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Wednesday
Oct032018

Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Florida, But Were Afraid to Ask -- v.2018

So what is Florida?

10 media markets – many big enough to be battleground states (11 if you count Holmes being in the Dothan DMA)

Nearly 21 million Florida Women and Florida Men.

13 million registered voters.

Possibly as many as 7 million voters in 2018.

A fast growing and diverse Hispanic population.

A fast growing Caribbean population.

Last two Governor’s races decided by one point.  Last two Presidentials decided by a point.

An NFL team that was one blown call away from the Super Bowl.

Florida. Florida. Florida.

For regular readers of my semi-regular blog, this piece is a bit of an update from a piece I wrote in 2016.  You can read that one here.

The goal of the piece is to give outsiders, and folks generally interested in this place a bit of a baseline – a way to think about Florida, and some sense about how the place ticks.

Every political journalist asks the same question:  what is the single key to winning it?  (ok, jonathan martin first asks where to get good bbq).

The secret, as my friend Kevin Sweeny would say, is there is no secret.   The place is geographically huge, almost prohibitively expensive, exceptionally diverse in many ways, with huge chunks of voters who cancel each other out.  It is a place, that structurally, wants to be hyper competitive.  Take the Senate race – I’ve argued for nearly a year that despite what the polls say, both Bill Nelson and Rick Scott have a floor of 47 or 48%.  Both parties have huge and loyal bases – neither has a clear base path to 50%.  A handful of voters decide every election – and within that cohort one will find very few commonalties.    The place is both fascinating, and maddening. 

So, what makes it tick?  Why are the politics like they are?  And at a more basic level, what exactly is Florida?

Florida is a state, not a place.

Most states are places. Think about Texas, or even a state like Iowa, there is a sense of place to it, a commonality of experience – or as a marketer might say, an identifiable brand. Most states have it. Florida really doesn’t, that is, outside of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Florida isn’t a place in the same sense. It is a political circle, drawing 20 million people from vast, and I mean vast experiences and cultures into one spot. And almost everyone here has come from somewhere else.  When friends of mine joke about Florida Man, I often will paraphrase something noted American politico Christine O'Donnell once said:  "We are not a witch - we are nothing that you think - We are You."  Florida tends to reflect the nation, not stand out from it.

When I give talks about Florida, I often tell folks to think of our state as the new Ellis Island, except our ships come as cars and planes, from inside the borders of the country, and outside.  The same dream that drove people to come to America for centuries drive people to Florida today

Between now and 2030, Florida will add as many as 5 million more residents, grow to as much as 30% Hispanic, with a total population of well more than 50% coming from what are typically considered ethnic minorities.

The old saying about Florida is you go north to go south. North Florida feels like the traditional south, large rural areas, conservative towns like Jacksonville and Pensacola, liberal college towns, etc., while the rest of the state feels like wherever it came from. Go to Tampa, or most anywhere on the west coast, and there is more of a Midwestern feel – as most who got there, came down the I-75 corridor.  Go to a Chicago Bears/Tampa Bay Bucs game these days, and you might wonder who the home team is. 

Travel down the east coast and you can feel more northeastern influences, homage to the I-95 corridor and before that, the Flagler's railroad that brought them here.   Stay to the coastal side of the interstate, and the place is busy, almost one continuous city that goes on for hundreds of miles up and down the coastline.  Go to the interior of the interstates, and with the exception of Orlando – which is its own unique culture, the place is still very much Old Florida, with large expanses of agriculture and open space.

Then there is Miami-Dade, easily one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. 87% of the population is non-white (meaning non-Hispanic white), and that number is growing. It is really its own city-state, much more like a Hong Kong, or a Singapore, than it is a city within a state.

Politically, all these places basically cancel each other out. The simple way to think about Florida is North Florida being Republican, South Florida being Democratic, and the state balancing along I-4 – though as this piece tries to show, it is a lot more nuanced.  However, it is true that Florida tends to be like a self-correcting scale – for every Democratic trend, there seems to be an equal, and countervailing Republican trend, which keeps the state exceptionally competitive – and while there definitely is a bit of a north/south split – these trends are playing out all over the state. 

This piece is long (and could be 2-3x longer) – and again, it covers a lot of the same turf as I covered in the similar piece in 2016, but hopefully, if you choose to follow my memos throughout the cycle, it will give some context to the places you will hear me talk about.    Also, while I recognize there are five statewide races on the ballot, for purposes of this, I will use Governor’s race numbers from 2010 and 2014 – for several reasons:  1. It is the cleanest comparison, and 2. Scott is on the ballot again in 2018.

So let’s get started.

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

North Florida

Home to 3.5 million residents, and close to 19% of the vote in a midterm, think of North Florida as the I-10 corridor, running from Jacksonville to Pensacola, with the addition of Gainesville. It has the lowest Hispanic and highest African American percentages but is over 2/3rds white. The region is slightly bigger in population than Iowa.

The distance between Pensacola and Jacksonville is roughly 360 miles, along a fairly sparse I-10, home to America's #1 truck stop, the Busy Bee at the Live Oak halfway point. Rural north Florida feels much more like Georgia or Alabama than the Florida that most people think of. While the population is growing along the coasts, creating red counties that are just getting redder, the reality is population in this part of the state is stagnant compared to the rest of the state. 

Florida’s two dry counties are located here, as are two of its largest universities, as well as the seat of state government. In addition, the region is book-ended by two of the oldest cities in America: St. Augustine and Pensacola. Both ends of north Florida have a large military presence, as well as significant acres of state and national forests.  America’s team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, also calls the region home, as does the leading college men's and women's basketball programs in Florida:  the Florida State Seminoles, and the school that can beat neither: The University of Florida.  It is also home to the state's public HBCU, Florida A&M University, also the alma mater of the Democratic nominee, Andrew Gillum.  

It is the most conservative part of the state, though in midterms, can bounce around.  For example, Scott won the region by 13 points, or about 139,000 votes in 2010 – but four years later, he grew his margin to nearly 22 points, winning by 246,000 votes.  Keeping in mind his statewide win margins were virtually identical in 2010 and 2014, Scott’s growth in North Florida is the primary reason he was re-elected.    And while there is room to grow for DeSantis (and Scott) from his 2010 numbers, a lot of that room is in places with very small numbers of voters.  Moreover, Scott’s margin of 22 points across North Florida was higher than Trump (19), meaning DeSantis will need to exceed Trump – and possibly even Scott to hit his vote goals.

In the past, Bill Nelson has done very well here for a Democrat, but this race is different.  It is hard to imagine a scenario where he does as well here as in the past – though it isn’t hard to imagine him doing better than the average Democrat, and in a race likely decided by 100,000 votes or less, this will matter.

That being said, a Nelson win would be keeping Scott between his 2010 and 2014 numbers, where for DeSantis, it is hard to see him winning without at least matching Scott in 2014, if not growing further.   For Scott, few places are as important to him as the Jacksonville market – home to 8.7% of the vote, it provided over 11% of his vote in 2014.  If Nelson takes some of that away, Scott’s path gets difficult, quickly.

There are also places to watch for Gillum.  There is a significant African American population in Duval which helped propel both Obama and Clinton to stronger than typical performances there, as well as in Pensacola, and around Tallahassee.  Add the significant student populations in Gainesville (UF), Tallahassee (FAMU, FSU), and Jacksonville (UNF, JU, Edward Waters), and there is definite room for him to grow.  Even marginal increases in turnout here significantly change the GOP math for winning.  I think he could very well replicate the Obama/Clinton numbers in Duval.  In fact, I’ll bet dinner to the first person willing to take me up on it that he will.   And go back to that Scott versus Trump number a few graphs ago – the biggest single contributor to Scott winning North Florida by a larger percentage than Trump:  Scott running up the score in Duval, while Clinton getting Trump to almost a push.  #DUUUVAL

Orlando

Home to just over 4.2 million residents, or 20% of the state’s population, Orlando – in this case, defined as the Orlando media market, is the fastest growing market in the state. 25% of the total population growth in Florida since 2010 can be found in Orlando, and it arguably the place that has seen the most change over the last 25 years. The third largest market in Florida, would alone be the 27th largest state -- roughly the size of Oregon.   It will make up 21% of the vote in 2018.  If you want a really deep dive, I wrote a piece a few months ago about the market. You can read it here.

Just to provide some perspective, Orlando added over 500,000 new residents since 2010, and nearly 45% of them who are Hispanic, largely due to the migration of Puerto Rican families to Central Florida, as well as the growth of existing families. Hispanics have grown from 20% of the population to 25% of the population – in just seven years. Almost all of this is happening in two counties: Orange and Osceola, or more simply, metro Orlando, which sets up some interesting politics in the region.

There is a lot going on here. Drive south from Jacksonville, and you enter the market in Flagler County, a county which boomed in the 90s with a ton of retirement migration from the New York area, then just bottomed out, and in doing so, has gone from an emerging Democratic county to a reliably Republican one. Volusia to the south, home of NASCAR, and Brevard south of that, home to the Space Coast, both longtime manufacturing economies, have been hit hard over the last decade and a half, with Scott winning Volusia both in 2010 and 2014. Not surprisingly, Trump did very well in all three counties.  I believe a Democratic wave will impact counties in Florida – though I don’t expect much of it here.

Move down I-4 from Daytona into metro Orlando, and you see a different story. The economy is humming along, growth has returned, though there is still real income pressure. You also in these counties can see just how much the demographic changes have impacted the politics. Consider this, Crist won the three metro Orlando counties, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole in 2006 by over 50,000 votes, while Sink won the three counties by 25,000 in 2010, and Crist by 32,000 in 2014.

But one of the problems for the statewide math for Democrats, while the numbers in the urban core of Orlando are better for Democrats, the drop off in turnout in the urban Orlando counties, particularly in Orange and Osceola, has played a big role in the Democratic losses in 2010 and 2014.  For example, in both 2008 and 2012, President Obama won these three counties by over 100,000 votes, and Secretary Clinton by 166,000 votes in 2016.  If Gillum just splits the difference in margin between Clinton and Crist (+67K votes), these three counties alone more than make up the Scott win margin in 2014 (64%).

Now one of the interesting things at play here:  Puerto Ricans lean Democratic but are not solidly Democratic.  And Maria migrants, while not insignificant, aren’t the panacea that some national observers suggested a year ago.  This is both a persuasion, and a turnout question.  Honestly reversing the trends of Puerto Rican voters dropping off in midterms is a much bigger imperative than the Maria migrants (though both are important)

The other issue for Democrats, further north of Orlando is the Villages, a fast growing heavily Republican retirement community, largely of retired Midwesterners, and Ocala, which is home to Florida’s horse country. And what is interesting, when you combine the “Villages metro area” with the old manufacturing counties on the east coast, you find the Republican trends there almost balancing out the Democratic trends in the metro Orlando area. Scott in 2014 won the area by roughly 62K votes, increasing from his 44K vote margin 2010 – more than offsetting the Democratic gains in the urban areas.  And like Gillum, DeSantis does have room to grow in the market, largely due to these counties.

Despite all the trends that should benefit the Democrats, Scott increased his margin of victory in the market from 4.7% to 5.3%, and his margin in the market, 65,000 votes, mirrored his statewide win margin.  But there is all kinds of room for growth in the market for Democrats – even with Trump running up record margins in the exurban counties, Trump won the market by a comparably smaller margin of 2.9%.   

To win, DeSantis and Scott will want to see the market numbers model what Scott saw in 2014.  Given the likely growth in Democratic margins in SE Florida, anything closer to the Trump/Clinton margins is good news, though for Nelson and Gillum, if Puerto Rican turnout picks up, there is a real opportunity to this market closer to a push – and if they see those results, they are both going to have a very good night.   

Tampa and SW Florida

The biggest “state” in Florida, almost 30%, or 6.25 million residents live in Tampa and SW Florida. The Tampa media market alone is the size of Louisiana, but when combined with the SW Florida counties, you are looking at a region the population of Missouri, equal to 10 electoral votes.

In fairness, Tampa alone could be a standalone region, but I add SW Florida here because it is more culturally aligned with the Tampa area than it is with its neighbors across the River of Grass. 

North to South, this region is well over 200 miles, yet drive down coastal US 19 and 41 from Citrus County in the north to Naples at the far south, and with very few exceptions, it is one now one urban area.  Interstate 75 runs through here, carrying with it a distinctly Midwestern feel to the people who have moved to the region.   In fact, 25-30 years ago, before the area really earned its own identity, if you went to a Tampa Bay football game against then division rivals Green Bay or Chicago, these games were basically home games for the away team. It is not quite as bad today, but you will still see large contingents in their hometown garb.

This midwestern feel is also key for another factor:  the wave.  Wave years tend to crash harder in the Midwest, home to a lot more “swing voters” and if you think of regions of Florida as a mirror of the places where residents moved from, if the Democratic wave really impacts the midwestern US, it will also be felt in this region.

The region is as “white” as North Florida and has the smallest African American population in the state (8.8% of registered voters, compared to 13.3% statewide). There is a fast-growing Hispanic population, which is starting to impact politics, particularly in Hillsborough County (Tampa), but outside of the traditional Cuban population in urban Tampa, the Hispanic population here is much more “Latin” (particularly Mexican) than the eastern and central part of the state, which meant a larger delta between Hispanic residency and voting. However, that is changing. Since 2008, of 42% of the voter registration growth has been Hispanic, though Hispanics still only make up 10.2% of the registration (compared to 16.4% statewide). Overall, among registered voters, the electorate is 75% non-Hispanic white, compared to 64% statewide.

As you move south from Tampa towards Sarasota and beyond, it gets more Republican and you see more wealth. Sarasota is a funky political place, quite Republican in registration, but culturally more progressive. It is a county that of late tends to bounce around according to national trends.  Despite Trump winning it by a healthy margin, earlier this year, Democrats retook a State House seat in a special election, a seat they last won in 2008, and in 2018, Democrats are making a serious play for the Congressional seat held by Vern Buchanan.

But in all these counties, life out by the interstate is quite different than life close to the Gulf. Take Lee County, home to Fort Myers, and during the financial crisis, home to the largest foreclosure crisis in the country – with many communities still underwater. Travel further south into Collier County, and out east of the interstate, you will encounter massive Hispanic populations, including the neat community of Immokalee, a place that feels like almost no place else in the state.  The communities west of the interstate in Charlotte, Lee, and Collier (Naples) Counties make up the one of the key foundational cores of the Republican base.

Scott won these markets by a little over 5%, which was down from 2010, where he carried it 7.5%.  The narrower margin was driven by Crist’s drawing on his traditional strength in the core counties around his home in Pinellas.   Scott has always proven very strong in the Fort Myers market side of the region, winning these counties by nearly 100,000 votes.  Just to drive a finer point on Scott’s strength here:  while the Fort Myers market in 2014 accounted for 6.8% of all the statewide votes, the market accounted for nearly 8.5% of all his votes.  The only market where his disparity was higher was Jacksonville (8.7% of all votes, 11.0% of Scott votes).

Hillsborough (Tampa) used to be the bellwether, though in recent years, demographics have moved the county reliably into the Democratic county.  It is likely the new state barometer will be Pinellas, a county that went for Obama twice, and both Sink & Crist, only to go Trump in 2016.   Another county to keep an eye on is Pasco, a GOP county just to the north of Tampa that was very competitive for President Obama, as well as Sink and Crist, only to go overwhelmingly Trump in 2016.  For Gillum and Nelson, returning these two counties closer to their performance between 2008-2014 will significantly help their win prospects.    Two other places for Democrats:  Imperial Polk County, located just inland from Tampa, and home to a large African American population, and Sarasota, roughly 45 minutes to the south of Tampa, home to a very high percentage of college educated voters, which as mentioned before, tend to break from their GOP roots in years when Democrats do well.  These are places where Gillum and Nelson can make up ground.

For DeSantis, if you compare the region to Trump, there is a lot of room to grow.  Crist’s totals in the counties around HIllsorough were significantly better than Clinton earned 2 years later.  If you take the circle around Tampa – Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Hillsborough, Manatee, and Sarasota:  Crist actually won these counties by a fraction of a point – in a GOP wave year, whereas Clinton four years later lost these counties by nearly 6 points. For DeSantis, this should be a place to play offense – yet as mentioned earlier – this is also where the effects of a Democratic wave could be most strongly felt.

So for DeSantis the math is simple:  maintain the Scott margins in Fort Myers and try to replicate the Trump margins in the counties surrounding Hillsborough.  The trouble for him – in this environment, that will be much harder than it sounds.

Keep an eye on this on election night. Pasco County, a large bedroom community north of Tampa, typically first in the state to report its early and absentee returns right at 7:00PM EST on the Supervisor’s website. If Gillum and Nelson are ahead, or only behind by a few thousand votes, it will probably be a decent night for the Dems.  And overall, if Gillum can get in the vicinity of the Crist numbers around Tampa, given what could happen elsewhere, he’d be in pretty good shape.

Palm Beach

State four – moving back east across the is the Palm Beach media market.  In previous years, I used to group Broward County in with Palm Beach, because it demographically tended to be closer aligned to its county to the north than its county to the south.  This is no longer the case.  Palm Beach is very much its own animal now, and while it is reliably Democratic, at times, has proven to be a little tricky for Democrats.

In terms of Palm Beach, the county is home to just about 2.1 million residents, and in terms of the rest of the state, is incredibly stable.  At the 2010 census, it was 10.2% of the state’s population.  Today, it makes up 10.2% of the state’s population.  And I project the market will make up roughly – wait for it – 10.2% of the statewide vote.

Diversity is changing this market rather rapidly.  Since the 2010 census, the non-Hispanic white population has dropped from 63.4% to 58.6% -- in just eight years.  Correspondingly, since 2008, the non-Hispanic white share of registered voters has dropped from 77.6% to 70.1%.  Palm Beach is no longer just the Del Boca Vista Phase II of years past.  For Democrats, if we get turnout right, this is a very good thing – as some of the smaller margins in recent cycles can be tied to lower white support.

The market, for all purposes, at least of I-95 is pretty dense. While there are some less dense areas in Martin County and Indian River, if you drive down US #1 from Melbourne to the Broward County line (and onward to South Dade), you probably aren’t going to go more than a mile or two without passing a gas station, and if you drive all the way to the Keys, it might take you three days with all the traffic lights.

That being said, west of I-95, things get pretty rural very quickly, and the region still has large areas dedicated to agriculture.  If someone dropped you from a plane into one of the communities around Lake Okeechobee, you’d never think that Trump’s Mar-a-Lago was in the same county.

Palm Beach County is a Democratic county, but the other market counties to the north tend to be more Republican.  In 2010, while Sink won Palm Beach County by nearly 70,000 votes, Rick Scott held Alex Sink’s total margin of victory in the market to 55,000 votes, and thanks to a stronger performance in both St. Lucie County and Palm Beach, Crist extended it to just over 73,000 votes.  However, nothing is certain here.  St. Lucie County, located two counties north of Palm Beach County, had been getting more Democratic over the last decade, only to see the county go to Trump in 2016.   

For Gillum, there are real opportunities here to increase African American and Caribbean turnout.  While the Black share (African American and Caribbean American) share of registered voters has remained stable over the last decade, at around 13%, the Black share in this market has grown from 11% to 13%.    And for Nelson, the region has been an area of strength for him, even as the market has bounced around a bit for other Democrats.  Crist won 53% of the vote in the market, though I would feel better if that number was up closer to 55%. 

For DeSantis and Scott, two main goals here:  maintain Trump’s margins in places like St. Lucie, and try to drive down Democratic white support in Palm Beach, and essentially turn the market into a muddle (keeping that Democratic share under 53%) where the Democratic nominees can’t run up the score.

Miami

Finally, the Miami media market.

The second largest market in Florida, just fractionally smaller than Tampa, the Miami market is home to nearly 4.8 million residents, or about 23% of the state’s population.  On its own, it would be in the top 25 most populated states, roughly akin to Alabama – though population is the only thing the two places have in common.   

Yet, despite the population, Miami is the third largest voting market, home to just north of 17% of likely 2018 voters.  This delta is a function of two things:  lower voter participation, and higher rates of non-citizens.

From north to south, Broward County is the old anchor of Florida Democratic politics.  Sink won the county by 131K votes, while Crist won it four years later by 180K votes by increasing Sink’s 31% win to a 38% win.    The county, like Palm Beach to the north, is rapidly changing.  Those Democratic margins, for years driven by African Americans and retired northeastern liberal whites, are now driven by an increasingly diverse population of Hispanic and Caribbean voters.   Among registered voters, the county has dropped from 57% non-Hispanic white to 45%, in just 10 years, and based on census trends, this will continue well into the foreseeable future.

Miami is one of the most diverse areas in the world. It is becoming what London is to Europe, and what Singapore and Hong Kong are to Asia, that critical hub that serves as both an economic and political point of entry for Latin America, and about the only thing it shares with the rest of the state is the common border.

It is also exceptionally complicated. According to the 2010 census: nearly 85% of this “state” population is made up of people of color, a number that has risen to nearly 87%.  Also, the racial make-up of voters has evolved to more closely mirror the county. 

As recently as the mid-2000’s, the county was as much as 31% non-Hispanic white among registered voters, a number that is just under 18% today. Hispanic residents, who make up 65% of all residents, now make up nearly 58% of all registered voters – and keep in mind, because Hispanic is a self-identified marker on voter registration, actual Hispanic participation is typically higher than registration numbers.  Furthermore, within these subgroups exist tremendous diversity.  There is nothing monolithic about either the Hispanic, or the Black population.  

While it used to not be this way, today Dade County is solidly Democratic in statewide races– and trending even more Democratic. 

Keep this in mind:

Jeb Bush won Dade County, twice.

Jim Davis won by 8 points.

Alex Sink won by 14 points, or about 70,000 votes

Charlie Crist won by almost 20%, or about 100,000 votes.

And…Hillary Clinton won it by just a fraction under 30%. 

If Andrew Gillum were to win Clinton margins in Dade County, he’d win the county by 168,000 votes

What is driving that change?

Two things separate things are happening on a collision course: demographic inertia is pushing the area more Democratic, and the traditionally Republican Cuban constituencies are becoming less Republican. 

For Democrats, the goal is simple:  drive those trends to new record margins.  

For Republicans, the plan is more nuanced:  there are segments of the Hispanic population, as well as the Caribbean population where Republicans can scrape at the edges of the Democratic coalition.  In addition, while the younger Cuban populations are more persuadable, they aren’t Democratic, meaning there are votes to be won there. 

As for Monroe, it is a swing county – one of the few left in the state.  A winning plan would send an experienced field hack with significant statewide and swing district experience there to spend a lot of time door knocking (just DM me guys).

For Democrats, Crist won the market by 28 points (63-35), or just over 281k votes.  At likely Democratic turnout, with trends there, stretching that margin to 65-33, or 32 points is quite reasonable, would lead to a potential Democratic margin of just under 360,000 votes – or some 80,000 votes more than Crist 14.    Do more than this, and it would take some crazy scenarios to elect either DeSantis or Scott to get to a win.

So how does this plane land?

This piece is long, but Florida isn’t simple. I wanted to show how and why the main candidates are likely to approach the state to win.

But for all the different scenarios, the basic premise of Florida doesn’t really change.  The state and its regions are very stable – winning and losing happens in the margins, and candidates will work to influence where the scale tips in how they manage those margins – Dems keeping it closer in Duval versus Republicans over-performing in a place like Palm Beach, or just running up the score somewhere else.   And while I am currently bullish about my party’s chances, both from the standpoint of mood, and Dem opportunities for growth, if DeSantis and Scott are able to replicate Trump like share of the vote in the large suburban and exurban counties around I-4, things could get very tight, very quickly.

Though nothing is easy here. The state is absurdly expensive, and winning Florida means navigating different cultures, languages, and economic realities. It requires both turning out your base and persuading an ideologically and culturally diverse swing voters. When folks ask me, what is the key to winning Florida, the answer is everything, which can be a hard concept to understand.  There is no key to be found – just a puzzle with 2,000 pieces thrown all over the floor.  Find the pieces, and you win.

So here we go.  2.55 million ballots are landing in mailboxes as I write this (and for the first time in recent history, Democrats have a slight edge in the initial requests), and odds are likely that within 10 days, more than 10% of the likely turnout will have already voted – and by the time we all go to work on Monday, October 15th, that number will almost surely be north of a million votes, and by the time the polls open on November 6th, somewhere around 60% of the electorate will have already voted.

The election is on us, and every day that goes by, we will get some clues for how each side is doing on the metrics important to their win.  So, thanks for reading, and stay tuned.    

Oh and Myles Jack wasn't down.  #NeverForget

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