Why Trump is starting in Orlando
Sunday, June 16, 2019 at 10:24PM

On Tuesday, President Trump will be in Orlando to announce his re-election. 

Why Orlando?

They understand first and foremost, without Florida, he will be a one-term President.  The last Republican to win the White House without Florida was Calvin Coolidge, and well, that was so long ago that Floridians at that time were still at risk of getting malaria.  Secondly, they understand winning Florida requires him replicating, at least close to, the record-setting margins he set on the I-4 corridor. 

This piece will walk through why this region of the state is vital to Trump winning Florida again, as well as point out some thoughts on how my team can stop that from happening.  Further, because it is my blog, it will have an unhealthy amount of data, and you can probably count on a gratuitous Blake Bortles reference or two.  

Simply, his Presidency runs through Florida, and as this piece will lay out, his win here runs through the suburban and exurban counties on I-4.   Replicate it, as DeSantis and Scott largely did in 2018, and he will win.  But if the Dems take away some of those margins, as they did in 2008, and 2012, then Trump’s second term will be denied.  Florida. Florida. Florida.

Before we get to far down this journey, let’s take a look at how Trump won Florida, in comparison to President Obama’s two wins.

There are several theories that are pretty common among the beltway crowd.

Theory: Trump won because of the Panhandle

One of the more common talking points about Florida is Trump won because of wild turnout in the Panhandle.  For this purpose, let’s define that as the counties in the media markets one can define as the Panhandle – Pensacola, Panama City, and Tallahassee.   While it is true that Trump ran up some big vote shares:  winning one county by 77%, and another by 67%, the reality is these three markets only make up about 8% of the statewide vote.  Overall Trump won these markets by just under 200,000 votes, winning nearly 61% of the vote – and beating Clinton by 26% - but his 61% was basically identical to Romney’s 61% -- who won the region by almost 170,000 votes.

If you expand out the Panhandle to mean all of North Florida – meaning adding Gainesville and Jacksonville to the mix, Trump overall won the market by just over 20% (58.2-38.0%) over Clinton, which equated to a margin of just over 350,000 votes.  But again, when compared to Romney, there isn’t much difference:  Romney won North Florida by 19.2%, or about 313,000 votes. 

The Panhandle is actually very stable politically, and while Trump did improve over Romney, had nothing else changed in Florida, he didn’t make up enough votes here to win.

Theory:  Democratic Turnout Was Down

So there is a lot to unpack on this one.  First, Democrats lost substantial ground in voter registration between 2008/12 and 2016.  The Democratic advantage over Republicans was 660,000 in 2008, falling to about 530K in 2012, to 325K in 2016 – so for one, relative to our advantage over Republicans in the Obama era, there weren’t as many Democrats to turn out.  It is hard to say whether that alone would have made the difference, though I feel very confident in saying I believe the Dems would have won the Governor’s race and US Senate race in 2018 if we had the voter registration advantage of the Obama years.  I am glad to see the party taking registration seriously this cycle.

It is also true that Clinton didn't replicate the record turnout we saw, particularly with African American voters with Obama.  That being said, I don't think counting on record turnout every election is a long-term winning strategy.

Nonetheless, the actual vote numbers would argue that it wasn’t a base vote issue.  There are a couple of different ways to look at it.

If you just take the actual base counties, which account for about 43% of the statewide vote (listed from north to south):  Leon, Alachua, Orange, Osceola, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade:  Hillary Clinton won both a larger share (24% to 21.5%), and by a larger raw vote margin (963K to 779K) than Barack Obama did in 2012.  

If you expand it out, and look at from the stand point of markets that Democrats typically win pretty easily (Tallahassee, Gainesville, West Palm and Miami), and compare it to markets Republicans typically carry with ease (Pensacola, Panama City, Jacksonville, and Fort Myers), both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won their markets by larger shares and larger vote margins than Obama and Romney – but almost identical numbers.  Clinton won her markets by 79,000 more votes than Obama – and Trump won his by 76,000 more than Romney.  In other words, relative to 2012, the base markets were a push.

The problem with combating the argument that a loss was related to turnout, is until there is 100% turnout, you can always blame that for a loss.  While we should always try to turn out more voters, the reality is both Trump and Clinton got win-type vote numbers out of their base markets – and base counties.  Had this been all that happened, Clinton would have won.

So let’s get back to why Trump is on the I-4 corridor.

Obama won Florida in 2012 by roughly 74,000 votes, and Trump won it by about 113,000.  In other words, there was roughly 187,000 vote change in the margin from Obama to Trump.   As stated above, in 8 of the state’s 10 media markets, the Clinton/Trump election was pretty much the Obama/Romney election.  Clinton ran the score up in her counties, and Trump jacked up his numbers, particularly in the Fort Myers market, but the final result in these places was almost identical to 2012 -- which leaves us Orlando and Tampa.

In 2012, President Obama lost the two media markets by a combined 56,575 votes – and four years later, Secretary Clinton lost the same two media markets by 247,118 – a total shift of 190K votes.   

But what is remarkable is how Trump ran up the score in these markets, given that Secretary Clinton won the urban Orlando counties (Seminole, Orange and Osceola) by almost 70,000 more votes than Obama.   In 14 counties within the I-4 markets, Trump set the modern era Republican Presidential percentage margin of victory, and in 15, he set the record for largest raw vote margin of victory – in virtually every case, breaking the numbers set by Bush in 04, in a year when he won by five points.  In fact, statewide, Trump’s percentage share margin was better than Bush’s 04 margins in 48 counties, and his raw vote margins were better in 55.   If Bush had seen Trump like numbers in those counties, he would have won Florida by 8-9 points.

And that is why Trump is here.  The fact that he set records all over the state, and yet only won by a point is a testament to two things:  One – the state is structurally very stable, as we can see by just how similar the Obama/Clinton and Romney/Trump numbers are in many places, and Two – the growing diversity of the state, particularly in the urban core, has given the Democrats a higher floor, thus just like the Republicans, the Democratic nominee in Florida probably starts around 47-48%, just by being on the ballot.

There is another parallel to Bush explaining Trump’s Central Florida kickoff – Trump’s margin of victory in the I-4 markets (247k) was pretty close to what Bush achieved (287K) when he won Florida in 2004. But just as many pundits wrote off Florida in 2008, we saw that within these counties, there is a significant amount of movement inside the margins.  In 2004, Democrats only won two counties in these two markets, six in 2008, five in 2012, and four in 2016.  Yet within that, we saw in the market go from a Bush 287K vote win in 04, to an Obama 49K vote margin in 08, to a Romney 57K vote margin, back to Trump’s nearly 250K vote margin in 2016.    

Here are a few examples of how these margins changed over time:

Pasco (just north of Tampa)

2004:  GOP +9.7% (-18,481 votes)

2008: GOP +3.6% (-7,687)

2012: GOP +6.6% (-14,164)

2016: GOP +21.6 (-51,959)


2004: GOP +8.3% (-16,250)

2008: GOP +0.1% (-211)

2012: GOP +7.4% (-15,385)

2016:  GOP +11.6 (-26,568)

Volusia (Daytona)

2004: Dem +1.5% (+3,595)

2008:  Dem +5.7% (+13,857)

2012: GOP +1.2% (-2,742)

2016: GOP 13.0% (-33,916)

And here’s one little secret – a lot of the movement in those counties come from the same voters who moved around between Obama and Trump in the Midwest, since a lot of the migration into the I-4 counties comes from that part of the US mainland. 

And one other little note:  Trump’s win in Florida coincided with the Bortles reign as QB of the Jaguars. Bortles is no longer in Florida.  Just keep that in mind.

If Trump’s margin here gets cut in half, I suspect the Democrats will win Florida, and his team knows it -- and before you suggest it can't be done, I would simply point to how Barack Obama reversed the Bush gains in 2004 in these same counties in 2008. 

In fact, I'll go one step further -- I suspect the Trump polling which got released over the weekend, the polling showing Joe Biden in a strong position in Florida, pointed very specifically to these two media markets as a place of weakness  - thus why Orlando is getting visit tomorrow. 

Article originally appeared on Steve Schale -- Veteran Florida Man Politico (http://steveschale.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.