, this is all subject to change.  I'll take another stab at this after qualifying.  In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to drop me a note.


Can #NeverTrump Actually Assure America is #NeverTrump?

While we've ended up on the opposite sides of many a political fight, there are few people I respect more in the business than Mac Stipanovich.  In many ways, Mac is the original GOP operative of the modern Florida political world.  While he is a proud member of the GOP establishment, few people have been more disruptive in Florida than Mac.  

One of the things I admire about him, he is a patriot more than a partisan, and while frankly only an idiot would question his GOP credentials, no one is going to tell him what to do either. Mac's support is earned, not assumed. Frankly, it is a place in life that I aspire to reach myself.  And in this election, Mac is firmly #NeverTrump. 

After 20 years in the business, there are a few things I've found consistent.   One of them -- to steal a phrase from ESPN's Chris Berman is "no one circles the wagons like the Republican Party."  Time and time again, the GOP have driven the car off the edge of the Grand Canyon in a primary, only to somehow get the thing to land on four wheels stronger than when it started.  Frankly, I wish my side was more like that.

My personal history tells me that, notwithstanding the principled stands of guys like Mac and my buddy, chief #NeverTrump agitator Rick Wilson, that we should assume the GOP will rally behind their guy, because when it boils down to it, power and the White House -- for most -- will trump all else (pun intended).

But what if it is most, but not all of the GOP base, goes to Trump. 

What if the Mac's and Rick's add up to enough people that Trump earns 2% less of the GOP vote than Romney. What if they are 5% or even 8%?   What does that really mean?  Put more simply, how many Mac's and Rick's can Trump lose and still stand?

Let's start by looking at 2012.

According to the exit polls, Romney and Obama got nearly the same percentage of the partisan vote.  Obama got 90% of Dems, Romney 91% of Republicans.  Obama won the NPA vote by 3, and the net result was an Obama 0.9% win.  

Now the exit polls were based on self party ID -- 35% considered themselves Democrats, 33% Republicans and 33% NPA.  The good news, if we weight the exit polls to actual turnout, 40.3 D, 38.7R, 21 NPA, the party weights land at an Obama 0.7% win -- essentially the same as the exits.  So that model works pretty well for this exercise.

So let's start with how do we get Trump to a win?

Actually, all things being equal (chill out twitterverse, I know they are not -- this is just an exercise) if Trump wins the same share of the vote among Republicans as Romney (92%-8%), and Clinton got the same as Obama (90%-9), for Trump to win, he would need to carry the NPA vote by 1% (50-49%), compared to Obama winning them 50-47 in 2012.  The margin would be very tight, but he'd still win.

Now in reality, this alone is a huge climb for Trump.  More and more Hispanics and Blacks (both AfAm and Caribbean voters) are registering NPA, so the NPA pot is getting more diverse, hence more Democratic in a Presidential year turnout.  Because of this, a far more likely scenario is Trump on his best day losing NPAs by 3-5 points.

But for fun, let's assume that happens, and that Trump wins the NPA vote by a point.

So we start here:

If Trump and Clinton both win/lose exactly same share of their own party as Romney and Obama, and Trump wins NPA by 1%, Trump wins the election by about 0.2% 

But what if the #NeverTrump movement keeps the GOP from unifying...

Let's assume, #NeverTrump leads to a 2% reduction in GOP party loyalty -- or more specifically, rather than winning Republicans 92-8 like Romney, Trump wins them 90-10.  

In that case, Clinton wins the state by 0.5%.  And to make it back up, Trump would need to win NPA by a 54-46 margin (Again, Obama was +3).

What if that number rises to 5%, that #NeverTrump leads to Trump winning 87% of Republicans, not 92% (87-13)

In that case, Clinton wins the state by almost 4% if they all go to her.  Under this scenario, he'd need to win NPA by 20 points to make up the difference.

Even if none of them go to her -- they all just sit out (ie 87-8-5), she wins by 2%.  Under this scenario,  he'd still have to win NPA by 10 to make it up.

And lastly, what if the #NeverTrump number is 8%, the Trump share of the GOP vote is 8 points lower than Romney got -- in other words: 84-16 Trump/Clinton:

In this case, Clinton would win Florida by the largest margin of any candidate since Bush beat Dukakis in 1988 - well over 6 points.  In this case, he'd have to win the NPA vote by 31 points to make up the difference (65-34)

And even if not a single one of them voted for her -- so all 8% just sat out (84 Trump, 8 Clinton, 8 Don't Vote), she still wins by 3 points. To make it up, he'd need to win NPA by 15 points.

Again, this whole thing starts with the assumption he can win the NPA vote by a point, which I think is a massive uphill climb.  It also assumes that Clinton wins the same share of the vote among Democrats that Obama did in 2012.  Thanks to Trump, I am pretty confident of this.  

 In other words, Trumps path to victory is almost entirely dictated by his ability or inability to unify his base and turning #NeverTrump into #OKIGuessTrump.  And he has a lot of votes to earn. Right now, Trump's popular vote total is about 18% of the total votes that Romney won in the 2012 general election.  That is a lot of people for bring into the tent.

For Republicans like Mac, who believe that his party needs a post-Trump reset, the path to stopping Trump in a place like Florida is pretty simple, and it starts by just convincing a few of their partisan friends to follow their lead.


Dear Democrats: Think Trump Can't Win? Meet Rick Scott


Dear Democrats:

Well it is a done deal. Republicans have chosen Donald Trump as their nominee, and already, my social media timeline is full of Democrats & Republicans saying this election is over. And I am here to tell you that you are wrong.

Yes, I get it. We all cheered his getting into the race. I even told a national news outlet that his running was proof of a God that loved me. And down deep, we all thought it would flame out. But it didn't. And now he is one person away from the nuclear codes.

Trust me, I understand all of the reasons why he should lose. His misogyny is disgusting, his anti-immigration rhetoric is offensive, and his focus on Muslims is xenophobic pandering at its worst. His oppo file could fill the Library of Congress, and his business record is spectacularly awful. His numbers with Hispanics are almost statistically impossible, and his ratings among women aren’t much better. If this was a traditional election, this would be over. Book the plane ticket for the inauguration, rent the tux, buy the gown, and reserve the hotel room, because we are headed to a landslide of Johnson or Reagan proportions.

In the end, maybe it will be. But this isn’t a normal election, and these are not normal times. And in recent times, my state — one that elected Barack Obama with more than 50% of the vote twice — has proven it.

Two words: Rick Scott.

Rick Scott burst on to television screens across Florida in April 2010, announcing his decision to run. His delivery on camera was awkward and stilted, but his message was pretty simple: Tallahassee is broken, the economy is bad and “let’s get to work” to fix it.

He was so new to Florida that he almost failed the basic residency requirements to qualify for the ballot. And after a quick google search, you would have been justified in thinking the man had a screw loose. Rick Scott had been the CEO of a hospital chain which had paid the largest single fine for Medicare fraud in the nation’s history, and while he was never charged with a crime, he was forced to leave his job. That guy can’t win, can he? But Scott rolled the dice, betting GOP voter anger with the establishment would mean voter approach his business record with blinders.

His campaign played in a new ideological space for Florida. He openly embraced the Arizona immigration law, and stressed his outsider self-funding status. He also ran ads arguing that McCollum was soft on immigration, called him an insider engaged in crony capitalism, and even ran an ad lecturing President Obama about Muslim extremism and the plans to build a Mosque near Ground Zero. Like Trump, his message was laser focused on uniting a coalition of nativist xenophobic voters with people legitimately disaffected by the modern economy

In less than two months, Scott went from nowhere to leading the GOP field by a dozen or more points. Late in the game, in an effort similar to #NeverTrump, the GOP establishment swung back hard, going right at Scott’s character and preparedness to serve. And like this one — #NeverScott had its moments, but in the end, Scott narrowly won.

Any of this sound familiar?

On primary night, plenty of Democrats were congratulating themselves. I had Republicans texting to congratulate me on our win — 10 weeks out. But just a few days later, as the dust settled and Republicans came together, we found ourselves trailing him in our internal polls. The campaign against Scott was direct. But in the end, a united GOP, and the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington sentiment of 2010 carried him to a narrow victory. Four years later, the story was similar.

So Democrats, why do I tell you this story?

Simple. In 2010, I heard from donors, activists and voters alike one simple message: “Oh don’t worry, there is no way Rick Scott can win.” In fact, whenever I would publically warn Democrats to not underestimate Scott, I’d get a text or email saying something like this: He can’t win Steve, right?

And I hear the same things now.

In fact, the parallels are eerie. Like Scott, Trump has dominated the airwaves, albeit with free instead of paid media. His opponents can’t get a word in edgewise, except in debates — which like in 2010, proved to matter very little. And in 2010 and 2014, whenever one of Scott’s opponents would get traction, he’d write a check for more TV to drown them out, just like when Trump feels pressure, he says something outrageous to regain the media cycle.

In both of Scott’s wins, his personal favorable numbers were often Trumpesque — and it wasn’t that voters didn’t know about his issues — they chose to support him notwithstanding. Similarly, like Scott, Trump has gone to places with the GOP base that were previously off limits, tapping into fears and angers at their most core, while also branding himself as an outsider who is not corruptible by the political system. He’s embraced the tea party fringe, giving them the voice they want.

Rick Scott ran an exceptionally smart campaign. He understood how to brand himself. He has surrounded himself with very good people — many of whom I call friends today, who knew what they were doing. He chose running mates that tried to reassure key constituencies that he wasn’t that extreme. He learned how to appeal to his base at the right time, and when to pivot to the middle. He rightly gambled that #NeverScott would go away after the primary, and the establishment would quickly come together. He believed that economic and security concerns would matter more than his personal failings — and he expended the resources necessary to control the message dialogue. And sure, he got some good breaks.

Any of this sound familiar?

But more importantly, Scott, just like Trump today — not withstanding all the outrageous comments, tapped into the real economic anxiety that exists today. The reality is for many Americans, the modern economy that provided the quintessential American compact — work hard, and you too can live the American Dream, has really changed. Towns like the one I grew up in, Kankakee, IL, are fundamentally different than they were 30 years ago.

In many ways, America is better positioned today to lead the world economically than any time in the post WWII era. But if you are a 40 something year old guy in large swaths of America — like one of my childhood schoolmates who never got out of Kankakee, many who thought they would grow up and work in a factory for life just like their Dad, and his Dad, you wouldn’t know it. And just like Scott did, Trump has spoken to that economic reality in a way that has allowed voters to forget all of other candidate qualities that traditionally would have disqualified them. It is also why you see Sanders winning in some of the same kinds of places as Trump.

It isn’t the first time that America has gone through an economic transformation like this, and just like every time in the past, we are going to come out of it stronger. Like the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy between Reconstruction and WWI, this era will economically bumpy — and because of that bumpiness, there is a real, and understandable fear among many voters. We as Democrats like to win logical arguments, but as the 2016 election proved — and with all due respect, Rick Scott showed in 2010 and 2014, it is hard to have a logical argument with a worried, angry electorate.

Let’s be clear, Trump is a charlatan of the highest order. If you took away the party labels and the Trump brand, I suspect 75% of general election voters would reject him. But Donald Trump isn’t going to beat himself. Everyone is going to have to work like never before to keep it from happening. We need to come together, donate our time and treasure, organize ourselves, register voters, talk to our friends and neighbors, and make sure everyone gets out to vote.

How does Trump win? The same way as Scott won: An overwhelming microphone, tapping into the fears of the electorate — combined with a complacent Democratic base.

Can we beat Trump? Absolutely.

How do we beat Trump? Well, take his candidacy seriously, organize, register voters, talk to our neighbors and friends. We win it one conversation at a time — one voter at a time.

Will we beat him? Well, that is up to us.

So let’s get to work.


Steve Schale