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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.

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