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Saturday
Oct252014

Saturday morning 10-25 Press Notes On Early Votes

Press and Friends and Press who are Friends:

This morning update is short, typing this quickly in the parking lot of Paynes Prairie State Park, where I saw a bear on my run. It's easy to forget just how beautiful this state is that we get to call home

The high point:

Friday's returns show the continued trend towards the Democrats. After Friday's voting, Democrats have now closed the GOP advantage in voters to 9.1 percent. This is down from 13 on Monday and compares to 18.5 on the same day of the campaign in 2010, meaning the gap today is less than 1/2 of what it was at this point in 2010. Palm Beach County data is not in this figure, so the 9.1 number might yet drop.

Couple of other notes:

Early and Absentee ballot voting in Broward continues to be very strong. Democrats have now doubled their 2010 total at this point in the election, and have an advantage of 28 points over the GOP, as compared to 15 at this point in the election. And to stress how turnout is going, the current Democratic advantage over the GOP of just over 29,000 votes is nearly equal to the number of Democrats (30,000) who had voted at this point in 2014.

In fact, compared to this point in the election in 2010, the Dems have improved their margin compared to the GOP by more than 10 points in 16 counties, and have improved their standing in 55 counties out of 67 total.

Moreover, the 12 counties where Republicans have improved over 2010 equal less than 1.4% of all votes cast to date statewide.

I also wanted to highlight the three counties around Orlando: Orange, Seminole and Osceola County. Two of these counties, Orange and Osceola, were in the top 7 worst turnout counties in the state in 2010.

However, in this election, sporadic voters are turning out there. And those sporadic voters are looking more like the new voting coalition in Central Florida. Not only are 46% of the non-traditional off year voters non-white, but Democrats are leading among these voters by more than 18 points.

I am going to attempt to provide you with an update on the Saturday early voting tomorrow, but no promises.

One last thing, the Republican memos on this race are exclusively comparing 2014 with 2012. What is somewhat comical about this point is for most of the last two years, they have made the point, rightly, that Democrats can never compare a Presidential turnout year to an Gubernatorial one, which is entirely accurate. This is also why comparing pre-election models in off year to a Presidential year is also simply comparing apples to oranges - though part of me appreciates the fond memories of that win.

The reason why they do it is simple: Rick Scott won by 61,000 votes in the single most Republican year in the state's history. To win at that margin required a GOP advantage of 5 points among registered voters, which in itself required a 12 point advantage among people who voted before Election Day. Given that the margin is already at 9.1, and dropping, it is no wonder they don't want to compare this election to the last statewide they won.

In the meantime, enjoy the weekend and enjoy the fact that the Gators will not lose this weekend. Guess this means they are bowl eligible another week.

And Florida GOP, well played on the bear. That must have taken some work

Steve

Friday
Oct242014

Friday 10-24 Update 

For the ease of answering the questions I get daily, I am going to provide a daily update -- or at least most days -- or at least try to. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

For the fourth consecutive day, Democrats significantly cut into the GOP advantage in votes cast. After starting the week down by some 13 points, today the margin is 9.6. By comparison, it was 18% at this point in 2010.

More importantly, votes are coming in faster than they did in 2010, so when we compare a similar number of votes cast: 1.45 million votes (Happened on Oct 26, 2010), the GOP had a 17 point advantage, and a roughly 240K vote lead in votes cast. Today, the margin is 130K, and 9.6 points.

One other key point, the GOP advantage in 2010 basically held steady over the first few days of early voting. We've seen the margin drop 4 points in 4 days.

Also, Dem participation as a share of the electorate is up 3 points from this point in the election in 2010. NPA participation is also up 3 points. GOP is down 6 from this day in 2010.

To this point - Dems are leading among 'sporadic voters' and over a quarter of Democratic voters did not vote in 2010, compared to 17% of Republican voters. Well over 30% of NPA voters are sporadic. In other words, the expansion of the electorate is helping the Democrats. In 2010, the opposite was occurring.

It is important to remember this key fact: Republicans had a 12 point advantage going into Election Day in 2010. Rick Scott won by a point, or 61,500 votes. Today it is 9.6.

And it is Florida, meaning it is just gonna be close.

Steve

PS - If you are on twitter, I release data during the day as I find things interesting. My twitter account is @steveschale

Thursday
Oct232014

12 Days Out And Too Tired To Think of a Pithy Title

With three days in the early voting books, lets take a quick look at where we are today in the Florida Governor's race.

I apologize for not writing these daily like the Scott campaign. I continue to be amazed that they have enough time to write daily memos. I barely have time to steal a candy bar from the secret stash of some field organizer in the office.

First, thank goodness the debates are over, and for me the winner was clear: The Omni in Jacksonville was definitely nicer than the Sheraton Suites in Plantation.

And Rick Scott, according to Quinnipiac, is still at 42, same place he was 60-70 million ago. However, given my past reviews on this blog of Quinnipiac, I will stipulate that quite frankly the race could also be tied at 78-78, because you know, Quinnipiac. The averages continue to show Crist with a small lead.

Back to the numbers. Democrats are outpacing their 2010 performance by 8.6 points.

The GOP advantage among voters who have cast a ballot is 10.4%. in 2010, that margin was 19%.

That remains the single most important fact.

Here are a few more:

In the 10 counties where the Democrats have the largest gains since 2010, 9 of them are in the critical I-4 media markets, or SE Florida. They include lean-right 'swingy' places like Pasco and Sarasota in Governor Crist's backyard Tampa media market, but also key Democratic vote rich places like Broward and Dade.

Take Broward County alone, nearly twice as many Democrats have voted in 2014 than voted in 2010 at this point in the election, and the Democrats advantage has grown from 12 at this point in 2010 to 26.

However to me, the most interesting little story is Osceola County.

Osceola is home to a growing Puerto Rican population, and was the lowest voter turnout county in Florida in 2010. One of the main reasons Sink lost was depressed Hispanic turnout, particularly in the Orlando area.

Well, Osceola tells a different story this year.

Roughly 9400 voters who have voted in Osceola County so far, with 40% of these voters falling into a 'sporadic' voter universe -- i.e., they did not vote in 2010.

Not surprisingly, the voters who voted in 2010 who have already voted, Republicans have a 5 point advantage.

Of the sporadic voters, Democrats have a 25 point advantage. And of the sporadic voters, 52% of are people of color, including 37% self-identified Hispanics.

Add this all up, and the difference at this point in the election between 2010 and 2014 is stark. In 2010, the GOP held a 13 point advantage at this point in the election. Today, the Dems hold a 7 point.

All in all, sporadic voters make up something close to 32% of all the Democrats who have voted, while the number is closer to 20% for Republicans..

Because of this voter expansion, Democrats are beating their 2010 performance at this stage of the election in all but 15 counties, and with the exception of Duval, the other 14 counties added up make up a smaller number of voters than have voted already in Martin County.

Lastly, it is important to keep in mind that in 2010, the GOP went into Election Day with a 11.9% advantage. When Election Day was added in, that landed at a 5 point GOP advantage among all voters. And Scott won by 1 point - 61,000 votes.

To get to that pre-Election Day Advantage, the GOP went into the election with an 18.4% advantage in Absentee Ballots, and a 4.3% Advantage in Early Vote.

Today, the GOP advantage in Absentee is 12 points (21 at this point in 2010). Early Vote is a push (12 at this point in 2010).

The trend lines support a model where the Republican advantage is not 5 again -- the margin needed to provide a Rick Scott 61,000 vote margin, but instead supports a model that looks a lot more like +2 or less Republican, a margin that would have supported a Sink win in 2010.

There is a long ways to go. Democrats need to vote. The Scott campaign, infused with cash from a new campaign supporter, Rick Scott, will continue to run like 17 gazillion negative ads a day. And 12 days is a lifetime in politics.

But all things being equal, everything in the data to date, and every trend line suggests one thing: Governor Crist will have a much friendlier election environment than Alex Sink did in 2010.

And my offer to buy Tim Saler a beer is a standing offer. It would take less time than writing memos, and because I believe in honor among thieves.

And finally, because many of you asked why I was so certain in the last memo that Fred Taylor should be in the Hall of Fame. It's all numbers: you run 11,500 yards in a career, with an average carry of 4.6 yards, rush for 66 touchdowns, and rank 15th on the all time rushing list, you should automatically be in. Period. I would hope Tim and I could at least agree on that.

#FredTaylor #GoJags

Friday
Oct172014

Fandemonium - An Update in the Race for Florida Governor 2014

To: Crist Supporters, Journalists, Assorted Pundits, the Spambots that hit my blog, the Bipartisan members of Kevin is Evil Fantasy Nascar League, and the people in Rick Scottworld who will be asked to respond to this memo, namely Tim and Ryan.

From: Steve Schale

Date: October 17, 2014

Yesterday, my memo writing counterpart at the Scott campaign, Tim Saler, issued a new piece in the wake of #FangateGoneGlobal regarding the state of the 2014 election from his perspective. While it would be easier for Tim and I to hammer this out over beers at Tucker Dukes in Tallahassee, I do admire both the certainty from which he writes his memos about the outcome of the election, as well as the volume.

Given the flakiness of Florida’s electoral world, I for one, am certain of nothing, except that Fred Taylor should be in the Hall of Fame – and that Governor Scott really doesn’t like fans.

But knowing that so many in Florida are fans of these dueling memos, I figured today was a cool day to refresh the memo I wrote from last week, given that the race has truly heated up over the last two weeks.

Under the “More things change” file: after Scott fans the TV airwaves, he remains stuck.

Governor Scott has set a new Week 3 general election record in Florida, spending $6.4 million this week in television ads. This is on top of the $5 million he spent last week. He’ll probably spend more than $7 million next week, and more than $8-10 million in Week 1.

Even with his staggering spending now topping $52 million – just on television (not including internet ads), he’s still receiving an average of 42 percent of the vote in the public polls (this includes no post-#fangate polls). 

That’s the same 42 percent he was receiving in September, the same 42 percent he was receiving in the spring before he became Florida television station owners’ Man of the Year. And the same 42 percent he was receiving on January 2, 2014.

That is the definition of stuck.

Despite the current Governor’s hyper television spending, voters are narrowly fans of Crist.

As noted in the last memo, in August, Scott held an average lead in the public polls of just under 3 points.

In September, that dropped to dead even. In the eleven public polls released during the month of October, Crist now holds an average lead of 1 point. Narrow yes, but a lead nonetheless.

In fact, for the first time since May, both Real Clear Politics and the Huffington Post pollster averages (both use different polls in their averages) have Crist with a narrow lead.

Democratic absentee ballot requests hit the 1 million mark

Yesterday, the number of Democrats requesting an absentee ballot hit the 1 million mark. The total Republican advantage in requests is under 70,000, with the two parties separated by less than 3 percent.

By comparison at this point in the campaign in 2010, GOP ballot requests outnumbered Democratic requests by over 200,000, leading to a 12 percent request advantage.

In fact, Democratic requests since Labor Day outnumber GOP requests, with the Crist field and digital operation generating nearly 200,000 new requests since Labor Day – almost exclusively from voters who did not vote in 2010.

Absentee returns confirm one thing for sure: It is not 2010

One of the constant narratives from Florida Republicans, particularly those in the camp who have been preaching the inevitability of Scott cruising to re-election, was their sure belief that 2014 = 2010. But as ballots come in, it is clear that this is not 2010.

Sure, Republicans are leading among voters who voted in the best election for their party since the beginning of time in Florida. But here is what they don’t tell you.

Only 73 percent of people who have returned an absentee ballot voted in 2010. The other 27 percent – they didn’t vote in 2010. They are the so-called “irregular” or “Presidential” voters.

Let’s repeat that: Of the ballots cast to date – by the voters who are seemingly most interested in voting, 27 percent of the ballots have been cast by voters who did not vote in 2010. And Democrats have an edge, with 32 percent of their votes coming from voters who did not participate in 2010, compared to 20 percent of Republicans.

Republicans have long held an advantage in terms of absentee ballot voters. In fact, among the nearly 1.5 million voters currently holding an absentee ballot in their hands who voted in 2010, the GOP holds about an 180,000 voter advantage. They have more voters who always vote by absentee - so they will win among people who always vote by absentee.

But more importantly, the comparison of where we were then (2010) versus now. In 2010 – on today’s day in the campaign, Republicans held an 18.5 percent advantage among returned ballots. Today it is less than 13.5 percent – and is trending Democratic. We’ve dropped the gap from 20% to 13.5% in just 10 days, and again, that is with reports that there are many ballots in three south Florida counties that have yet to be processed.

Again, the GOP advantage among people voting to date is almost exclusively from voters who voted in three of the last three races. However, the difference between their 18.5% advantage on this day in the campaign in 2010 and the 13.5% advantage today is due to the increase in returned ballots from non-2010 voters.

Sure Republicans will win absentees. They always do. But the margin will be tighter.

And keep in mind, Scott won by 61,000 votes in 2010.

The Missing Rubio Factor

There is one other key reason why this isn’t 2010: Marco Rubio is in Washington, and not on the ballot.

I doubt all but the most partisan of Scott supporters would suggest the Florida wave in 2010 was caused by Rick Scott. In fact, Rick Scott received fewer voters than any other statewide Republican in 2010, falling behind Adam Putnam, Jeff Atwater, Pam Bondi and Marco Rubio.

But the last of these is the most significant. Rubio’s candidacy drove tea party enthusiasm, and as can be seen in election results, the two of them were tied at the hip electorally in 2010. In fact, only 26,000 votes separated Marco Rubio’s vote total from Rick Scott’s – and in all but two media markets in Florida, the margin was less than 11,000.

Scott was able to run a campaign against Washington and ride Marco Rubio and the federalized nature of the race in 2010. Today - like Charlie Crist was at the beginning of the Leadership Florida debate - Scott is on the ballot alone. And again, keep in mind, Governor Scott won by 61,000 votes in 2010.

Revisiting Demographics

As stated in the last memo, in 2010, roughly 70 percent of all registered voters were white, leading to an electorate that was roughly 75% white on Election Day.

However, the growth in the electorate since 2010 has almost exclusively been made up of people of color.

Since 2010, the number of registered voters in Florida has grown by roughly 590,000, with 71% of the growth coming from Hispanic, African American or Caribbean American voters, and another 10% coming from other ethnic groups. Only 19% of the growth has been among white voters.

So what does this really mean?

If nothing else changes from 2010, and all ethnic subgroups vote in the same turnout percentages as 2010, over 60 percent of new Florida voters would be black (24% of new voters) or Hispanic (39%). In other words, even in the worst case scenario turnout – which no one truly believes is likely – the Scott 61,000 vote margin of victory from 2010 is all but wiped out, just on demographics alone. And again, that assumes the Crist operation doesn’t turn out a single unlikely voter.

But what we know is that Crist is turning out unlikely voters – over 25% of the electorate so far – and those voters are favoring the Democrats.

Turnout

The Crist campaign, with 120 staffers and 38 offices, is far more poised than the Democratic Party was in 2010 to turn out the votes necessary to win.

But in addition to the Crist operation, outside groups are investing in field in ways never before seen on the Democratic side of the aisle in a Governor’s race. In fact, according to published reports, NextGen Climate has spent over $10 million in Florida, with the majority being spent in the field – an operation that has been built by two-time Obama field czar Jackie Lee.

18 Days to Go

The campaign is far from over, but as Tim pointed out about facts being stubborn things, here are two that are real: fifty plus million dollars can’t move Governor Scott off of 42 percent, and Charlie Crist is leading this race. It is not a big lead, and Democrats need to stay focused on one thing: turning out voters. No Democrat should get complacent. People need to vote and turn out their friends.

Going back to the only thing I am certain of, that Fred Taylor should be in the Hall of Fame, this race is all about the blocking and tackling now. It’s the final drive of the Fourth Quarter and the old QB Charlie Crist has the ball and the lead. First downs are now all that separate him from the Governor’s Mansion.

And if it is getting hot over at Scott HQ, I know where they can get a fan or two.

Or a beer, which would be more productive than trading memos.

Until the next Saler memo, Go Noles! Beat Notre Dame!

Thursday
Oct022014

The Florida Governor's Race Today

Sharing a memo I wrote today on the state of the Florida Governor's race.

 

To:         Interested Parties, Political Friends and Enemies (joking) Alike, and all who are just Florida Junkies

From:     Steve Schale

Re:         State of the Florida Governor’s Race

 

We heard for months that Governor Scott was putting away Charlie Crist.

We heard that Charlie Crist couldn’t withstand Governor Scott’s attacks.

We heard that Charlie Crist couldn’t raise the money to compete.

We heard that Charlie Crist had collapsed and couldn't recover.

We heard that Governor Scott would win by 5 – 6 – 7 points.  That he was a sure bet.  That it was over.

So where does the race stand on October 2, 2014?

Governor Scott has spent over $41 million on television yet he’s stuck at 42 percent. 

The media blitz was supposed to kill of Crist, yet according to the Miami Herald, new polls show the trend “favoring” Crist, including the Real Clear Politics Average which shows Crist with an average 1.4 point lead.

 

Charlie Crist clearly has the momentum and Governor Rick Scott is stuck.

Rick Scott’s campaign and his allies have now spent north of $41 million on television, compared to roughly $19 million by the Crist campaign and the Florida Democratic Party, and the race is tied.  Not just essentially tied, but actually tied. 

According to the Huffington Post pollster track, the average of the public polling conducted during the month of September shows a dead even race.  This is a change from August, when Scott held a 2.8 point advantage in the public polling conducted during the month.

In August, the website listed Scott as a strong favorite for re-election. Today, they call it a 50-50 race.  This is a very real shift towards Crist.

The Real Clear Politics Average more accurately measures this shift.  Today, Crist has a 1.4 point advantage lead among recent public polling, a change from a Governor Scott 2 point lead earlier in September

And most importantly, just like the Huffington Post Pollster average, Governor Scott is stuck at 42 in the Real Clear Politics Average, the same place he was in April, when his TV blitz began in earnest.

Moreover, the reality on the ground is not lining up with the GOP narrative of a 2010 GOP enthusiasm wave. 

In the one true metric available, absentee ballot requests, Democrats have significantly closed the gap.  In 2010, Republicans at this point in the election held a 12 point advantage in absentee ballot requests (48 R -36 D), today that gap is two points (41 R – 39 D).   The growth in these requests comes largely from non-Gubernatorial year voters

Furthermore, the Crist ground operation is far superior to the 2010 effort, in part because Governor Crist is committed to investing in the effort to chase those absentee ballots and turn out voters.  To date, there are 35 Crist offices open, in addition to local Democratic Party offices, housing over 120 staffers, who with a volunteer army driven by the campaign’s over 60,000 contributions, has reached out to more than 1.4 million Florida voters.

And the Electorate Will Look Different

One of the main reasons why the GOP so badly misread the electorate in 2012 was they failed to recognize the changing nature of the election.  And just like 2012 was different than 2008, 2014 is different than 2010.

In 2010, roughly 70 percent of all registered voters were white, leading to an electorate that was roughly 75% white on Election Day. However, the growth in the electorate since 2010 has almost exclusively been made up of voters of ethnic descent.  Since 2010, the number of registered voters in Florida has grown by roughly 590,000, with 71% of the growth coming from Hispanic, African American or Caribbean American voters, and another 10% coming from other ethnic groups.  Only 19% of the growth has been among white voters.

This means one thing:  even if the turnout is as bad for Democrats as it was in 2010 (which it won’t be) it won’t be as bad of an outcome, as the election will be more diverse than it was in 2010.  And a more diverse electorate benefits Governor Crist.

So what does all this mean?

We were told that Crist would crumble under the weight of Governor Scott’s attacks.  Well, that didn’t happen.

We were told that Governor Scott had put the race away.  Well, clearly that didn’t happen.

But here is what we do know:

Governor Scott started the year receiving an average of 42 percent of the vote in the public polling.  After nine months and $41 million on television, he is still receiving 42 percent in the public polling.  He is an incumbent stuck.

Simply, if $41 million didn’t bury Charlie Crist, why does anyone think the next $25 million will?

To date, none of the GOP predictions on the race have held true, and what we have is a dog fight, with an incumbent Governor who is stuck in the polls after out-spending his opponent 2:1, the same Governor who won in 2010 in perfect storm conditions that do not apply to this year.

Undoubtedly, it is going to be an exceptionally close race, as I've argued all along.  Florida's last three major top of the ticket fights were all decided by less than 3 points, and there is nothing to demonstrate that this will be different.

Yes it is close, but what we have today is a race that is breaking towards Governor Crist.

Monday
May052014

Reshaping the Electorate

I've been really blessed in my career.  For a kid from a small town in Florida, by way of a small town in Illinois, I've enjoyed several "how the heck did that just happen" moments.  And without question, one of my more favorite memories was working the Presidential debate spin room at Lynn University, "on background" to make the case that Florida would go for President Obama, even when a number of misinformed pundits were suggesting the President wasn't even really competing there.

My argument was simple.  We had a superior organization, but arguably just as important, the state's demographic trends meant the electorate would be made up of even more Hispanics, as well as African Americans and Caribbean Americans than 2008.  This was definitely a sentiment that was outside the conventional wisdom, which somehow fell to the belief that the proportion of the electorate made up by ethnic minorities would be lower in 2012 than 2008.  In fact, this conventional wisdom led to some downright crazy statements about Florida including the traditional "they aren't really trying here" to the absurd: "Romney will win Florida by seven."  

In the end, demographics shaped the outcome.  Ethnic minorities made up as much as 33% of 2012 voters, at least 3, if not 4 points higher than 2008 and the rest is history: President Obama won a narrow victory here, becoming the first Democrat since FDR to carry the state in successive elections.  

While the turnout models in non-Presidential years in Florida are always different, ethnic minorities in 2014 will make up a larger share of the electorate than 2010.  But how much more?  And is it enough to alone change the outcome?  That is the purpose of this piece.

Let's start by looking back at 2010.  In what was arguably the best year for Republican year in Florida history, exit polls show the electorate broke down like this: 74 percent white, 11 percent black (both African American and Caribbean American), and 12 percent Hispanic.   Going into that election, voter registration lined up this way:  69 percent white, 13 percent black and 12.5 percent Hispanic.   All of those things added up to a 61,000 vote victory by Governor Scott.  In other words, the electorate was significantly more white than voter registration.

Before we go further, you might be asking yourself -- how is it that the electorate was made up of more ethnic minorities in 2012 than their proportion of registered voters, when participation among black and Hispanic voters is traditionally lower?  Two things:  turnout among these groups was higher in 2012 -- and in the case of Hispanics, there is a segment of the population who will register to vote as white, but self-ID to a pollster as Hispanic.  This is part of why polling this subgroup in Florida is tricky.

Back to the data -- so what has happened with these population trends since then?  For the sake of this exercise, and in an attempt to compare apples to apples, I will look at the data going back to the close of the registration books for the 2010 primary, roughly the 1st of August 2010.  

Here are a couple of interesting points:

  • Despite the fact that some 2 million people have registered to vote since August 2010, the actual number of active voters is roughly 500,000 more than 2008.  This is due to mortality and non-voters being moved to 'inactive' status.
  • Since 2010, 20 percent of all new registered voters are self-identified Hispanic, 15 percent are black (African American or Caribbean) and another 9 percent are other.  This is likely a mix of people, including the state's fast growing Asian population and some mixed ethnicities.  The remaining 56 percent are self-identified white -- though keep in mind, some Hispanics, particularly those whose families have been here multiple generations, self-identify as white.
  • This leads to an electorate that today is roughly 66 percent white, 13.5 percent black and 14 percent Hispanic and with a larger proportion of Asian and other ethic populations. 

So how are these new voters registering?

  • 97 percent of black voters (African American/Caribbean American) are registering either Democratic (73%) or NPA (24%).  Only 3 percent of new black voters are registering GOP.
  • Only 22 percent of new white voters registered Democratic.  The plurality of new white voters registered NPA (40%), with the GOP close behind (38%).
  • On flip side, only 16 percent of new Hispanic voters registered Republican.  Like whites, the plurality of Hispanics registered NPA (45%), with 39 percent joining the Democratic Party.

As a result, the ethnic make up of the political parties looks like this.  The below percentages are the share of each group within the political party:

                Black Hispanic White

Democratic 28.4% 14.0% 52.4%

Republican   1.3% 11.2%  83.7%

NPA           7.5%  18.9%  63.4%

Total         13.4% 14.2%  66.4%

 

The other way to look at it is partisan registration by ethnicity:

                       Democratic Republican NPA

White (66.4%)     30.6%      45.0%      24.4%

Hispanic (14.2%)  38.0%      28.1%      33.9%

Black (13.4%)      82.1%      3.5%       14.6%

Other (6%)         34.5%      22.0%      43.5%


It breaks down this way: political reporters, observers, pundits, players, etc., are all looking for that silver bullet to call the Governor's race.  Will it be Scott's money advantage, will medical marijuana turn out voters, will the Affordable Care Act rally Republicans -- or Democrats, will base Democrats stay home, will Tea Partiers show up, will the Libertarian candidate take votes from Scott, Crist or just be a protest candidate,  will the Jaguars take a QB in the first round, how far can Jameis Winston throw a crab leg, it Tony Stewart continues to struggle, what happens to turnout from transplanted Indiana race fans, what does the LG pick mean, etc., etc., etc.  Story after story will be written about how each of these is the absolute critical piece to one candidate's success or failure. 

Truth is from my perspective, all of it and none of it matter. Florida is a marginal state.  We aren't a marginal state because we are a swing state, in the way of an Iowa, which has a lot of swing voters.   No, we are a swing state because we are this amazing collection of subgroups, that when added together, add up to be a competitive electorate.  The number of people in this state who are true swing voters is not huge -- though for people who argue that Democrats win by simply turning out their vote, I point you to 2004.  Florida is both a persuasion and a turnout state.

So that is a long way of saying, yes, the demographics matter. Let's say Charlie Crist takes Scott's marginal win among Hispanics in 2010 and makes it a 53-46 Crist win.  Should Hispanics make up 13% of the electorate, that change from 2010 to 2014 will add up to essentially another point on election day for Crist. For blacks, if Crist can get turnout from 11 to 12 percent of all voters, again, that means nearly an entire point accrues to Crist's total.  Bluntly, all of these stats simply mean that the Democrat needs a smaller percentage of the white vote to win.  

And remember, Scott won by barely over a point, so it is all about margins. The changing demographics simply mean that window for him is just that much narrower. 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday
Dec232013

My Cambodian Christmas Story

When I was invited to join the ACYPL delegation to the Philippines and Malaysia, they gave us the opportunity to extend our trip.

In college, I learned about Angkor Wat and always wanted to see it. Candidly, I didn't know where it was until researching a possible extension - learning it was in Cambodia. After quick research to make sure it was safe, I booked the ticket and off we go.

My Cambodia goal was singular: see Angkor. I didn't know if life would ever take me back to Indochina, so this was a check mark. Other than a plane ticket and a hotel reservation, I had done no prior planning. I thought I'd rent a bike and go tour. But thanks to 3am karaoke, I'd slept absolutely zero hours before leaving for the Kuala Lumpur airport at 4am. Exhausted and maybe a little hungover, I decided day one probably shouldn't be on a bike. So upon checking into hotel, I went down to the street and rented a Tuk Tuk driver for a whopping 18 bucks for the whole day.

So off we went. For the uninitiated, a Tuk Tuk is a two wheeled cart towed by a moped. In the hierarchy of traffic in Cambodia, its arguably just above a bike. And since the mopeds, cars, bikes and TukTuks tend to drive where there is open road, regardless of lane or traffic direction, every ride was its own adventure.

He spoke decent English. Most "white" visitors are European, so he was a bit shocked when I said "US." We chatted a bit as we rode up to Angkor Thom. After exploring for a few hours, we went to lunch. I bought him lunch to pick his brain on the area, beginning the three day conversation that will stay with me.

To me, Cambodia's poverty is devastating, far worse than Manila or Guatemala, my previous experience with soul crushing poverty. Per capita GDP is just over $2,000, or roughly 4 percent of per capita GDP in US. But in reality, this really overstates it. Some 80 percent live in poverty, defined as an income of 2 dollars a day or less. Most of that 80 percent makes more like a dollar a day. While wealth and cost of living, at some level is relative -- most of the meals I ate in the country, largely from street carts or market vendors, only cost 2-3 dollars, that is wicked expensive for most people who subsist on something akin to a rice soup. Any protein is a luxury here.

Riding by Tuk Tuk provided a vantage that a car or bus would miss: the smell and the noise. Rural Cambodia smelled like fire, because every home had one going in the yard to cook. As for noise, if not for the roar of an occasional tourist bus and mopeds, it would have been silent. We stopped at one particularly beautiful rice field, and it was absolutely still. You could hear animals and men cutting in the rice fields. No hum of development, no loud stereos. Quiet. Almost disturbingly so.

So back to my guy. Turns out we are same age. He's married. Three kids. Age 6, 3 and 1 (spoiler alert), the oldest who I first met when Syem and I ran into each other at a town Christmas lighting my first night there.

He was the first in his family to live outside of the rice fields. His family land was bombed by the US in the Vietnam War. His dad lost a leg to a mine accident, and it sounds like his brother has PTSD, which research unsurprisingly shows afflicts a disturbing percentage of the population here. There is growing evidence in Cambodia that because PTSD is so prevalent that it actually gets passed on to the next generation.

Despite this, my driver self taught English, not perfect, but plenty for us to communicate. Over lunch, I drill him a bit. He listens to voice of America and watches CNN & knows our politics well. He pointed out with frustration the pictures of government officials that line the roads, just muttering "corrupt, very corrupt" as we pass beaten down schools and hospitals. They don't really do anything for the people he says.

Tourism has been a boom for this part of Cambodia. Some 1 million people a year come to see Angkor. Hotels and new construction are everywhere. In fact, I found the town to almost be annoyingly western. You had to get out of city center to find good authentic food. The development has led to jobs, but its hard to say if people are really benefiting. I ran through several neighborhoods on Sunday morning & basic services are completely lacking. The beautiful river which goes through the center of town turns into a dumping ground, sewage ditch and sadly, swimming/bathing pool only a block away from the tourist district.  Running past naked kids splashing in that polluted sewer of a river was jarring. The main hospital in town looked like a war zone from the outside. No westerner would go there except under total direst. Yet the wealth from tourism has led to a series of beautiful homes being built behind walls, just outside the city limits.

My guy came here after peace was restored in the late 90s, and all in all does well. Makes enough to be able to afford to send his kids to private school (50 dollars a month) where they will learn English. He owns his own cart, though he seems to operate as a subcontractor for the hotel, which I'm assuming provides him a lower, but more steady income. His wife does not work now, so he has to earn for him, his family, his disabled dad and his brother, who can't hold down work. In a year, he will make less than I made in a month at 24 years of age.

Like him, there isn't a family that wasn't touched by the war that took some 2 million lives. My guy was a baby during the genocide, but like all Cambodian kids of the 80s & 90s, he grew up dodging landlines and dealing with violence from the ongoing civil war that didn't really end until nearly 2000. We'd drive down the road and he'd point out fields and say "pop, pop, Khmer Rouge" with his hand making a gun. Once he got on his knees to show an execution. And frankly, his story is a relatively tame one. He's still here, along with his parents. Plenty of late 30s/early 40s guys in Cambodia can't say that.

Climbing temples, you can't help but think of families that hid in the ruins for years. And you can't miss the crushing poverty, in part because everyone is really short, growth stunted by lack of basic nutrition. Yet everyone you meet is absolutely wonderful. Cambodians, despite their history and poverty are some of the most welcoming and gracious people on the planet. And that's where it gets you, and if you let yourself dive in, it's no longer a vacation. In fact, I never once felt threatened -- well except when I got a stink eye from a military officer running through town. My gut says most Cambodians probably feel the same way.

You can get Templed out here. On day 2, we did like 12-14 sites. Climbing up old stairs not built for 200lb guys with size11.5 shoes, even when you are decently fit, will wear you out. So by Day 3, I just wanted to explore. There was a temple about 35km north of town and a museum to landmine nearby that I wanted to see. But I told my guy I just wanted him to show me his country, the way he wanted me to see it.

When he picked me up, he had his kid. There were places he wanted to show him too, now that he was 6, who had not been beyond the Angkor temples, which are 10km north of town. So we climbed in the cart and off we went. As soon as we got outside the temple tourist area, Cambodia changed. We passed ox drawn carriages taking timber and rice to the market. We drove by homes, usually just a 15x15 platform, raised up on stilts to avoid the floods, with families cooking on their open fires, kids often playing in nearby ponds, some of which were bomb craters. I didn't run into a single beggar, but I was definitely economic development. Every time we stopped, sometimes for above mentioned ox carts, people would run to the tall white guy trying to get me to buy everything from baskets, to rice, to trinkets and even used Tupperware. When we'd walk around, my driver's kid would often ride on my shoulders (not sure he's hung out with many 6ft tall white people), which only drew more sales people, sometimes other kids who really wanted me to put them on my shoulder as much as wanting me to buy their stuff.

At one temple, I met a girl selling scarves. She looked 11. I asked her her name and age. She was 21, raising money for college, so she said. There was a story with every kid selling things, and prewired to be cynical, I thought it was BS, so I asked her course of study: economics. I was still skeptical, so I asked her why many Cambodians choose the dollar over the Cambodian Rial. Her answer: 2-3 minutes on the micro economics of the country and lack of trust in Cambodian authority/currency policy. So I bought four scarves. Sad thing is, she's exactly who Pol Pot would have targeted- someone trying to better their own lot by being more intellectual. That's who they killed in the genocide. As a result, some studies suggest illiteracy is as high as 90 percent.

This is a crowd that seems to take real pride. Every morning, you'd see ladies sweeping the dirt medians, or cleaning up the market area. Guys were chopping down weeds with machetes. Some of them are paid, but most of them aren't. Kids are taught to bring their hands together and bow to guests. My six year old buddy bowed to me. By the end of the day, I'd proudly taught him the fist bump as a more appropriate greeting for me. His Dad approved.

I could tell stories for weeks about little interactions here or there, and I found myself exhausted of tourists who would treat their Cambodian hosts like second class citizens, and/or those who chose to not show respect at their monuments. For all they have survived, they've earned our respect in my opinion. I haven't had to endure 1/1000th of what the average 40 year old Cambodian has dealt with.

Back to the trip. It's me and the kid in the cart. We rode down the "highway" as he pointed out the animals: monkeys, dogs, and assorted other things. I ran him through his colors and numbers. Smart little dude.

Typically, because my driver hadn't paid the "fee" to be an "official" guide, over the three days, when we got to temples, he didn't accompany me into temples (unless there were no police around). He did ask me to take his kid to one early on day 3, which was more fun for me than him.

When I got to the genocide museum, I expected to go it alone. But before I knew it, I had a six year old at my feet, as well as his Dad. We spent an hour in that museum. He explained to me the pictures, the political figures and the weapons. He knew every gun, it's common name and what country it came from. He showed me the uniforms. His view of foreign policy was impacted by those countries who armed Pol Pot. This wasn't a museum for him, this was his life. His kid had no idea what were seeing, he was just running around like a kid, mostly pointing out tad poles in a nearby pond.

But then we got to a wall of pictures that hit me like a 2x4. It was of child soldiers, some as young as 8. They taught the kids that shooting was a game. There was a poster of a kid asking a dead man to "get up, i want to keep playing." And I looked at that kid who had been in the cart all day. And I had to walk outside. That was all the Cambodia I could take.

I went back up to Angkor Wat for the final sunset. Most people watch it from a hill nearby so they can see the sun set over the temple. That hill can have literally thousands of tourists, which was the last thing I needed. A lady at the hotel told me to go inside, that no one is there, and watch the color of the stone change. And she was right. There were maybe 5 of us in that upper courtyard watching the light change. It was beautiful, as the shadows changed on the carvings. It was also a chance to process.  How is it that people who literally have lived in a constant hell for 40 years still be as warm and welcoming as they are? I'd like to think I wouldn't be angry, or have total disdain for guys like me. I'd like to think that.

He took me to the airport late on Sunday night, gratefully for me, sans kid.  First time in three days we didn't talk. I didn't know what to pay him each day, so I'd give him two $20s, twice his fee, but still way too little.  Each day, as he did at the airport that night, he'd try to give me $20 back, saying "too much...too much." Too much?  I'd pay for his kids to go to school if I thought he'd let me.   We exchanged hugs, I gave him my card, and off we went back to our own, very different worlds -- worlds as different as planets.    

Life's lottery is dumb luck. By world standards, if you are reading this, you like me are lucky. Guys like me don't have institutionalized limits on our dreams -- our dreams are limited only by our work ethic and often the luck we create. That kid's future is predestined largely by the geography of his birth, yet he was like any other six year old. Fortunately for him, he is getting an education, clearly has two good parents, but the history of Cambodia suggests there is no guarantee for him or his age cohort. In a land of such poverty and disparity, violence is always a real possibility. As the kid gave me a hug and a fist bump at the end of that long day, I do know I'll always wonder.

You can go there and rent a car, or hop on a bike and go temple hopping. I expected to be, and was wowed by the temples. What I didn't expect is to get hit over the head by the place. A friend who went to grad school in Vietnam told me that three days was all they could handle in Cambodia before it started to break them down. I didn't understand. I do now.

I do believe things happen for a reason. Maybe God felt I needed to be reminded of the blessings of life in America. Regardless, His Christmas present to me was that regrounding that we all need from time to time.

With that, the blog will return to politics soon, as life's other journeys take priority. I sincerely appreciate all the comments I've gotten over the last two weeks. Just do yourself a favor: go see it for yourself. Angkor is amazing in its own right, but the people you meet are worthy in their own right of your trip. And if you go, I know where you can find a guy there with a moped and a cart. Just down the street from the Borei Angkor hotel. Only 18 bucks for the day.

 

 

 

Sunday
Dec222013

Saying goodbye to Malaysia -- For now.

As I wrestle with how to write this last post on Malaysia, I keep thinking of my ACYPL colleague Sarah Fisher's words who said riding to our last dinner: "I don't know if my friends will get this place, no matter how much I try to explain it." I briefly argued the point, because I thought I had it figured out.

But upon the reflection that only comes on 1 hour of sleep, inside a crowded airplane flying over rural Cambodia, I'm not so sure. See, I intended to write a post about the choice facing this country, the choice to fully embrace modernity and grow, or to continue a fairly recent path that is arguably more inward. But the reality is that question --even though I posed it in every meeting or conversation that we had - is unfair because it over simplifies it. Nothing about this place is binary, in fact, I don't even know a word to describe it. Other than love - because I did fall in love with the place and many of the people I met.

The four days in Kuala Lumpur (called KL here) were an absolute whirlwind, seemingly over long before it started. We met with government and political leaders of both the opposition and ruling parties, talked with a broad stroke of media figures, wandered through markets, attended a Christmas party at a home where most people weren't Christian, had fascinating dinners, drank at our hotel bar which looked like the bar scene from Star Wars, and even sang karaoke until 3am. Our Malaysian hosts showed us the time of our lives. Most of us truly fell in love with the place.

So let me set the table.

The scene in KL was more urban than Kuching, and while equally as accepting of religious diversity, KL -- and all of west Malaysia is distinctively Muslim. At the same time, it was more cosmopolitan. Whereas Kuching for us was mostly cultural, the KL days were almost exclusively political.

Malaysia has been ruled exclusively by one governing coalition since independence, and within the coalition, Malay Muslims are the majority. The opposition is a lose affiliation of Chinese, Indians and Malays, and is far more diverse from a religious standpoint.

Malaysia elects its Prime Minister in the British Parliament fashion -- independent elections in constituencies, with the PM going to party or coalition that wins most seats. In 2013, most seats did not equate to most votes, as the opposition coalition won 52 percent of all votes, but only 45 percent of all seats. The way that the constitution apportions seats, one man, one vote, does not apply. Several rural areas have constituencies 1/10th the size of urban seats. The ruling coalition dominated these districts and maintained a majority in Parliament.

Politics in Malaysia doesn't fit in a US right/left paradigm, so this is an over simplification...but the ruling coalition appears to be operating in more of a "base" position, such as embracing a handful of more hard line Islamic positions in attempt to appeal to religion. The opposition is more of a "median voter" position, taking a more technocratic aim on issues of good governance and tolerance.

History says in places like Malaysia, the ruling coalition will eventually fall, so I asked everyone the same question: "where is Malaysia in 10 years?" There was no consensus. What's clear is Malaysia faces a choice. What's not so clear is what the choice is. The ruling and opposition coalitions are loose on their best days.

I did meet two very impressive young leaders, Khairy Jammaluddin, the nation's tech savvy minister of youth and sports, and Nurul Izzah, the 33 year old daughter of one of Malaysia's most famous public figures. Both are bright, charismatic and probably on a crash course to be Prime Minister. My politics definitely align more with Nurul, but both represent a different way of doing business.

The opposition believes the system is rigged against them, and frankly, they might be right. Institutional gerrymandering eschews the balance of power, an bias towards Malays gives the advantage up the ruling party, as do media laws that require papers and radio station to get annual government approval to operate. Opposition candidates get poor coverage, and can't buy ads. But as Japan and Mexico showed, all the interference in the world can't stop a movement for change.

Someone described Malaysia as 80 percent democratic, and that's seems about accurate. And while we met with a more urban crowd, there does seem to be a quiet movement out there for a more forward leaning Malaysia. I will say, I do think the country could be a true Asian tiger - it's geographically well positioned, is small enough to make operating easy, and has a large educated and English speaking population. It's a great Asian entry point for business. But it feels like the country is a bit underachieving.

I had no expectations about Malaysia. From reading, I expected to find a tense, sectarian society, that at times would be uncomfortable for Americans. What I found was an open country, filled with a diverse population of very warm and hospitable people, who despite their ethnic and religious differences, get along pretty well. I never felt like an outsider in Malaysia.

Like America, the differences are at an institutional level, magnified by their politicians, who seek to stove pipe people. But attending a Christmas Party at the home of an Indian, attended by Malay Muslims, Chinese Christians and certainly others, it's clear at least in urban KL, like Kuching, that sectarianism isn't going to win out.

In the end, I came away with lifelong friends, especially Jack Lim, our host, who is a credit to his nation, moving easily and seamlessly through all factions as a trusted person to all -- and a darn good karaoke singer. I also came away with more questions than answers, and a real love for this place. I was prepared to experience Malaysia. I wasn't prepared to fall in love. The people, the culture, the food and the vibe of the place is infectious. As one of my colleagues said, it is modern 'western' enough to be comfortable for guys like me, while still steadfastly Asian, which makes it energetic and always interesting.

Two things for sure. I come home with six new American friends who are now like family to me, and a strong desire to come back and learn more about this part of the world.

Next post: Cambodia.

 

Sunday
Dec152013

Finding Peace in Sarawak

We all landed in Malaysia exhausted. The Philippines was hard on everyone: the travel, the pollution and the long days had taken its toll on all of us. Don't get me wrong, the Philippines was a magical experience on many levels, but it beat us up physically and emotionally. We all showed up at the airport looking pretty rough, and excited that our travel day only included a dinner.

So we were a bit shocked when we got to the connecting airport in Kuala Lumpur to learn that we were meeting with the Deputy Chief Minister (think Lt Governor) of Sarawak, the eastern Malaysian state where we'd be spending the first half of our Malaysian trip -- and the visit was a "state courtesy call" meaning we'd need to be in business attire -- and the meeting was 45 min after we landed in Sarawak. Fortunately the parents of our host in Sarawak was kind enough to let us change at her house.

We headed to our first meeting not quite sure why we were in Kuching, the Capitol city of Sarawak. It's a smallish city located on a remote part of the island of Borneo, part of east Malaysia. It has a very tropical feel, located just 1 degree north of the equator, where the length of the longest day of the year and the shortest are separated by only 12 minutes. The weather is very Florida-esque and frankly, I liked the city the moment we landed.

Our first meeting was with the state government. Their power structure is highly centralized, though not autocratic. They talked about the relative lack of poverty and racial strife in a state that is home to 26 different ethnic and tribal groups. The government is hyperfocused on development: industrial farming, hydroelectric and aquaculture - and essentially they use development to buy peace in their state. The leaders were amazingly on message, deflecting any hard question we asked, and the press was very controlled. One paper included a quote from a colleague which bore no resemblance to what he said. That being said, they had a clear idea of what they were trying to accomplish.

The next day we met with opposition leaders who spoke of widespread corruption and a lack of civic participation and discourse. Many of their observations matched my gut feeling about the meeting with government.

However, what was most interesting about the several hours we spent with these leaders was the fact they came from all walks of life: a Muslim woman running the women's empowerment division, their elected leaders represented several tribes who were Christian, while their young social media maven was Chinese. Their platform actually endorsed both naming Islam as the official ceremonial religion of the country, and further enshrining religious freedom in the constitution.

Wandering around town I saw the same thing: extreme diversity coexisting in total peace. Mosques right down the street from churches, Buddhist shrines located in the parks across the street from Hindu places of worship, and young women wearing the hijab would walk down the street with Chinese boys in shorts. I imagine a poll of this town would have found widespread confusion why there was even a debate in the US over whether a mosque could be built in downtown New York City. Here you could almost imagine Christians offering to help their Muslim brothers build a Mosque, while maybe the next week they'd all go work on a Buddhist temple. It's a outward display of religious freedom not frequently seen. Frankly, it was very cool.

Our visit here was much more casual than the Philippines. We went to a cultural center, toured a museum, attended church for a high school band concert and walked through the market. But more than anything, our gracious host Sharon Ling arranged for us to share meals with real people, and gave us time to explore this really interesting town.

On our second to last morning, I went for a long run, made much longer by my getting very lost. I ran down neighborhood streets, by the bus station, along the river, through a park and generally anywhere I thought would get me back to the Hilton. Despite being conspicuous (running white guy in a bright shirt), it's easy to feel very at home here, because everyone here is different.

Cultures are married here. I met a Brit, turned Kiwi who decided to settle in Kuching after working a project in town. He said the town celebrates every holiday, and I saw it with my own eyes. My colleague Nathan Dahm, a Republican state senator from Oklahoma and I walked a few blocks in the Christmas Parade, blending in with a group from a local church, and lining the streets on a dark rainy night were plenty of Muslims and Hindus.

And the band concert we attended was at a local church, though it seemed from the attire of the parents there to see their kids, that the vast majority weren't Christian. You are getting the idea.

It began to make sense why we came. This part of the exchange wasn't supposed to be like the Philippines, which was formal and official. Rather this was pure cultural exchange, a chance to immerse in a town for a long weekend, bond as a group, have meaningful conversations with real Malaysians, and just be a part of it all.

What is amazing about this uniquely unremarkable town is its a place where all of the things that cause conflict around the world manage to survive in peace, because it seems these people have decided to embrace their differences and revel in their diversity. As a result, even though we were clearly outsiders, we all felt very comfortable here, and it showed. We marched in bands, some of us danced at a reenacted tribal ceremony, ate really amazing and exotic food, and some even did karaoke with a Malaysian lounge act, which among other things, performed history's most amazingly horrible rendition of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. It was easy to let your guard down here, because seemingly guards aren't allowed here.

Kuching isn't perfect. There's plenty of dirt around the edges, it's worn in many areas, and the city could use a good pressure wash and paint job. Further, there seems to be widespread agreement -- and in some circles, acceptance that the government does enrich itself. It's also not fancy, as the aforementioned Brit/Kiwi said, "it's a three star town." You will never see it in a travel magazine, and it won't blow you away. But there is something about it.

The people who live here are relaxed and happy, and they content to trade a few luxuries in exchange for peace, mutual understanding and middle class prosperity. After three days here, I get it. Hope to see you again Kuching.

Onward to Kuala Lumpur.

Friday
Dec132013

Blessed

The week in metro Manila has been amazing, but the last full day brought home the true blessings of being an American.

The unique relationship between our two counties is often forgotten on our side of the fence, but in the Philippines, the relationship brings immense pride. The Philippine population living in the states is four million strong, meaning you hardly meet anyone who doesn't have family in our country. The country feels like a bridge between east and west, a marriage of Asian, Hispanic and American influences, though the identity is clearly more west than east. They know our national issues -- sometimes better than us, embrace much of the culture, and watch our sports, particularly the NBA.

At times, at least in relative terms, our trips were sterile. We traveled by embassy bus, often under escort (for traffic navigation, not safety) and met with government officials, many of whom had prepackaged presentations. And everywhere we were greeted with a fanfare and distinction unworthy of our traveling motley crew. Banners greeted us everywhere and most of the time it felt like we were being followed by paparazzi, with 10-20 fotogs recording every handshake and every expression.

But nothing matched Manila, where we were met City Hall with a red carpet and the city marching band playing Stars and Stripes Forever, as literally hundreds of people - surely mostly curious, watched from the sidewalk or their windows. It was a moment I'll never forget. In Manila, we were also escorted by the historical society director on a tour of the historic walled city, and met with the country's youngest Senator, Ban Acquino, who in his historic family's legacy is very bright, thoughtful and committed to good governance. In a country where birthright dictates political prominence, there is no doubt he is on a path to the Presidency and frankly, in my short hour with him, he showed the tools of a great leader of his country.

Yesterday, we also ran into poverty on an unimaginable scale. Shanty towns built inside flood drainage tunnels by the river, old barges and boats permanently docked as housing for construction workers, naked children diving from an abandoned crane into the polluted river to swim -- the same river adults were bathing in 100 yards away, while others fished for their dinner down stream, and everyone collectively living in a smog that literally chokes off a complete breath.

What was stunning is rarely did public officials speak of this, and until the last 48 hours, I was afraid to ask. It felt as though poverty was a "don't ask, don't tell" issue. But as I got courage, the answers were interesting, from stock "economic development" to more thoughtful ones. Senator Acquino was easily the most versed in actual policies to create opportunity through education and micro economics. Many of their solutions hardly make sense viewed from a US right - left ideological lens, which also created in reverse interesting questions. One woman flat asked me why our country, as rich as we are, was even debating whether everyone should get good health care. Forgive the editorial comment, but frankly after being in the Philippines, it's hard for me to understand that question either.

That being said, you can't come here and not come away with a more fuller understanding of how lucky we are as Americans -- and how the vast majority of people here look to us to be the world beacon. Yesterday I found my Philippine sea legs, often walking away from the group and finding people to talk to. Everywhere people would talk of their dreams to visit or ask about something happening with their family in the states.

At City Hall, I met four young college students, each studying tourism, all who wanted to see Disney World. At a historical site, I met a woman who had visited 30 states to see her "almost 500 relatives" in the states. And even the photographer from the National Movement of Young Legislators, who escorted us the entire trip, talked of coming to the states to one day see his son box.

But one particular moment got me. I was boarding the "coaster" (our bus) and this lady was standing on the sidewalk about 50 feet away waving, holding her child. She was obviously quite poor, but smiling ear to ear. I walked over to greet her, and as I got close she pointed at me smiling and said to her kid "America." I touched her kid's hand, who looked by development to be 16-18 months old and said to the mom "he's beautiful -- how old?" Two and a half she said. Despite the obvious love of his mother, poverty had clearly stunted this boy's development. I choked back a tear before walking away.

The Philippine leaders haven't always had the right priorities. Senator TG Guingona, who chairs the equivalent of the Senate Ethics Committee estimates that 40 percent of all government revenue is lost to corruption, a number that if even half right is stunning. And we certainly met at least one local leader who seemed more than willing to let that persist. One even blamed anti corruption laws for slowing economy progress. But most real people I talked to held the opposite view, that the country's woes, from poverty to infrastructure were a direct result of corruption.

But for all of the problems, this not a sad place, in fact, it's quite the opposite. In the face of gripping poverty, there is a contagious vibe here, and we met countless young leaders committed to better governing and innovative progress. And with 40 million people out of 97 million living on less than 2 dollars a day, it's going to take those leaders to help move the country from developing to developed status. That being said, I found lots if reasons to be hopeful, surrounded by problems of a magnitude that our elected leaders cannot imagine.

One of the country's great former leaders Manuel Quezon once said words that can still apply today -- universally: "All that is necessary is that every public official, from President down to the last police officer, is to know that the office is not given to him for the purpose of his own personal aggrandizement or profit, nor with the idea of permitting him to abuse the powers of that office. Public office is given to a man in the interest of the people of the country." Leaving, I'm confident that a younger generation is truly embracing this, both here in Philippines, but also in the USA.

Most of the Philippines I didn't feel well, due to the combination of food, 16-18 hour days, bus rides that were indescribable (imagine weaving in and out of traffic on a motorcycle -- except instead of a motorcycle, you are riding on a bus), lack of sleep, poor air quality, lack of western sanitation standards and jet lag. For two days, I subsisted on Advil, Imodium, Jamba Juice, Gatorade and Gu. But regardless, I definitely go to Malaysia a healthier person, with many new friends from a country that generally loves ours, and a renewed appreciation and pride of the blessing that comes with American birthright and citizenship.

Everyone in America should be so lucky to experience a similar journey.

Now Malaysia...