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Tuesday
Apr192016

The Democratic Nomination is Over. 

The commanding win tonight by Secretary Clinton should bring an end to the nomination fight.  Going into tonight, her delegate lead was over 200, and her popular vote lead was over 2.4 million.  We'll see how the delegates get allocated, but her lead will significantly grown tonight, and she will add another 200,000 or more her popular vote lead.  This in a state that Sanders' top advisor has said was one they needed to win, and one where Sanders himself, as recently as last week said: "We will win a major victory here in New York next Tuesday."

The facts on this are no longer disputable: 

After tonight, Sanders will need to win 59% of the remaining delegates to get to the nomination.  

And if we look ahead to next week, based simply on the public polling available for the April 26th primaries & assuming Clinton gets no bump from tonight's win, after next Tuesday Sanders will need to win roughly 65% of the delegates in the remaining 14 contests (of which only two: Guam and North Dakota are caucuses). 

To put it in clearer terms, after April 26th, she will only need to win about 350 of the remaining 1,000 or so delegates to secure a majority of pledged delegates.  It is over.

In addition, after April 26th, she will almost certainly lead the popular vote by more than 3 million votes.   There will also be no viable path for him to win a majority of the popular vote.

For those who point to 2008, let's compare the race at the same point:  

If you go back to the week after Pennsylvania - Obama had a less than 100 delegate lead in pledged delegates, compared to Clinton's, which will likely be over 300.  And yes, California was earlier last time, but even if you take California out of the 08 map, she has more than twice the delegate lead that Obama had in 08. 

Or compare the popular vote: less than 200,000 votes separated Clinton and Obama at this point in 2008.   This election, outside of the media narrative, has not been, nor today is anything like 2008. 

There is no longer any viable path for Bernie Sanders to be the Democratic nominee for President, and at this point, his staying in the race simply slows the critical organizing efforts that need to begin in battleground states. 

Hillary Clinton is going to go to the convention with a much larger lead in both pledged delegates and popular vote than Barack Obama in 2008.  This race isn't even close at this point, despite Sanders' recent wins. 

For the Sanders people, I get it.  His campaign is a remarkable story, and his team and his supporters deserve a lot of credit.  It isn't easy when the Presidential dream ends.  Trust me, I experienced it on a smaller scale last fall.  There are real stages of grief when a campaign ends. 

But it is over. First, he isn't going to win 65% of the remaining delegates, which under our math, would require him to win the states after April 26th by margins of roughly 30%.  Secondly, the Democratic super delegates (a system I support reforming) aren't going to overturn both the popular vote and the delegate vote to nominate Sanders.   Sanders isn't going to be the nominee and the sooner that everyone comes to grips with this, the better chance we will collectively have of winning in November.

And as I mentioned on my blog in March, here is why:

The Republicans will circle the wagons around their nominee.  Sure there will be some holdouts, but in the end, their desire to win the White House will overtake their angst with either Trump or Cruz. 

Secondly, we still live in a divided country:  the days of Johnson or Reaganesque landslides are behind us.  This election will still be decided out in 7-9 battleground states, just as it has since the early 90s.  

Next, at this point, the rhetoric between the campaigns is unnecessarily hostile - and I say unnecessarily because the race is functionally over. As the campaign has gotten more desperate for oxygen, Sanders has increasingly turned the guns of his campaign towards the DNC, other Democrats as well as questioning Hillary's character.  Basically he's reached the stage where rather than admitting loss, he's blaming the winner, and absolutely none of this helps us win in November. 

Now I get it, campaigns have to do what they have to do to win, but when you are no longer winning - particularly in a primary fight, a candidate has to decide whether they are going to be a team player, or torch the tent -- as Trump is doing on the GOP side.  This is the time for Sanders to show how you can win by losing.  He has two choices: he can increasingly look like a spoiler, or he can stamp stamp a claim on this cycle by landing the plane, and as Hillary Clinton did in 2008, get to work ensuring we have a unified party for this fall.

And the sooner the better, as we have real work to do.

Let's just take my home state of Florida.  Since 1992, no state in the country has been more competitive - and for Republicans, there is no path to the White House without it.  We win it, and the race is over.  But trust me, as dysfunctional as the GOP looks now, they will get their act together.  Don’t believe me?  Rick Scott couldn’t win either.

But in some ways, we start out in a tougher spot than eight years ago.  Since the last open Presidential election (2008), the GOP has cut the Democratic voter registration advantage by almost 380,000 voters.  In other words, our 5% voter registration advantage in 2008 is 2% today.  And whether you want to admit it or not, that has translated into them winning races down the ballot.  

In addition, while I would argue that many of the voters we have lost were voters we had long ago lost, our coalition of voters now, while more loyal, are also more infrequent.  Nearly 50% of our party coalition is now made up of ethnic minorities, voters who are historically less likely to turn out.  In both 2008 and 2012, we were able to reverse these turnout trends - in 08, with the help of enthusiasm, and in 12, thanks to having more than a year to organize in the re-election.  While I have nothing but honest respect for the field generals on the Clinton campaign, quite simply, the longer the campaign has to organize, the better positioned it will be to turnout Democratic voters at 08/12 levels.  They know what they are doing, and it is time to let them get fully engaged on the real work.

Admittedly, I thought it was time to end it in March, after Bernie basically ceded Florida, though I understood why he kept going. Sanders' campaign has done things, particularly in terms of engaging new grassroots donors, that we may never see again.  But at this point, after tonight -- and certainly after next week - there is no longer an argument for it continuing.  The primary is over.  There is no path, and there is no math.  So rather than taking a sledgehammer to each other, let's go beat Trump.

Thursday
Apr142016

Happy Birthday Nana!

Today is my grandmother, Marge Ryan's 96th birthday. 

As I have gotten older, I've spent more time trying to understand how I came to my own view of the world.  The more I think about it, the more I have come to understand just how much of who I am today was shaped by the way Marge "Nana" Ryan has lived her life.

Nana was a nurse, who has worked her entire life.  A child of the depression, she was the first in her family to leave the farm, the first to go to school, and the first to truly have a career of her own.  She married the son of immigrants from Ireland, my grandfather's family so poor that during the depression, Papa played in a band so the family could eat, and stole coal to keep the family's home warm at night.  

Like so many of that generation, when my grandfather went to war, she went to work.  She developed a fierce independence streak - something I definitely inherited, and when my grandfather returned from war, she continued to work -- something she continues to do today -- volunteering at the same hospital where she was trained nearly 80 years ago.

She worked so they could buy a home, buy a car, and put their kids through college.  My mother and late uncle where the first in their family to go to college, and both earning graduate degrees during their lives.  My mother became a school teacher, and my Uncle, a talented if not starving theater artist - a life that surely inspired my youngest sister to seek a career in music theater.   They were the original two kid, two income, two car, and two career family, focused on that most American of dreams, a better life for their kids. 

They were, and she is exceptionally frugal.  She's lived in the same home for over 50 years, and she owns cars that she drives into the ground (and yes, she still has her driver's license),  She'd even try to play golf with the same 3 golf balls all season. 

In fact, when I was in high school, we played the TPC Sawgrass course together.  For Nana, the course was way too long for her game, but she trudged on.  When we got to 17, she didn't want to play it, fearful of losing one of her season's golf balls.  So after promising to replace it if she hit in the water, she tee'd up and hit her 9-wood about 4 feet from the hole, making birdie on the island hole.  She probably shot 130 that day, but the car has a 2 on 17!

But what they didn't spend on fancy things, they did spend travelling the world.  They went places that their parents couldn't even dream about.   Part of her basement to this day is a shrine to some of their travels.  Though she'd never admit it, she embodied a true spirit of adventure, going to places so far from the life experience of a midwestern woman from Cabery, IL (pop 266) and Bradley, IL (pop 12,000) that they might as well have gone to the Moon.

She's also learned to persevere through tragedy.  She lost her husband, my grandfather, way too early to lung cancer, and buried her only son, my Uncle Bob, who died at 39 from AIDS, a disease that sadly he contracted about five years before the science could catch up. She learned to do things - mow her own lawn, shovel her own snow, and fix things around the house.  And while at 96, she has slowed down -- thankfully no longer shoveling snow, she still goes to work at the hospital one day a week, still lives in her own home, still flies out west to see her great grandchildren and remains to this day, fiercely independent.

God willing I will too see 96.  Heck, some days I wonder if I'll see 46.  But when I think about those attributes in myself that I appreciate (there are plenty I dont!): the value of an education, understanding the importance of hard work, appreciating the role of strong independent women, the need to have a healthy sense of adventure, as well as hopefully a kind heart for those different than us, I realize more than anything how many of those things I see in Marge Ryan's life, and just how fortunate I was to grow up with that example in my life. 

Happy Birthday Nana!

 

Tuesday
Mar222016

Thoughts on Brussels

It was one of those conversations that changed everything.

Watching a hockey game from a luxury box in Tampa Bay in late 2014, I asked the two Pakistani guys sitting next to me from a group I was hosting a pretty simple question:

Why does it seem to guys like me that countries like yours seem to have a lax attitude towards terrorism?

I can't remember which one answered it, Asif or Adnan, but the answer was swift and chilling.

"You don't understand terrorism"

And the other said something like "when was the last time your drive home was impacted by a car bomb."

It was the beginning of a several hour conversation that ended up lasting several days. As open minded as I'd like to think I am, my perspective on that part of the world was definitely one of "why can't you all get your sh** together."

But their answer that night was a bit like being hit by a 2x4. And two days later, it was further driven home.

Walking into breakfast on the second last day of their trip, both the Pakistani and Indian delegations looked down. Something wasn't right. Turns out, a suicide bomber had just struck the daily celebration held at the famous border crossing at Wagah, killing 60 and injuring over a hundred. In the ongoing strain between those two governments, Wagah was one of the few places where both countries celebrated their heritage, together (and a place on my list to visit).

Yet, that attack barely made a blip on the news. A month after my new friends returned home, a group of terrorists stormed a school in rural Pakistan, killing 132 kids and a 141 total. Again, hardly a mention.

Terrorists murder people with the goal of changing behavior - to force others to give in, to give up, to cower in fear. For my friend Asif, the journalist, he has to decide how much he can cover it, and how much he has to self censor. That is his reality.

It is so easy to view these atrocities as us versus them, with them being some amorphous collection of people over there. Events like the murders in California, or the attacks of Paris and now Brussels shock our collective conscious, because they disrupt the peaceful order. But what about those people who live in places where that peaceful order doesn't really exist? This isn't a once a year or once every few months kind of thing. For them, this is a fight they deal with daily, all while trying to do the things the rest of us do: go to work, take care of family, and do their part for civil society. I am sure of one thing: all of the people currently fleeing places like Syria, or Egypt, Burma, the DRC, Nigeria and so many other places - they'd rather not be fleeing. The porter who helped me in the Johannesburg airport was formerly a lawyer in Kinshasa. You think that guy wants to be carrying bags for an American in South Africa? But that life was better than a life living in fear of terrorism and unrest.

Again this morning, we all were punched in the throat by terrorism. I immediately thought of a Belgian I met over Twitter via some good natured World Cup trash talk - was she and her husband OK? Not again, all of us collectively thought. Then someone tweeted this morning that it was important to remember that when we say things like "We are Paris" or "We are Brussels" to remember that must also be "We are Beruit" and "We are Ankara." It struck a chord with me.

I was in Africa the night of the Paris attacks. As we were in a similar time zone, the BBC coverage was very much in real time. I knew at least one person in Paris at the time, so my first reaction was to grab the laptop and check twitter/facebook for updates. One of the first pictures I saw on Facebook was from one of my Pakistani friends, who had changed his profile picture "Prayers for Paris." It had many many many likes and comments. Yes, we are all in this together - even "those" people "over there."

This is not a fight we are going to win overnight. We must commit ourselves to wiping the scourage of terrorism off the face of the planet, not just so we can enjoy peace - but so everyone who just wants to work hard and play by the rules can do just that, regardless of where they live, what they do, or what they look like. And to achieve that goal, we need the media to help shine a light on the bad, not only in Europe, but the bad around the world -- and shine a light on the good - those nameless, faceless heroes who fight on, in the face of those who want us to fear. Nothing will break the back of terrorism more than the collective will of those impacted refusing to bend to their wishes. It is going to take not some of us, but all of us, to win this battle.

We are Paris. We are San Bernardino. We are Peshwar. We are N'djamena. We are Ouagadougou. We are Garissa. We are Ankara. We are Wagah. And yes today, We are all Brussels.

Thursday
Mar172016

Reality Check for Bernie --- and Florida Democrats

When all the votes were counted on March 15th including a massive 30 point victory in Florida, Hillary Clinton finished night with a lead of more than 300 pledged delegates in the race for Democratic nominee. Add to it her delegate advantage from "Western Tuesday" and according to some estimates, Bernie Sanders would need to win about 60% of all the delegates remaining to get to a majority. Even his own campaign admits this is a huge hill to climb, and they would need super delegates to put them over the top.

In other words, despite putting together an impressive campaign, Bernie's path to the nomination is, at best, narrow and uphill. He's failed to build the kind of national coalition needed to win big diverse states. The race for the Democratic nomination is functionally over. And while every candidate needs to make their own decision on the time and place to land their plane, for the good of the party, I hope he doesn't feel the need to go to June. Why? Because there is a lot of work to do to get ready for Trump.

Now, before the Sanders people send me a bunch of hate mail, remember a few things. First, I didn't start out a Clinton person. For most of three months I was arguably the loudest voice possible Biden candidacy, and I was with Senator Obama in 2008. Neither am I a DC establishment apologist. I am just a Florida hack that wants to keep Trump out of the Oval Office.

Secondly, if Senator Sanders had a viable path to the nomination, I would argue the race should should play out until there is a winner. And yes Bernieworld, the super delegate system is messed up, and I'll happily be a part of fighting to reform that process.

But Sanders' problem isn't super delegates, the media or DC insiders, it is actual Democratic voters. Going into last night, Secretary Clinton had won 2.5 million more votes than Sanders, and has a 17 point lead over him in the two-way total vote contest. To put that in perspective, according to Nate Silver, Sanders would need to win the remaining states by an average of some 18 points to get to the majority of elected delegates -- a 35 point shift. That isn't a path, it is a dream. National polls don't mean anything. This is a race for delegates, and if someone in Sandersworld can show me where I am wrong, I am totally open to changing my position.

Finally, we have seen the GOP turn out in huge numbers, in spite of an endless spate of crazy from their presumptive nominee, Donald Trump and "establishment" choice Ted Cruz. Granted, I do believe a lot of their turnout comes from Republicans enthusiastically voting against Trump, but nonetheless, enthusiasm is on their side, as it is often for the party out of power. Don't believe me? Try to get volunteers to show up for a re-elect of any candidate at the same level they did in the first election. And this is the piece that is the piece most troubling -- and the reason Bernie Sanders should really consider uniting the party: We have real work to do, and every minute Secretary Clinton is engaged in primary states is a minute she isn't defining the race against Donald Trump in battleground states.

While I think the state still starts out a the slightest of lean Democratic going into November, I also believe objectively, the path in Florida is tougher today than it has been at anytime since 2004 -- a race that folks might remember that we lost. Voter registration numbers bare this out:

In 2008, the Obama campaign in Florida -- "Campaign for Change" registered somewhere in the neighborhood of 250,000 new voters. Combined with a number of other groups, this registration effort meant that the campaign went into Election Day with a nearly 660,000 more voters than the Republicans, a nearly six point (42D-36R) advantage. This advantage dropped to 535,000 (40D-35.5R) in 2012, and today, our lead has dwindled to just over 250,000, or just over 2 points (37.8D to 35.6R).

To be more stark: there are actually 150,000 fewer active Democratic voters today than there were on Election Day 2008. Given this, you could argue that if the 2012 election was held today, based on this statewide partisan voter profile, that Romney would have won -- or the already narrow win would have been razor tight.

To break this down further, Democrats have lost ground in every media market except for Miami, and in the Miami market, our advantage has grown by just 21K.

On the I-4 corridor, the Democratic Party's 2008 advantage of 84K has flipped to a GOP advantage of just under 50K. Perfect example of this is Pinellas County, a place where I proudly helped flip the voter registration advantage to the Democrats in 2006 during my days at the Florida Democratic Party. Between 2006 and 2008, we grew the Dem advantage to over 11,000 voters, and Obama won the county by 9 points. In 12, the advantage slipped to about 8,000, and we carried the county by 5.5%. Today, the GOP has the edge again. Do I think this means the GOP will in Pinellas? No. Does this concern me that Pinellas is one of the few states we will win in a state where county margins dictate winners and losers? Yes.

Up north, in the media markets that run alongside I-10, the Democrats have seen a 92K voter advantage move to 108K voter advantage for the GOP. And yes my Democratic friends, before you send me emails, I freely acknowledge that a lot of these are voters simply reclassifying their voter registration to their traditional voting habits. However, I would also note that the GOP margins in 2012 were higher than 2008 -- as they were also higher in 2014 than 2010. I fear if we ignore it, we might find new floors in 2016.

In total, across Florida's 67 counties, the Democratic voter registration advantage has grown in just in four counties: Broward, Miami Dade, Orange and Osceola, yet the growth there is totally offset by the GOP growth in just the four counties around Tampa.

Two things are impacting the party when it comes to registration:

First, while there are just over 150,000 more non Hispanic white voters today than there were in November 2008, there are actually over 400,000 fewer white Democrats. In fairness, some of this is just a factor of changing demographics. In total, whites have seen their share of state wide registered voters drop from 69% to 65.8% over that period, and some of the Democrats biggest counties have seen the largest drops. For example, Broward's active voter file has dropped from 57.5 to 48.7% white in under 7 years, and Palm Beach has dropped from 75.6% to 69.3%. In some ways, the trade off is a good one - people of color are more reliable Democratic votes than whites. And in other places, like Duval, some of the GOP gains and Dem losses among whites come from voters simply registering in the party where they have been voting for years.

Secondly, people of color are registering as NPAs, not Democrats. While 70% of the growth in voter registration can be ascribed to Black and Hispanic voters, over 55% of that cohort registered as NPA, compared to only 40% as Democrats. Just as my party's struggles with whites is evident in the data, the GOP's struggles with people of color are obvious as well: while there are 577,000 more black and Hispanic voters than there were in 2008, there are only 27,000 more black and Hispanic Republicans. And while the overall diversification of the state should be good for my home team, more and more voters in our "base" are choosing to not identify with the party, meaning there is just an added persuasion and turnout responsibility.

One other observation: In the ten counties that grew the most in terms of their share of the statewide vote, the Dems lost ground to the GOP in seven of them. In the ten counties shrinking the fastest in terms of their statewide vote, the Dems lost ground in all ten. One more note - many Democrats and Republicans believe, I think rightly, that a Trump nomination could significantly help down ballot Democrats. But in Florida, since 2012, Republicans have improved their voter registration standing in 75 of 120 house seats. Compare that to 2006 - the cycle where we won a total of nine GOP seats, when nearly every swing seat was going the other way. None of these trends are good.

Now, I recognize there are a lot of caveats here. One, voter registration -- particularly with people of color, is not necessarily a good indicator of voter performance. Secondly, the Democrats are much harder hit by regular "voter purges" which cull out infrequent voters, as well as those who haven't kept up with their change of address. And thirdly, the numbers are better when you include so-called "inactive voters" - though a warning on those to my Democratic friends - if a voter was inactive during the Obama coalition years, we shouldn't count on a lot of them to show up in 2016.

In a nutshell, we have work to do.

Here is the good news: We've been here before. When 2008 began, the Democratic advantage over the GOP was roughly 300,000 voters, a number we more than doubled before the books closed. In fact, beyond accomplishing the simple goal of winning, I am most proud of my 2008 team for adding somewhere near 250,000 new voters to the rolls in the summer and early fall of 2008. We have the better argument, and we have the better candidate, but we still need time to get the work done.

And the work is harder now. State laws were changed to make it much more difficult to register voters, and voters who move -- who used to be able to update their address on Election Day must now do so before the books close. In addition, both the Obama and Clinton camps had kind of organic shadow grassroots campaigns in Florida, who were registering voters and doing the kinds of activities that campaigns typically do. Both have people doing things in the state, but neither at the level we saw at this point in 08.

I have an immense amount of confidence in the Clinton campaign's main field generals, but I also know that it is very hard to walk and chew gum in politics. You have to fight the battle that is in front of you - and that is the continued challenge of Senator Sanders. And while I would agree with the argument that there is some external benefit to the primary, at this point the final outcome is not really in doubt. Moreover, the primaries have already swept through all but a handful of the real battleground states, meaning that focused organizing there will mostly end until the other races are decided.

One more thing: the GOP opponent is likely to be Donald Trump. Keeping him out of the White House isn't just a partisan goal, it is a moral imperative. But anyone who thinks that will be a piece of cake needs to give me a call. I'll happily tell you a story from 2010.

We know where the primary is going to land. We know who the nominee will be. We know the states where the race against Trump will play out, remembering that the last Republican to go to the White House without winning Florida was Calvin Coolidge.

So Senator Sanders, I have great admiration for the organization you have built and the people who you have brought into the campaign. You have earned the right to plow forward. But sir, I hope when the path goes away, instead of dragging this to the convention, that you will do your party and your country a tremendous service by letting everyone focus on the most important goal - one I know you share: stopping Donald Trump.

Monday
Mar072016

The Dumpster Fire Comes to Florida

There is an old saying that says that the definition of competent is understanding where your own personal competence ends, and one thing is for certain, the 2016 GOP primary has made many a smart person look foolish.

Like him or not, Donald Trump has blown up the rule book and disrupted the political process like no one in recent history. Even in the rough and tumble world of politics, there traditionally exists an almost Marquess de Queensberry sense of order, both to how campaigns operate and to how elections game out. For example, here in Florida for example there is an alignment that provides some guidance on how certain types of candidates will fare in different parts of the state.

Let's say the race had come down to Rubio and Bush. In this scenario, you could make some basic assumptions: Bush, an older established candidate running some on his brother’s record, would probably do well in places like Jacksonville, the Panhandle, maybe even Tampa, where the military/veterans vote is quite prominent. You could see Rubio doing well in places like South Florida, as well in areas with younger voters – Orlando for example. You could predict how a more conservative candidate, like a Ted Cruz, could follow the Gingrich model -- which carried him to a win in 30+ counties, focusing on the smaller, interior counties in the state as a foothold for his candidacy.

This is the game the Republican Party played when deciding whether to go to a winner take all mode. With two strong Florida candidates, and the likelihood that only one would make it this far, one could fairly assume whichever one standing would come home on March 15th with a post-Super Tuesday head of steam, and Florida would be the that big prize that could propel Bush or Rubio from candidate with momentum to presumptive nominee. Looking at the field, and the history of primaries, this made a lot of sense.

That’s how politics works. You make informed assumptions based on data and history. It is why at this point, the Democratic contest is so predictable. Florida's Democratic primary electorate is older, and is moderately diverse for a primary state – two things that play right into the Clinton alignment. I feel like I could predict, with some degree of certainty, exactly where she will crush Sanders, where she beats him, and where he might sneak votes. But regardless, the odds of her winning the state by somewhere between 20 and 30 points are high.

And that’s how it probably would have worked on the GOP side too --- until Donald Trump lit a huge match and casually dropped it in the GOP primary dumpster. His coalition is much harder to define, particularly from a regional standpoint. He’s managed to marry a coalition of nativist xenophobic voters with people legitimately disaffected by the modern economy – and it is the latter that in many ways is the unpredictable force. Frankly, the new global economy isn’t designed well for people who grew up in an era where a high school diploma would lead to a good job in a factory with a salary that would allow you to own a home, a car, and help send your kids to college. Wages are lower, job security is nonexistent, and anxiety is high.

In the past, these economically compressed voters would splinter into camps – evangelicals, social conservatives, libertarians – and on my side, they gravitate to the whoever is holding down the more economically populist wing (Sanders, Dean, etc.). But when you bring them together and you marry them with the nativists, all of the sudden, the two become a force. Right now, Trump is what unites them.

Can someone in Florida stop Trump? First, for the sake of the nation, I hope so. But more importantly to the Florida question – can the larger field do something more nationally to change the conversation, to break up the marriage of those groups and give them other outlets. That is not a Florida specific question – and that’s why it is hard to say that one key or another is the way someone beats Trump here. They beat Trump here by changing the conversation nationally.

And God knows people have tried. Trump has been “dead” more times than most candidates have been alive, but because of his coalition, he’s never actually been dead. Nothing has broken it yet - though in the last week or so, there is some evidence that Cruz might be creating some cracks. Yet, as I said at the beginning, if competence is understanding the depths of your own, Trump has proven many of us a fool and probably will again. Or maybe more succinctly, as one good friend and smart GOP operative said to me this week, “the problem Steve, they are having a totally different conversation in a totally different language than the rest of us."

Could Rubio pull it off absent a national shift in the race? Maybe, but unlikely. Could Trump slip enough nationally to give Rubio an opening here? That is the more likely outcome, and what we'll spend the next week watching.

Florida Primary 101

With all that being said, here are a few facts and figures about the primary:

The GOP primary is very I-4 centric. Almost half of the vote will come from the Tampa and Orlando media markets – and the good news, the big counties in these markets tend to report quickly. Add Jacksonville and Miami, and you have almost 70%. The latter is made up primarily of Broward and Miami Dade Counties, which typically report on its own timeline, which could mean sometime during the week of March 15th. If Rubio is narrowly to moderately behind in the returns counted by 7:30, expect a really, really, really long night – and possibly morning as well. If he is ahead here, given his strength in Miami, he's likely headed to a good night.

Largest county in GOP Primary: Miami-Dade. And the good news for Rubio world, absentee returns from there are fairly strong. The bad news: some of them are probably very early returns which he may bleed some to Jeb. Pinellas is a close second, and given then number of people who vote by mail there, will also be a significant early indicator.

The ten largest counties in the GOP primary will account for between 45 and 50% of the vote in 2016. Mitt Romney carried every single one of them in 2012.

The 27 smallest counties in the primary – all carried by Newt Gingrich, account for just 3% of all the votes. Even if Cruz/Trump run up the score in these counties, there isn’t a lot to be gained.

Between 8-9% of the vote will still be voting when the first returns are published, as the Panama City, Pensacola and western part of the Tallahassee media market are in the central time zone. Intuitively, that should be a late rush for Trump, but as the beginning of this piece indicates, intuition is pretty useless this year. Worth noting – the Pensacola media market, which will be among the last to report, was one of just three media markets carried by Gingrich. Here is where I will be curious if Cruz can cut into what should be Trump country.

Early Indicators

So rather than try to game out how the state will play out, in addition to above, here are a few things I will look for early in the night:

Pasco County – Brian Corley, the Supervisor of Elections in Pasco, is a cult hero of the hack class. He probably runs one of the best shops in the country, but the thing we all love about him, he is the first to report. We will know the results from the early and absentee ballots in Pasco, which could be 60-70% of all the ballots cast there by 7:00:01 EST. For the uninitiated, Pasco is a suburban/exurban county just north of Tampa and Clearwater. It has a significant retiree population, large number of veterans, areas that are quite rural, as well as more upscale, bedroom-type communities of people who commute to work. Because of this, no county in the last three major GOP statewide primaries has come closest to the actual statewide outcome. Therefore, if it is a race in Pasco at 7:00:01 EST, it will be a race. If Trump is cruising, it’s a bad sign for the sane camp.

Pinellas County – Pinellas has become almost exclusively a vote by mail county. It wouldn’t surprise me if 75-80% of all the votes in this county – the second largest for GOP primary votes, are vote by mail. And those returns should be posted fairly quickly after 7:00 PM. It has been a decent bellwether, except in 2012 when it went far more Romney than the state as a whole.

Duval County – Jacksonville was the largest county in Florida in 2012 to almost vote for Gingrich. The Romney margin was just over 1,000 votes. This is old school Bush territory, but Trump blew out a huge rally a few months back. I suspect the candidates will all make at least one more stop here before 3/15. Another well run elections office, absentee ballots should report fairly quickly after 7, so whether Trump leads – and how big he leads by, should give a sense of whether this is a good night for him.

Brevard County – An often overlooked county, it is one of three Florida counties (Pasco and St. Lucie being the others) whose final vote margin for the winner has come within 5% of the statewide result in the last three statewide. It is also between 4 and 5% of the total statewide vote, and tends to report in a bunch. Check out this expansive Space Coast county early for some direction.

Lee County – From my perspective, Lee County (Fort Myers) is one of the most interesting places to watch this year. There are pockets of significant wealth, there are areas wrecked by the housing bubble that have never really recovered, and there is still a significant rural presence. Romney carried the county by a wide 17+ point margin, but in 2010, Rick Scott won the primary there by over 20. In the early voting, there are signs of a strong Trump turnout, with many voters with little or no previous primary voting history showing up, and one leading Republican in the area telling me there is a very strong Trump vibe.

Miami-Dade – This one seems pretty obvious, and is probably the most important piece for Rubio, but I listed it later because if histry is a guide, odds are it will report later in the night. Dade County was Romney’s strongest, both in terms of vote share and raw votes. While it is roughly 7% of all GOP votes, it was 9% of Mitt’s vote total. Rubio probably needs to exceed that to squeeze out a close win. Dade has been known to deliver some really big margins in primaries. In 2010, it nearly carried McCollum over Scott, despite Scott winning the vast majority of counties.

The intangibles:

There are many, but for me, just two I am watching:

Momentum - Momentum matters more than anything this time of year. Trump does seem to be somewhat stalled out, even though he’s winning states. Cruz seems to have it, in spite of what his college roommate (@clmazin on twitter) says about him, and Rubio seems to be in a bit of a bog -- Can Marco win Florida just on home court advantage, or does Cruz get a bit of a bump in the anti-Trump crowd.

Cruz – Momentum plays right into the Cruz question – how does the late decision by Cruz to play in Florida impact the outcome. Conventional wisdom is it hurts Marco, but I am not so sure, nor do I necessarily believe despite what they tell the press that killing Rubio is their real goal. Admittedly, I think Cruz's reputation as a less than trustworthy actor makes me question most of his statements. That being said, Trump winning Florida and Ohio puts him in the driver's seat, while Rubio winning throws the thing back into the blender. Given that Cruz seems to be picking off parts of the Trump coalition in states where he is winning, depending how and where he is playing, he might actually help Rubio here. And either way helps Cruz: Help Marco to a win, and Cruz likely goes to a muddled convention with the second biggest chunk of delegates. Kill Marco off and it is Cruz v Trump.

I know that is a lot, but this really is a pretty complicated deal this year. But all that being said, how Florida goes will likely determine whether we are headed for a Trump nomination or a contested primary.

Tuesday
Mar012016

Will Florida Extinguish The Bern?

For the first time in a while, the Florida Democratic Primary will mean something.  For Sanders, it is a chance to prove he can win a big diverse state.  For Clinton, it is a chance to solidify her position as the party's standard bearer.

And unless something dramatic changes, Clinton has a solid wind at her back, and will win Florida and solidifying her as the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee. 

There are really four things strongly working in Clinton's favor here:

1. Diversity:  Between 35-40% of primary voters will be from communities of color.  A plurality will be African American, though Hispanics and Caribbean voters will make up a sizable share.  While not as diverse as states like South Carolina, unless Sanders can find new appeal to communities of color, he's starting way behind.  

2. Voting Age:  The primary electorate in both parties is older. In New Hampshire, where Sanders defeated Clinton, the exit polls found about 50% of the electorate was over the age of 45.  In Florida, it was expected that as much as 80% of the electorate will be over the age of 50, and based on the early Vote By Mail returns (which are older than the population), that 80% target looks very likely.  In fact, Sanders sweet spot - voters under 35, are making up less than 5% of the people who have voted so far, compared to the low 20s in New Hampshire.

3.  Big Mo:  Clinton has won several tough primaries in the early going, but as she the election heads south, the confines get more friendly.  It is very likely that by the time we get to Florida, she will have won at least 20 of the 25 contests.  That is a train that Florida isn't going to stop.

4. Her significant home field advantage.  If the Clinton's had a third home state after Arkansas and New York, Florida would probably be it.  Bill Clinton made his first trip here in 1981, at the invitation of Governor Bob Graham to speak at the annual Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson dinner, and the Clinton's have been back many times.  In 1992, he brought the state into the realm of "battleground states" and in 2008, Hillary Clinton easily won the state's primary.  The Clinton family relationship with the state is both real, and deep.

That being said, let's look at how the state should play out on the Democratic side.

1.  Somewhere near 80% of our vote will be cast in four media markets.  Miami and Tampa will make up nearly equal shares.  If Black (in Florida, both African American and Caribbean) and Hispanic vote his high, Miami will edge Tampa.  If not, Tampa will edge Miami.  Orlando is close behind, and West Palm Beach will make up 13-14%.  The percentage of our primary coming from Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties will approach 40%.

2. Of the remaining media markets, no one is likely to be much more than 5% of the total statewide vote.  Fort Myers, Tallahassee and Jacksonville will make up in the neighborhood of 5%, with the other three, Pensacola, Panama City and Gainesville adding up to another 5% or so.  There just aren't big swaths of rural North Florida Democrats left, which is why our primary vote tends to hang in the more urban counties.

3. Just as a comparison, the big four GOP markets will be Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Jacksonville, in that order, adding up to 70% or so of the vote.  To the North Florida point above, "The I-10 Corridor" makes up about 22% of their vote, and about 15% of ours.  They also have a larger slice coming from SW Florida, with Fort Myers comprising about 9% of their statewide vote, compared to 5% of ours.  More on that in the next blog piece.

4. People of color will make up between 35-40% of the vote.  Through the first full week of absentee ballot returns, that number is close to 35%, indicating we could be headed to closer to 40%, as particularly African Americans are more likely to vote in person.  The total Black vote will land between 20-25% of all Democratic primary vote, with the remainder split between Hispanics and others.  Hispanics, while making up a growing share of our general election win number, have tended to be a much smaller portion of the primary vote.  One thing I am watching for is if this changes.

5. Because the Tampa area tends to report very quickly, we will know by 7:05 PM EST where this thing is headed. Given that the two southeast Florida markets, given the average age and the increased diversity, should be the heart and soul of Clinton's base, if she's winning by any kind of a decent margin in the early returns in the Bay area, we will absolutely know who won Florida long before those in the Central Time Zone (Panhandle) finish voting. 

 

Wednesday
Feb242016

2016 Florida Primary: Marco Rubio vs. History

Couple of interesting tidbits on the upcoming Florida primary:

1. Well over 3 million people will vote in the Presidential Preference Primary. Tampa should be the largest voting market for both parties, albeit more so for the GOP. If African American and Hispanic turnout is high for Democrats, Miami could outpace Tampa.

2. For Republicans, Florida is exceptionally accurate when it comes to choosing the nominee. Every GOP nominee has won Florida since the state started holding primaries in 1956. When it comes to Democrats, the record is the opposite - most have lost Florida, most recently in 2008 when the state voted for Clinton, not the eventual nominee Barack Obama. I strongly suspect that Hillary Clinton will buck this trend, win Florida and win the nomination.

3. When it comes to Republicans, Florida has not only been 100% accurate, it has always validated the general trajectory of the race. The only time that can be argued is 2012, when Romney, Santorum and Gingrich all came into the state with a win - though Romney did go into Florida Election Day 2012 with a fairly commanding lead in the polls. Every time Florida came late or later in the calendar, the person who had won the most contests coming in to Florida went on to win Florida.

4. Florida is later in the process than you think. For Republicans, Florida is the 29th contest on the calendar (as is Ohio). Think about that, both Kasich and Rubio are looking to their home states for a breakthrough after half the contests are complete. For Democrats, Florida is the 25th contest.  For the record, I stand ready to work with anyone that is up for finding a way to move us earlier in the calendar.

5.  For the front runners, winning Florida probably ends it for one main reason: money.  Momentum isn't talked about enough in Presidential primaries, not only for how it sets the narrative, but also for its impact on resources.   By the time the campaigns get this far, they are largely running on hard dollar fumes, having raised their "easy" money long ago.  For both parties, outside of some caucuses and an early April primary in Wisconsin, the next set of primaries is at the end of April, and in some expensive states.  If you aren't winning by March 15 with a shot at the nomination, you aren't raising any money.  And if you aren't raising money, you can't feed the beasts required to compete in multiple expensive states a full month later.  Momentum = Money.

I am working on deeper dives into both party contests, which I'll release next week, but needless to say, for the Democrats, this is likely the day that ends Sanders (if it doesn't before), and for Rubio, a loss will also almost surely mean the end. 

For Sanders, like in so many other states, demographics are his biggest enemy.  Florida is both older and more diverse than most states, two things that bode well for Clinton.

For Rubio - who I continue to contend is the one guy my party really doesn't want to face, the enemy is history.  Florida has played the role of validating state for Republicans, and right now, the most recent state polling isn't too far off the national polls, and in fact has shown a slightly higher "ceiling" for Trump.  For Rubio, he either needs to make something really happen in the next two weeks, or buck 60 years of history.

But more on that to come.

And one last post script - while I believe that Rubio is a much harder opponent for my side, and while I early on joked about "supporting" Trump for the GOP, I really hope he does not win the nomination.  I believe Trump is a megalomaniac who will happily rip at the fabric of who we are as a nation in an attempt to win an election.  I would much rather risk losing an election to someone like Rubio, than risk handing the reins of power over to someone like Donald Trump.  We don't need to "Make America Great Again" as we are already the greatest nation in the history of mankind.  Period. 

 

Tuesday
Jan192016

The New State Senate

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me in the last two weeks what the new State Senate maps mean for the partisan balance of the State Senate, I wouldn't need to play Powerball.

There is no question the maps are good news for Democrats. But how much good news? Well, that is the question I hope to take on in this piece.

The reality is pretty simple: The Democrats will do as well as they recruit good candidates and run smart campaigns.

So lets take a look at the map. For reference, the seats below are all new district numbers, and for the most part use Obama 2012 numbers, since every seat will be contested in this Presidential cycle. For the more competitive seats, I'll try to take a more broader view. And yes, I could argue that some in the "safe" category might still be winnable for the other side, but then again, I might one day shoot 65 on the golf course:

Safe GOP Seats - 16 (most Republican to Least):

District 2: The Gaetz v Gainer showdown. (Obama -47)

District 5: After helping to Free the Growler, Rob Bradley comes back in an even more GOP seat. (Obama -43)

District 1: If Evers doesn't run, a spirited GOP primary will await (Obama -32)

District 4: Senator Bean's seat doesn't change. (Obama -32)

District 28: The primary between Matt Hudson and Kathleen Passidomo will decide the next Senator in this seat (Obama -26)

District 12: Alan Hays seat will remain solidly GOP. (Obama -22)

District 26: Senator Grimsley's seat will remain solidly GOP. (Obama -20)

District 7: Travis Hutson's will run for his own full term in an Obama -17 seat.

District 27: Senator Benaquisto's Lee County based seat will also remain GOP (Obama -16)

District 17: The Workman/Mayfield primary will play out in an Obama -15 seat.

District 21: Senator Galvano will return in an Obama -15 seat.

District 10: Wilton Simpson won the legislative lottery and comes back on an Obama -14 seat.

District 23: Doug Holder starts out as the heavy favorite in his primary to win this Obama -8 seat.

District 14: Dorothy Hukill's seat is largely in GOP-trending Volusia, should stay that way (Obama -7)

District 9: David Simmons seat could be competitive over the next few cycles with continued Puerto Rican migration, but is not there yet (Obama -7)

District 22: Senator Stargel's seat leans much more Democratic in a Presidential year (Obama -2) than non (Scott +10). Getting an off year lottery number should keep it that way.

Safe Democratic seats (14) -

 District 35: No seat is more partisan leaning than the one held by incoming Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon (Obama +68)

District 33: Perry Thurston and Gwen Clarke-Reed face off in this exceptionally Democratic Broward seat (Obama +63)

District 38: Senator Margolis will be running in a contested primary against Daphne Campbell and maybe more for re-election in this new heavily & heavily minority seat. (Obama +51)

District 19: The race to replace Senator Joyner will take place in a solidly Dem seat (Obama +37)

District 11: Former William & Mary basketball standout Randolph Bracy is the odds-on favorite to replace Senator Thompson in this Orlando seat (Obama +29)

District 31: Future Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens will have a decidedly easier race than his first one in this Obama +28 seat.

District 6: Until Congresswoman Brown decides her next step, Audrey Gibson will remain in this safe seat (Obama +21)

District 32: Barring unforeseen changes, Lauren Book should cruise to victory. (Obama +20)

District 34: One of the more interesting primaries this year: Jim Waldman and Gary Farmer compete in this Obama +19 seat.

District 15: Victor Torres should win this seat which is a safe Dem seat in Presidential cycles (Obama +17)

District 30: Bobby Powell and Emily Slosberg face off in this seat that is roughly 30% Black in a Democratic primary (Obama +15)

District 13: Dean Asher is a good GOP candidate, but this seat is almost certainly a pick-up for Democrats in left trending Orlando (Obama +13)

District 29: A potential race between Joe Abruzzo and Maria Sachs awaits in this Obama +11 seat.

District 3: Senator Montford's seat will remain Democratic in one of the rare seats that performs better in off years (Obama +11)

The Battleground seats (10) - Keep in mind, these are ranked here because of Presidential performance.

 District 8 - This is the new Gainesville seat, which could be a showdown between former Senator Rod Smith and current Representative Keith Perry (Obama +1)

District 16: Senator Latvala, who set the growler free in 2015, will run for a 2 year seat in this Obama -2 seat, potentially creating an interesting pick-up opportunity for Democrats in 2018.

District 17: Dana Young, another original craft beer champion, has laid down a fundraising marker in this south and west Tampa seat that Obama won by a point.

District 20: Senator Lee's seat is in an area getting more Democratic in Presidential years, but where there isn't much of a bench.

District 25: The incoming Senate President's seat is more competitive than you think. Obama lost it by 2, and in 2020 (if Negron is still there) it will be a real battleground.

District 24: Senator Brandes' seat gets slightly more Republican, but remains a seat Obama carried narrowly.

District 36: Rene Garcia's seat, like a lot of Dade, really moved Democratic in the last Presidential. Could be one to watch in 2018 when it is open.

District 37: The seat held by Miguel Diaz de la Portilla could very well be the first Republican State Senate seat to tip Democratic, particularly if the D's can convince Jose Javier Rodriguez to make the leap (Obama +7).

District 39 and 40: Putting these two together, as the two incumbents here, Dwight Bullard and Anitere Flores have to sort it out. District 39 includes the Keys and is a seat Obama won by 5. District 40 is Dade based and is a seat Obama won by 10.

So what does all this mean:

The Democrats today start at 14.

While a lot on my side (me included) would love to see a quick flip of 4-5 seats to get within one or two votes of a majority, the road from 14 to 20 will still be hard fought.

They will have to work for it, but the D's should hold one of the two South Dade seats (39 or 40) once Bullard and Flores figure out where they are running. Dade is tilting faster than the GOP can keep up and this should add a few points these seats in 2016.

So 15 should become the new floor. From here, the path is less clear:

The next best opportunity is the other Dade seat, District 36, especially if Jose Javier Rodriguez runs. Followed by the Gainesville open seat, if Rod Smith runs, and the Tampa open seat, where Dana Young has announced. The challenge here will be choosing wisely - as I learned in my partisan caucus leadership days, often there are more seats than money, and the fastest way to fall short of opportunities is to overreach.

Down the road, the Garcia seat, the Negron seat (run Larry Lee!!), the Latvala, and the Keys seat all provide Dems with real opportunities in open seat scenarios in either 2018 and 2022.

Add all those up and you are in the majority. Add up most of those and its a very close Senate.

The others are bigger challenges, given that the incumbents don't term out before redistricting, and beating an incumbent Senator is no easy feat.

So it boils down to this - can the Dems get to 20 by redistricting? Absolutely they can. Will they? That is a function of the quality of candidates, fundraising and the winds of political change.

Where does it land this year?

 Frankly it is too early to say. But if I was still making the calls, my drop dead goal would be plus 2 -- in other words, I would do anything I had to do to gain 2 seats. As the cycle evolves, +3 could become a real possibility, if candidates and races break their way. Much beyond this, absent a huge influx of money, is probably asking too much without some real change in the atmospherics. The incoming leader Senator Braynon is working very hard and running a smart program, but he is going to need some big donors who have never cared about state senate seats to really, really need to care.

The good news for Democrats - the future open seat cycles provide continued growth. There is six years until the next map. Play it smart and there is a very real possibility that someone elected this year could be the first Democratic Senate President of my political career.  But it starts with getting a first down this year.

Thursday
Dec102015

So you want to work in politics?

Most years, I spend a good chunk of my December talking to kids getting ready to graduate and young professionals looking to get into politics. It is one of the more enjoyable things I do. Of all the things I’m proud of in my career, the biggest achievement isn’t the wins or mentions, it’s seeing the success of so many of “the kids” I’ve worked with along the way.

This is my 20th year in the business, so for the aspiring young politicos out there, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way, and a few things I look for in a young hire.

1. This isn’t rocket science.

If politics was rocket science, trust me I wouldn’t be doing it. Most people who succeed in this do so, as a commercial from my childhood used to say: “the old-fashioned way, by earning it.”

That being said, you don’t learn this business by getting a campaign degree, watching an endless stream of cable TV or reading a bunch of blogs. You learn it by listening, getting your hands dirty and just good old-fashioned experience.

So don’t tell me what skills you have, because you probably don’t have any real ones yet. Tell me you are eager and willing to do anything to learn, and show me you have a decent head on your shoulders. You will learn the rest.

2. Find a campaign where you can actually learn.

Glory is up the ballot, but learning comes down the ballot. In 1996, when I was out of college, I could have probably found my way into a field job for the presidential. Instead I managed a major state legislative race, where I had to figure out and learn every aspect of a campaign – and more importantly how to manage. The former would have gotten me a cool T-shirt or picture, the latter gave me the foundation for a career. My first presidential race came 12 years into my career – and because of all the soil that was tilled leading up to it, and just like my first job, I was hired as a manager.

Find a job where you can really learn. It might not be as cool as some others out there, but in the long game, you will benefit.

3. Just work.

Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity – make your opportunity. Show up at the office and do anything. Kick down doors until someone takes you in. Work for nothing until you become so vital they pay you. Build yard signs, stuff envelopes, make coffee, run errands, anything – just work. The harder you work, the more responsibility you will have and the more your opinion matters. But remember in your first job, your opinion isn’t why you got hired.

Along these same lines, please don’t tell me your salary requirements. Do you want in or not? I was probably making less at 30 than most of my old college friends, but I guarantee I was having more fun. And it’s not worth doing if it’s not fun.

4. Watch your social media.

This goes without saying, but for me it’s really basic. Even if we are just meeting for coffee, I’m gonna check you out, and not only will I look for basic signs of maturity, I’m going to get a sense of your personality. No one wants to work with a know-it-all jerk, so don’t be one on Twitter or Facebook.

5. Learn the Golden Rule. Live the Golden Rule.

If you don’t know what it is, google it.

The corollary to this: Don’t be a jerk and don’t lose your self-awareness.

6. Strap in.

This career isn’t for the faint of heart. Most of the people you see on TV reached the upper levels of politics after living similar lives of sleeping on couches, having to win to be able to pay their rent, driving 40,000 to 60,000 miles a year, and being unemployed for long periods. If you want stability, then this isn’t for you.

Along with this, understand that there are highs and lows. In my time I’ve seen the mountaintop, and I’ve had to dig out of valleys. It’s not a career ladder: It’s a career roller coaster, which is why point No. 5 becomes so vital. And if you don’t believe that now, you will when you lose for the first time. Oh, and losing, it will be the best thing that ever happens to you. Trust me.

One more thing about losing: keep a list of the people who call you the day after you lose. They are your friends - not the ones who start calling a few weeks before the election. I'll walk through fire for those people who had my back when the chips were down.

7. Never stop learning.

Read all the time. Talk to people. Ask questions. Learn to write. Don’t be “just a campaign guy” or “just a policy person.” You are never an expert – there is always someone smarter – find them, listen to them, and keep learning.

Particularly learn from your losses. Every job where I’ve had great success followed an experience where I learned from failure.

8. Build relationships and collect mentors.

I like the vast majority of people in politics. Most people in the game are focused and driven, but because of the nature of the business, are also accessible and interesting to talk with. So meet new people – especially when you don’t need anything and expand your network. It’s part of the advice from the previous bullet, but also, you never know when that relationship might be your next job or contract. And do this regardless of party. I probably have more close friends in this business who aren’t on my side than I do on mine. I learn from them just as much as I do from those in my tribe.

Constantly look for smart people who can help you. I have had several mentors. Some are former bosses, but most are people I’ve met along the way. To this day, I still ask for advice and counsel.

One addendum to this, when you get to the point in your career when you are hiring, surround yourself with people who can do your job. Leadership isn’t about being right or getting the credit, it’s about having a plan and figuring out how to climb a mountain. But remember, all good mountain climbers have Sherpas who keep them from falling into crevasses. If you lack the self confidence to hire people who can tell you when you are wrong, then you are only doing a disservice to yourself and your project.

9. Be yourself.

Life is too short to try to be anyone else. Sure I know plenty of people who have succeeded by conforming to conventional wisdom, though most of them my age are miserable. If you work hard, build a good name, and aren’t a jerk, you will be just fine.

Understand, however, this doesn’t mean you can be an idiot.

10. Never lose sight of why you got in the game.

When I lecture at colleges, one of the first things I say is “if you are getting into politics for any other reason than to change the world, get out.”

I usually get a few odd stares, but I think it’s vital. The world doesn’t need more people looking at politics as a way to make money. It’s easy to get cynical, but don’t. I’m not naive, this is a maddening game and I’m tempered by a sense of reality. However at 41, I might be more idealistic today than I was at 21, because in the end if you get to work in this space, you are participating at the core of the greatest experiment in self government in world history, and that is damn cool.

So as you ride the roller coaster, remember what drove you to couch surf through that first race, living off fast food, coffee and alcohol, and never let it out of your sight. I promise it will both keep you young and keep you driven to move ahead.

Wednesday
Nov252015

Thanksgiving in America

Often, we all take for granted the basic promise of America: If you work hard and play by the rules,you can earn a comfortable living and ensure you and your family can get ahead.

It is more than just the American Dream - it really is the compact that comes with American birthright. Sure, it isn't perfect, and for some, the mountain is a lot steeper than for others, but at its core, the pathway exists for all. Look no further than our current President as living proof. All partisanship and ideology aside, his success in life is testament of the greatness of America.

It is easy to view everything through that lens. Just work hard, get a good education, live by the Golden Rule, etc., and all will be fine. It is the universal promise, right?

Then you go to Africa.

As my friends and followers of this blog know, I just returned from nearly three weeks in sub Saharan Africa. It was a trip that I've dreamed of going back to my earliest memories, and one I've actively thought about for almost two decades. Now that I've been home for a week, I've spent a lot of time thinking about what the experience.

And the best I can do is parrot the words of a friend, who said to me during the trip: "there is an old saying the longer you are in Africa, the less you know and can say for sure."

There are a lot of people who will stay in my memories for a long time, the little girl in a Botswana village who was dreaming of being President, the city manager in Windhoek who taught me how he learned to forgive after apartheid, the local tribesman who was a server at our bush hotel - who spoke at least four languages fluently, or the baggage valet in Johannesburg who had to quit school and abandon dreams of being a lawyer because of the wars in the Congo. Everywhere you turned, there was a story - a story of struggle, perseverance, and survival. But more than that, these were people largely stuck in place.

The one person who probably encapsulated the experience as well as any was the last person I really met, Xolsia, the head bellman at our last hotel in Cape Town. He was a big, happy man, the kind you'd see at most upscale hotels. He was quick with names, and always happy to help - the classic 'just get shit done' kind of guy, I think we were about the same age and I liked him almost immediately,

Under apartheid, his tribe was limited to a specific area of South Africa - some two days away by bus. Like many, he had come to Cape Town in search of a better life - and also like so many people there, he was multi-lingual, spoke Africaans, English, as well as Xhosa, his native language (its the clicking language). He tried to teach me a bit of it, which was frustrating for me, and probably entertaining for him. He's one of those guys for whom in the US, the American Dream is designed for.

But when he told me where he lived - the almost soul crushing slum/township that you try to ignore when you leave the airport in Cape Town, it was like getting kicked in the stomach.

You can do everything right there - you can go to school and get a good education, you can learn a skill, you can speak multiple languages, you can move hundreds of miles away from your family in search of work, and when you do all that, often times good work is working in a hotel, or driving a cab. and living in substandard housing. The promise which is at the foundation of our country is only a hope in the places I visited in Africa.

On our last full day in South Africa, we took the boat to Robbin Island. Seeing Mandela's prison was one of those things I've just needed to do in this lifetime. When you go to the prison, you are guided by former political prisoners of Robbin Island. Touring Robbin Island isn't a quick trip - it takes 45 minutes by boat to get there, often in pretty choppy seas, another 45 minutes to an hour by bus to tour the island, and another 30 minutes or so to tour the prison. The guides were invaluable to providing context to the life on Robbin Island. We had two - one who was in the first wave of political prisoners on the island, the other who was one of the last to leave.

Prison life on Robbin Island was miserable. It's has a beautiful view of Cape Town, but otherwise is a cold, nasty, windswept place, The cell that Nelson Mandela called home for 18 years is maybe 2 meters by 3 meters. It had no bed - just a mat on the floor, and no toilet - just a bucket in the corner. Many of the men who work as guides endured the same hardship, locked away for the crime of wanting the basic God-given freedoms that we enjoy here.

At the end of both tours (the bus, and the prison), the guides took questions, and most were about life there, what was Mandela like, etc. When the Q&A ended, both answered the question that no one asked - but that we all thought about - "So why do you do this? Why do you come back to this horrible place and back to these memories, every single day, to give tours to people like us?" Get ready for another kick in the gut --

Because it was the only job they could get. Basically, these men were still in prison.

The longer you are there, the less you can say for sure.

So on this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for a lot. I am grateful for family, for friends, for good health, for the opportunity to work and grow, and for the privilege to travel, but maybe more than anything - and probably the one thing that makes all of the previous possible, for the blessing of American birthright. More than anything, that is what I learned after almost three weeks in Africa.

Happy Thanksgiving.