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Today is D-Day. Last May, Nikole and I drove from Paris out to the Normandy beaches. Like many Americans, seeing those beaches during my lifetime was something very important to me. That being said, I was not really prepared for it, nor for the impact it would have.

If you have never been, the Normandy beaches are really rural. If you live in Florida, think of the stretch of Atlantic ocean between St. Augustine Beach and Ormond Beach -- just a string of small towns, nothing fancy at all.

If you drive from north to south, you also note something remarkable: the further south, and closer you get to Omaha Beach, the higher the cliffs. At the end of a really long day, you get to the American cemetery, which basically sits at the top of the highest cliff.

And there you learn what the words courage and sacrifice really mean.

Our soldiers took responsibility for arguably the hardest stretch of land. From the moments their boats approached the shores, they were under attack from incredibly well fortified protections high on the cliffs. In some cases, those cliffs are 100 feet or more in vertical elevation change. They were sitting ducks, but even in the face of pure fear and for many, certain death, they kept fighting for something bigger than them.

We kept saying to ourselves, how in the world did anyone make it and how in the world did those guys actually take that beach.

Something like 2500 young men died that day -- and by young men, I really mean kids -- 18, 19, 20 year old kids. And what they did that day altered the course of human history for the better. And those who came home came back and built the greatest nation in the history of mankind.

Personally, I think every American who runs for office or who works in the political arena should be required to see it. For me, it was very grounding in terms of providing real perspective. The dumb fights that drive way too much of our political discourse are rendered meaningless when you look at those cliffs and visit the cemeteries.

Freedom means we should fight about our differences, but those soldiers were all Americans, something I worry that we often forget today. I know I walked away thinking I needed to more be a part of solutions, and less a part of the problem. I don't think you can go there without leaving feeling the same way


The Curious Case of Dade County

Back in the spring doldrums of 2008, when a couple of polls showed Barack Obama losing Florida to John McCain by as much as 15 points, I was a fairly lone voice in the wilderness trying to make the case that Barack Obama had more than a shot to win Florida -- that he could and would win Florida.  That confidence was more than just pundit hubris:  there were several very distinct signs that showed Florida was fundamentally different than 2004 or 2000. 

One of those signs was the curious case of Jim Davis in Dade County in 2006.  Now in full disclosure, I like Jim a lot and he had a lot of smart people working for him -- two of whom went on to be fairly major players in Obamaland.  Given the significant financial disadvantages he faced, as I am sure Jim himself would acknowledge, the goal for most of that campaign had to be just staying on TV, not drilling down and microtargeting Dade Hispanics.  Yet despite losing Florida by seven points, he won Dade County by eight.  That caught my attention.   

Why is this curious?  This was fundamentally different than the previous three Gubernatorial elections.  In 1994, 1998 and 2002, the GOP candidate - Jeb Bush carried Dade County twice and if you average the three elections, won more than 51% of the two party vote, only 2.5% less than his average statewide take in those three races.   But in 2006, despite losing statewide, Jim won 53% of the vote in Dade, beating Charlie Crist by 8 points there.  In total, Crist's Dade county share, 45%, was seven points lower than his statewide share of 52%.  Compared to the three previous elections, this was a significant shift.

Now the easy answer is the Jeb factor -- Jeb wasn't on the ballot so that explains it all.  But back to Jim - its not like he did anything truly special in Dade that would account for that much of a shift, and remember back to 2006, Charlie Crist was a pretty popular guy among Republicans.  Plus there was the little tidbit from 2004:  Despite losing Florida by five points more than Gore did, Kerry's vote share in Dade was actually a tiny bit higher.  

So why was this encouraging to me? Simple -- Florida is all about margins.  For Democrats, it is running up the score in Broward, Palm Beach, winning Orange, Hillsborough and a few others and hanging on in the other 55 or so other counties.  But if we could flip Dade in a real way for Senator Obama, it changed the entire game.  And it was this simple:  Kerry lost Florida by a margin of roughly 380,000 votes, but if then Senator Obama could just add 3-4 points to the Kerry/Davis margin in Dade, we'd win Dade by 130,000-140,000 votes, which would make up almost a 1/3 of the margin we had to improve over Kerry.  As Bill Clinton would say, its arithmetic, and Dade could be a big part of it.

When it was all said and done, Barack Obama defeated John McCain by 140,000 votes in Dade County.  Of the 42 counties where Obama bettered the John Kerry margins, Dade County was easily the biggest change, and the rest is history.

In 2012, when the national media wanted to write off Florida, my argument was simple:  something was happening in Dade and we had a chance to really blow it out there  In the end that margin grew to 22 points and a vote margin of nearly 210,000.  The change in margin between 2008 and 2012 in Dade County alone was nearly the President's entire 2012 margin of victory.

It is all about one word:  Demographics

As these blogs often go, this story starts many years ago, in this case 2000.  I'd like to start it earlier, but voter registration by ethnicity gets a little harder to track down before 2000, so it is a good place to start.  

In 2000, Al Gore and George Bush both earned 48.8% of the statewide vote, and in Dade County, Al Gore beat Bush 52.6%-46.3%.  In other words, Bush earned 2.5% less in Dade than he did statewide. Going forward, you will see why this is significant.

The profile in Dade from a voter registration perspective looked like this:  Democrats had a roughly 7 point advantage in voter registration, which netted to about 50,000 more Democrats than Republicans.  

In 2000, 31% of county registered voters were Anglo, 20% were Black (African American or Caribbean), and 44% were Hispanic.  Furthermore -- and in many ways the defining political feature of Dade County in those days:  some 57% of Dade Hispanics were Republican.

Fast forward to 2012, and the picture is very different.  Barack Obama wins Florida 50-49, but carries Dade 62-38.  Where Bush 2000's Dade share was only 2.5% lower than his statewide share, the Romney 2012 vote share in Dade was 11 points lower, creating a margin of loss that could not be made up elsewhere.  

At a macro level, the county profile was also very different than today.  In 2012, only 19% of county voters are Anglo, 21% are Black, and 54% of county voters are Hispanic.  And unlike 2000, the percentage of Hispanics who are Republican has dropped to 39%.  

The table below shows the change in the countywide voter profile and the Democratic vote share since 2000:

    Anglo Black Hispanic    Dem Vote
00 GenElex 31.2% 19.7% 44.4%   53%
04 GenElex 26.2% 20.4% 46.9%   53%
06 GenElex 25.1% 20.2% 48.3%   53%
08 GenElex 23.2% 20.3% 50.2%   57%
10 GenElex 21.7% 19.5% 52.2%   56%
12 Gen Elex 19.1% 20.5% 54.1%   62%


The picture becomes much clearer when looking at the raw voter registration numbers.

Since 2000, the total number of Dade voters has risen from 902,464 to 1,281,368 (book closing in 2012), a gain of 378,904.  Over that time, the number of Anglo voters has dropped by about 37,000, meaning in reality, non-Anglo voters in Dade have grown by 415,000.  Of that change, some 77% of them are Hispanic, and here is the kicker, only 15% of those registered Republican.  Since book closing in 2006, the aforementioned Jim Davis year, it is even more acute: 194,413 voters have been added to the rolls, of which 168,047 are Hispanic, or some 86% of the change in voter registration.  Out of this, less than 8% registered Republican.  In other words, the GOP monolith among Hispanics, which is the key piece that allowed the GOP to win Dade in 1998 and 2002, and allowed the county to remain close in federal elections, has gone away.

But before my Democratic friends rejoice too much, it hasn't totally gone to the Democratic column.  In fact, since 06, the number of new registrants that have registered NPA (no party affiliation) or minor party equals that of Democrats, and if you go back to 2000, more new Hispanic registrants have registered NPA than Democratic.  It is worth noting that there are similar trends with new Black voters in Dade, who are registering as NPA at rates  nearly on par with Democratic registrants, though there has not been a change in voter behavior.  

The tables below show these Hispanic registration trends:

  GOP Dem NPA/Minor Total   % GOP
2000 226,552 94,428 79,882 400,862   56.5%
2006 257,690 131,805 135,332 524,827   49.1%
2012 270,896 209,763 212,215 692,874   39.1%


And more specifically, this one shows the change in registration:

  GOP Dem NPA Total   % GOP % Dem
00-12 chg 44,344 115,335 132,333 292,012   15.2% 39.5%
06-12 chg 13,206 77,958 76,883 168,047   7.9% 46.4%


So what does this mean?

The future is still a little unclear on this one, but for Democrats, the picture is definitely brighter.

For Democrats, the best news in the data is the change in vote margin seems to be driven more by Hispanic than Black (African American & Caribbean) voter registration change -- in other words, it can be less attributed to an Obama excitement bump and more to a fundamental change in population.  Compared to the Orange County analysis I did last year, where almost half of the voter registration change that helped Democrats came from African American voters, Hispanic voter registration gains are 3-4 times Black changes.  In addition, not just the share, but the actual number of Anglo voters has fallen and is falling. This makes perfect sense, since the 2010 census found that non-Hispanic white voters make up less than 10% of the Dade population today, a number that can be hard to grasp.  Dade is fundamentally different than just about anywhere.

But on the flipside, the Hispanic piece is also more fickle.  The sheer fact that nearly 50% of Hispanics added to the rolls in the last 12 years have joined neither party is proof of this fact.  

So what about the Cuban vote?  Much was made of some exit polling that showed that Cubans voted for Obama over Romney.  Frankly, I don't believe it (though I think it was very close), but I do think there is some evidence in the data that the new generation of Cubans are definitely moving away from the Republicans.  Here's why:

In 2000, according to the census, Cubans made up 50% of Dade Hispanics, a number that has actually grown to 53% in the latest census.  Even though many smaller populations from other nations of origin are growing faster, in some cases, much faster, Cubans easily remain the biggest force in Dade. But at the same time, the GOP voter registration advantage among Hispanics has shrunk.  In other words, while nation of origin is not a fact on a voter file, it would be hard to argue that there isn't at least some relationship between the theory that younger Cubans are less Republican (note I didn't say more Democratic) and the data showing a growing Cuban population and the data showing a vast majority of Hispanics joining the rolls are signing up as Democrats or NPA.  There is another blog piece in my future on just the census trends in Dade.

But the electoral trends are pretty unmistakable.  Regardless of what happened elsewhere in Florida, the Dade trends kept moving forward.

In 2004, Kerry got 53%. In 08, Obama got 57%.  In 2012, Obama won 62%.  

In 2002, McBride won 46%.  In 06, Davis won 53%.  In 2010, Sink won 57%.

When it boils down to it, as many who have heard me speak over the last 5-6 years, I truly believe that Dade is one of the most dynamic places in America, and it is only a matter of time before its politics more reflects its demographics.  It is hard to see a world by the end of the decade where Republicans so thoroughly dominate partisan races in Hispanic majority areas.  In 2006, when Dan Gelber and I helped elect Luis Garcia to the state house as only the second Cuban Democrat to be elected, most of the punditocracy was amused that we would try.  Yet in 2012, another Cuban Democrat was fairly easily elected to the State House and Joe Garcia was elected to Congress.  There will be more of this, not less going forward, assuming my party can field strong candidates.

The 2010 piece of this, again going back to Bill Clinton, is also basic arithmetic. Rick Scott beat Alex Sink by approximately 61,000 votes.  In 2006, Jim Davis got roughly the same percentage of the vote as John Kerry got in 2004 in Dade.  In 2010, Alex Sink received roughly the same percentage of the vote as Barack Obama got in 2008 in Dade.  If in 2014, the Democratic nominee continues the trend and earns roughly the same percentage of the vote as the Previous Democratic nominee for President, he or she would land at 61-62% of the vote in Dade, and if turnout is no higher than it was in 2010, that would mean that candidate would win Dade by a margin of 38,000-47,000 more than Sink.  Put another way, a Barack Obama type win for the Democrat in 2014 in Dade would almost wipe out the entire Scott statewide margin from 2010.

Is it more important than the I-4?  I don't think so -- yet, mainly because the sheer number of swing voters in Central Florida can dramatically shift county level margins in huge numbers.  But, in an election like we saw in both 2010 and 2012, where statewide independents are basically split, then Dade County provides a new place (compared to earlier in the century) to run up a big margin if you are a Democrat.

So there you go.  It is complicated, maddening, cumbersome, expensive, difficult -- and that just gets you from the gate at Miami International to the rental car lot.  But it is always evolving, always dynamic and never boring, because it really is its own place. 

As always, thanks for reading.  Please send me your thoughts or comment below.



Bush 00/04 vs Obama 08/12...Their Road Maps to Winning

Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Nevada and Ohio share a unique distinction:  these are the only five states who twice voted for President Bush and twice voted for President Obama.  

Here in Florida, while each of the four elections was very different, the topline on the wins for each side was pretty similar.  President Bush carried Florida twice by a combined margin of roughly 380,000 votes, while President Obama won Florida twice by a margin of roughly 310,000.  In total, some 30 million voters cast a ballot for the nominee of one of the two major parties, with only 0.2% of the vote separating the Bush wins from the Obama wins over those four elections.  Hard to get much closer.

I plan on diving deeper into the subject once the voter files have all been updated and we can get a better handle on who actually voted, but for the sake of this exercise, this piece will examine the differences -- and the similarities, in voting habits at a county and media market level between President Bush and President Obama in their two Florida wins.

Couple of caveats -- the data below is presented in terms of actual county and media market margins, in other words, real votes -- and the change between Presidents.  For example, President Bush carried Hillsborough County (Tampa) in 2000 and 2004 by a combined margin of 42,647, while President Obama carried the county in 2008 and 2012 by a combined margin of 72,889.  This change in vote nets out to a 115,536 change in the margin towards the Democratic nominee.

And since I am a Democrat and since we still control the table after the 2012 win, for the sake of ease, some of the data will be presented from the perspective of the Obama win margins vs the Bush win margins. 

First, a few macro level points:

Florida has grown a lot.  In 2000, just under 6 million people voted for either President Bush or Vice President Gore, while in 2012, over 8.4 million people voted for either President Obama or Governor Romney, or a 41% change in voter participation.  Interestingly, there was only a minor change in total voters from 2008 and 2012 -- a fact that when combined with the changes in the ethnic make-up of our total voter pool, I could argue really helped the President win Florida in 2012.

Also, a disproportionate share of the growth, compared to the media market population, has come from the Orlando and Jacksonville markets.  In other words, these two are growing faster as a proportion of the total statewide vote compared to other markets.  At the same time, both the Tampa and Miami markets are shrinking as proportion of the statewide vote.   For example, in the two Bush wins, the Tampa market made up 25% of the statewide vote, but in the two Obama wins, the market landed at 24% of the statewide market, while the Orlando market grew from 19.1% to 20.4%.  

As mentioned above, President Bush carried Florida by a combined 380,000 votes in 2000 and 2004 and President Obama win Florida by a combined 310,000 votes in 2008 and 2012.  This equates to a roughly 690,000 vote change between their margins of victory.  Yet interestingly enough, in 48 counties, the 2008 and 2012 GOP nominees actually increased their combined margin of victory over the two Bush wins.  The problem for the GOP:  Those counties only added up to 32% of the total statewide voter turnout in 2012. 

In fact, President Obama performed better than President Bush in terms of vote margin in the seven biggest counties, and in 11 of the top 14.  And in a spoiler alert -- 8 of those 11 occurred in just three media markets.

So with that, let's dive in at a bit more granular level and look at the similarities and differences:

The Similarities  

One of the first things that pops in the data is when you look at the state by media markets, in six of the ten Florida media markets, the party of the eventual nominee had virtually no impact on the margin of victory in that market.  Those six markets are: Jacksonville, Gainesville, Tallahassee, Fort Myers, Pensacola and West Palm Beach.

To illustrate just how stable these markets were across the four cycles, while these six markets make up 34% of the statewide vote, they only make up 3% of the change between the Bush and Obama wins.  

Take the West Palm Beach market, considered a base Democratic market, which made up just about 10.5% of the statewide vote in 2012, the Democratic nominees in 2000 and 2004 carried the market by 201,230 votes, while President Obama won the market by 201,707 votes.  In other words, President Obama in his two wins only won the West Palm Beach market by 477 more votes than Kerry and Gore combined.  

On the flipside, in the aforementioned fast growing Jacksonville market, considered a base Republican market, which made up 8.9% of the statewide vote in 2012, President Bush carried the market by roughly 291K votes, while the Republican nominees in 2008 and 2012 carried the market by 284K votes, again, virtually no change.  But Jacksonville also shows how the numbers can be deceptive:  while the market looked the same, the county level data shows a different story.  While President Bush won Duval County (Jacksonville) by a combined 105,000 votes, President Obama cut that margin to 22,000 votes -- yet the growing margins that Mitt Romney and John McCain carried out of the fast growing suburban counties like Clay and St. Johns nearly made up for the Duval margins.  Keeping Duval close in the future is key for Democrats who want to avoid getting totally swamped in the market.

The Differences -- and Where Obama Won

Of the four other markets, only Panama City saw an appreciable positive GOP change from the Bush coalitions to the Obama coalitions.  The two Republican  nominees increased the GOP margin of victory in this market by over 45%, from 92,000 to 135,000 votes.  However, the challenge going forward for the GOP is it is hard to imagine how this grows further.  At just 1.9% of the statewide vote, there isn't much room for growth.

Before moving on, just to show how Republican the Panhandle is, despite the Pensacola and Panama City markets making up less than 6% of the statewide vote, Senator McCain and Governor Romney carried the region by a combined 360,000 votes.  This is a bigger margin than four of the five markets that President Obama carried:  Tallahassee, Gainesville, West Palm Beach and Orlando, combined, despite those four markets adding up to 34% of the statewide vote.

Back to where Obama made up  his ground:  Tampa, Orlando, and Miami.  In fact, President Obama improved the Democratic margins in these markets by 711,000 votes over Gore and Kerry.  Remember, the total Democratic margin improvement from the Bush wins to the Obama wins was 690,000 votes.  

In 2000 and 2004, the Democratic nominee for President won these two markets by a combined 138,000 votes, with all of the winning margin coming from the Miami media market.  In 2008 and 2012 elections, President Obama won the three markets by a whopping 849,000 votes.  A table below will illustrate this, but essentially, just roughly half of that margin change came from the Miami media market, while the remaining half came from the two I-4 markets.  

Here is how the three markets looked across each of the four elections in terms of the Democratic margin of victory:






















In other words, in the Obama wins, the base margin in the Miami market (Dade and Broward for the most part) simply swamped the GOP margins in their markets, and President Obama sealed the deal by either winning the I-4 corridor (2008) or keeping it razor close (2012).  


There are several interesting takeaways, from my perspective.  

Since Florida truly became a swing state in 1992, you could generally argue that the GOP base vote was equal to or maybe a bit bigger than the Dem base vote in Presidential elections, particularly since the I-4 corridor tended to lean a little to the right.  

But this changed in the Obama coalitions.  Here is how:

In the two Bush wins, the Bush margin of victory in his four base markets:  Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Pensacola and Panama City was about 50% larger than the Democratic margin of victory in the the Miami media market in 2000 and 2004.  In the Obama elections, his Miami media market margin alone was bigger than the the entire GOP margin in their four base markets.  Add all the Democratic base markets (Miami, West Palm, Gainesville and Tallahassee), and we see that unlike the Bush wins, where the base markets were pretty much at parity, meaning that the I-4 markets decided the election, in the Obama wins, the Democratic base markets significantly outperformed the GOP base markets.

The table below, which shows the Democratic margins, illustrates this:


Bush (00/04)

Obama (08/12)


Base R




Base D




Miami Only





Simply, in 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama started the election with a bigger base than the GOP, meaning to win, he just needed to keep it all in check along the critical I-4 corridor.

Secondly, Florida is changing.  If there is one word to sum up the difference in the coalitions:  Demographics.  In 2000, the state’s white (non-Hispanic) population made up 61.2% of residents.  As of the 2010 census, that number was 52.6%, with Hispanics making up 22.5% of the state and the Black (Black is the census reported term, and for Florida, this means both African American and Caribbean American populations) population making up 16%.  Census data shows that non-Cubans are becoming a bigger piece of the pie in Miami-Dade, and polling data shows that the younger Cuban voters are less aligned to the traditional exile politics of their parents and grandparents.  

Next, as I explored in an earlier piece, the Hispanic population trends have arguably had the most acute impact on the Orlando market, where the growth has been driven by Puerto Rican residents, who unlike immigrant Hispanic populations, can vote the first day they land in Florida.  And while not as dramatic, some of these same trends can be seen in Tampa, though as former Floridian Beth Reinhard wrote in the authoritative piece on Hillsborough County, Tampa still remains the cornerstone swing area.

Take the difference between 2008 and 2012 in just voter registration, where minority voter registration was twice as high as white voter registration.  When the books closed on 2012, there were some 300,000 more Hispanic voters than 2008, roughly 150,000 more black (African American and Caribbean American) voters, with roughly a similar 150,000 white voters.  Among the Hispanics, right 90% of the growth accrued to either Democrats or Independents/NPA voters.  Specifically, only 32,000 of the 300,000 were Republicans.  

But when it all boils down, the last four elections have roughly looked something like this:  Tie, Bush +5, Obama +3, Obama +1.  More specifically, the average Bush two-party vote margin of win was 2.8 points, while the average Obama win was 1.8 points, both within the margin of error of most polling.  And as mentioned above, add up all the votes over the last four elections, and the 70,000 votes separating the two parties equates to a 0.2% GOP advantage.  

In other words, Florida is Florida, and at 29 electoral votes for 2016 and 2020, expect it to be fully in play for the next few cycles.


The Next Chapter...


I am excited to announce that as of last week, I have left the Florida Justice Association and embarked on my own.

For me, this decision boils down to one thing: in June, my career in Florida politics will hit its seventeenth anniversary. Over those 17 years, I've had opportunities to do many amazing things:  work in the Legislature for nearly a decade, run the Democratic Party's most successful legislative cycle, and play a meaningful role in the election and re-election of a President. I've truly been blessed by the old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times," or as my nephew might say, "I'm just livin' the dream."

But along with those 17 years has also come 500-600K miles on the car and literally thousands of nights on the road -- many years -- particularly those ending in even numbered years, seeing the nights away rival the number of nights at home.  And while I can probably give a GPS a run for its money for giving directions between almost any two points in Florida,  as well as provide with both restaurant and hotel suggestions, quite frankly, after spending 17 years working for other people, I've reached a point in my career when I am ready for new challenges.

As a result, I have made the decision to jump into government and public affairs world. I have some very cool projects that you will likely hear about in coming days and weeks, but mostly, I am ready to get out on my own.   And before my political operative friends get too relaxed, I am also looking forward to playing at least a little politics along the way!  But along the same lines, I am also excited about jumping into to some of the real and pressing issues facing our state and our future. 

I also plan on re-engaging in this space.  Florida will once again be front and center in the national conversation in both 2014 and 2016, providing more than enough opportunities for analysis and punditry.  There is no better place in America to practice politics than Florida, and in our ever dynamic state, there is never a shortage of topics to explore.

So stay tuned.  And in the meantime, you can always reach me at or follow me on Twitter @steveschale




The Ten Most Interesting Fla State Leg Races

With qualifying over, there is now a chance to look at the field as a whole and the races to watch.  The following ten races aren't necessarily ranked in the order of the most competitive, or the most likely to flip, but instead from my perspective, are going to be the most interesting to watch.  Because of the plot lines in the state senate, there are more state senate races than state house.

So here goes (and feel free to disagree in the comments section):

10.  Darren Soto v Will McBride. (Senate District 14) Looking at the district demographics, this shouldn't be a race, and in the end, it wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't one.  Soto, who was first elected in a 2007 special election, has served three terms in the Florida House and remains the most significant elected Puerto Rican in Florida.  His election to the State Senate was all but certain until Will McBride, a prominent attorney in Orlando, threw his hat in to the ring.  McBride, who has the personal capacity to make this race interesting, may be the best candidate the Republicans could throw at Soto.  Quite honestly, he would have had a much better shot running in a friendlier district vs Grayson.  That being said, the numbers are really working against McBride, which is why this race isn't ranked higher.

9.   Scott Plakon vs Karen Castor Dental (House District 30) - In the musical chairs of House redistricting in Central Florida, Scott Plakon found himself going from a predictably Republican district to one that is far more competitive.  Plakon is very likable and an authentic conservative --- and anyone, Republican or Democrat who goes on the Daily Show wins a few points in my book.  Castor Dental is a school teacher and working mother from Seminole County, and daughter of Betty Castor, and is a very impressive candidate in her own right.  My sense is both will have little problem raising money in what could be the most high profile competitive state house seat in the Orlando area.

8.   Mack Bernard vs Jeff Clemens (Dem Primary, Senate District 27).  Had Kevin Rader stayed in this race, it would probably have moved a little higher up the board, but regardless, this is the classic new Democrat vs progressive Democrat race.  Clemens has won the support of much of labor, while Bernard is supported by the school voucher community.  It is not a majority black district, but the large African American and Caribbean American pockets in the district mean that the black vote could be as much as 35% of the primary in a low turnout Palm Beach County election.

7. Alex Diaz de la Portilla/Gus Barriero v Javier Jose Rodriguez (Primary/General, House District 112).  At the last minute, former State Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla (DLP) threw his hat into the ring for HD 112, a move that forced the highly impressive Eric Padron to drop his bid.  However, DLP's run back to Tallahassee isn't an easy one.  First up is former State Representative Gus Barriero, who is making a second comeback attempt after a scandal forced him to resign from the Crist administration.  Assuming DLP gets past this race, he then has to get past one of the more impressive Democrats running this year, Jose Javier Rodriguez.  It is Miami, so buckle up.

6.  Tom Lee vs Rachel Burgin (GOP primary, Senate District 24).   The Jerry Springeresque drama surrounding the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser led State Senator Ronda Storms to abandon her re-election efforts and run against the Property Appraiser.  This has created a classic establishment GOP vs. grassroots/tea party GOP primary in eastern Hillsborough County.  Tom Lee, a former President of the State Senate, is seeking a return to the legislature with the support of the GOP establishment, while Burgin, who sort of comes from establishment roots (she was a legislative assistant appointed to fill the spot of her boss, when he suddenly resigned), is running as the tea party alternative. 

5. Dwight Dudley v Frank Farkas (House District 68).  For about a decade, this north St. Pete House seats has produced some of the most watched races in the State House.  This year is no different.  On the GOP side, the likely nominee is Frank Farkas, who served four terms in the House from 1998-2006 and falls very much into the model of a Pinellas moderate Republican.  On the Democratic side, Dwight Dudley, an impressive attorney with a record of St. Petersburg community involvement.  The district leans a little Democratic, but that never stopped Farkas when he was in the House.  If the Democrats hope to have a good year in 2012, this is the kind of seat they have to win.

4.  Jeff Brandes v Jim Frishe (GOP primary, Senate District 22).  With Senator Jack Latvala deciding to run in the North Pinellas-based seat vacated by term-limited Dennis Jones, this south Pinellas Senate seat is once again home to a barn-burner of a race.  Jim Frishe is a longtime Pinellas pol, currently in his second tour of duty in the Florida House of Representatives.   Jeff Brandes is the newcomer, elected in 2010 to the Florida House, bringing ambition and personal wealth to the race.  This is another race that could have Senate Presidency ramifications and is definitely one to watch.

3.  Mike Weinstein vs Aaron Bean (GOP primary, Senate District 4).  Weinstein, who is from Jacksonville, enters the race with significant support from local GOP political and fundraising players, including the former and founding owner of the Jacksonville Jaguarsand many, if not most local elected officials.  Bean, who is from Nassau County, which is a small fraction of the district (he does now work in Duval), comes into the race with the support of many in the statewide GOP establishment.  My Tallahassee friends say Bean wins.  My Jacksonville friends say Weinstein wins.  It is Duval County Republican establishment versus Florida Republican establishment in this race that could have significant implications on the future leadership of the Senate.

2. Frank Bruno vs Dorothy Hukill (Senate District 8). This race, pitting Volusia County Council Chairman Frankl Bruno and 4-term State Representative, Dorothy Hukill, could easily turn out to be the most competitive state senate general election race come November. Bruno, who very well could be the single best State Senate Democratic recruit in a decade, comes to the race as a proven winner in Volusia County with strong Republican support. Hukill, a veteran state legislator and former local elected official is no slouch in her own right. It is a classic 50:50 district and could very well be that way all the way to Election Day.

1. Maria Sachs v Ellyn Bogdanoff (Senate District 34).  For the first time in decades (probably since Florida went to single-member districts), redistricting has put two incumbent state senators into the same district.   On paper, Sachs has the edge.  The district has a strong Democratic lean, and if this was a true open seat, would probably be close to a "Likely Democratic" seat.  But it isn't really an open seat.  Bogdanoff has represented a good chunk of the district for going on a decade and has survived some tough races.  Sachs is impressive in her own right, serving as a prosecutor early in her legal career.  This race could set some records for state senate spending as both sides see this as a must win.


Five Things to Watch During Qualifying Week

When the doors open at the Division of Elections tomorrow, surely there will be a few candidates in line to be the first to officially qualify for the ballot.  But as the week moves towards Friday at Noon, when candidate qualifying ends, there will undoubtedly be a few surprises.

Monday marks my ninth candidate qualifying week and there have been some unique moments, like the year Katherine Harris published incorrect qualifying fees, and some 100+ candidates had to fed-ex up an extra check for $43.20 in order to make the ballot, the year that the Fed-Ex plane crashed during qualifying week at Tallahassee International, or probably the most dramatic moment I can remember, when then Attorney General Bob Butterworth made the last minute (and in retrospect ill-advised) decision to resign as Attorney General and run for the State Senate.

This year seems more pro-forma than most, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few things to watch out for. Next week, I will post on races to watch, but until then, here are five things I will be keeping my eye on during qualifying week.

5.  Does anyone bail on a Congressional run?

There are three state legislators who are running for Congress still with time left on their legislative term limits, and all three are facing increasing odds of winning.  While there is no indication that any of them are considering bailing on their Congressional races, strange things happen to politicians when faced with the reality of qualifying.  Whether or not State Senator Steve Oelrich and State Representatives Fred Costello and Leonard Bembry qualify for Congress, or decide to jump back into their legislative races is something to watch. 

4. How many of the lucky unopposed will remain that way?

It isn't odd for incumbents in safe seats to be re-elected without opposition, but it is odd for candidates in open seats or candidates in swing districts to return to office without opposition. 

Right now, four candidates are on the verge of going to the State Senate without facing opposition:  Rob Bradley (Jacksonville), Wilton Simpson (Pasco), Denise Grimsley, Bill Galvano, and several more in the House. 

3.  How many swing districts will go unchallenged?

There are several incumbent districts that can be considered competitive where no Democratic candidate has filed: Dana Young (Tampa), Bill Hager (Palm Beach), Ray Pilon (Sarasota) to name the obvious ones. In addition, the north Volusia open seat vacated by Fred Costello is a GOP only fight.  How many of these will end up getting a pass?

2.  Miami, Miami, Miami -- Most notably, DLP family politics. 

Last week was home to the rumor that Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla might challenge one of this Miami colleagues in order to make room for his brother, former Senator Alex Diaz de la Portilla, to make a comeback to the Senate.  Right now, Alex is filed against Democratic State Senator Gwen Margolis, in a district that Margolis is going to win.  Clearly he wants to return to Tallahassee. Being that is Miami, anything could happen in this story before Friday at noon.

1a.  What is the unknown this week?

As mentioned above, in recent years, we have had planes crash, administrative messes at Department of State, and many last minute political plays.  Who is going to fill out a form incorrectly, break down on the way to Tallahassee, forget to resign from local office, or fail to fed-ex their paperwork for Friday morning delivery?  There is always an unexpected surprise, and surely, 2012 will be no different. 

1.  See Jack Run, wherever Jack runs.  

This is by far the biggest piece of unresolved drama -- does Jack Latvala run for re-election in the North Pinellas district, which is essentially his old old seat, or does he run for re-election in the South Pinellas district, which is the district he currently represents?  Running for re-election in the southern district would essentially mean he is putting his own political career at risk in order to win the Senate Presidency, as he would face a well-funded Jeff Brandes.  All of this assumes that his ally, Jim Frishe agrees to run in North Pinellas.  But if this happens, it would be the ultimate political all-in move by Latvala. 



Quick Take on Florida Q Poll

It didn't take long following the release of the Florida Q poll for my phone to blow up this morning. Before I get into the poll, there are a few facts important to remember.

1. Polls right now are meaningless. At this point in the 2008 cycle, the Real Clear Politics average had McCain up 8 over Obama, and about a month ago, another poll showed Obama up 5 over Romney. They will ebb and flow, but in the end don't really matter now, because...

2. We know Florida is going to come down to a few points. Add up 32 million Florida votes over the 5 Presidentials from 1992-2008 and less than 60,000 votes separate the two major political parties.

So, about the poll.

First, it is important to keep in mind Florida's registered and likely voter make-up.

Here in Florida, roughly 40% of voters are Democratic, 36% are Republican and the rest are minor or no party affiliated. Furthermore, about 67% of voters are white and roughly 13% are African-American (or Caribbean American) and the same are Hispanic.

In terms of what the electorate will look like on election day in 2012, by my estimate is it will be roughly 42% Democratic, 40% Republican and 18% minor/NPA -- and using 2008 as a bit of a guide, roughly 70% white, 13% African American (or Caribbean American) and 12-13% Hispanic.

The Q poll, which gave Mitt Romney a 6 point lead, weighed out at 37% Republican, 29% Democratic and 29% Independent. It also landed at over 80% white, 8% Hispanic and 7% African America and Caribbean American. There is no scenario where the Florida votes will look like this on Election Day 2012.

In fact, if you go back to the last Q poll, which had the race 44-43 Romney earlier this month, that poll also had a bizarre electorate make-up of about 32R-30D-28NPA, again a scenario that is simply not going to happen on Election Day.

On its face, the simple fact that their sample is 6 points more Republican than the last one will show a significantly bigger GOP lead. One other little critique: They polled over six days, which in politics is a lifetime, not a snapshot.

All other things being equal, if you take all the rest of the internals on their face, which in fairness, given their African-American and Hispanic samples, is a little hard to do, and you simply re-weigh their counts with a reasonable Election Day turnout model, you end up with a 46-44 race, which is by polling definition, a dead heat.

So there you go. Florida, Florida, Florida.


'Movers and Shakers' Interview

During the GOP primary in Florida, I sat down with Shane D'Aprile of Campaigns and Elections Magazine to discuss all things Florida.

Check out the full interview here.


Orlando Rising

On Election Night 2008, my usual election night jitters ended immediately at 7:05 PM EST, when the early vote in Orange County had us up by some 60,000 votes. It was over. No Democrat had come close to that margin, and there was no way John McCain could make it up elsewhere.

In fact, one of my favorite moments of that night was exchanging emails with a certain Democratic cable TV pundit who has a fair amount of Florida history. Upon seeing the early Orlando number, given that Kerry had won Orange County by a mere 1,000 votes, that pundit sent me an email which read "wow, Orlando just ended the McCain presidential campaign." (It was actually more colorful, but this is a G-rated blog!)

In the end, Obama carried Orange County by 85,000, and two years later despite losing, Alex Sink carried Orange by 30,000 votes, compared to Jim Davis, who lost the county by 20,000. Somethinig was clearly happening.

I've spent a few months pondering that question because quite simply, if current population growth trends continue, the Orlando media market could overtake both Miami and Tampa in the next twenty years; and if the core of that market, metro-Orlando, continues to take a big turn towards the Democrats, the statewide and even national political implications are stunning.

The point of this piece is to look at what is happening in Central Florida, which in this instance, is specifically the counties of Orange, Osceola and Seminole. When I refer to Orlando below, I am referring to these three counties. While parts of other counties can be considered metro-Orlando, it is these three counties that make up the heart of the community -- and are undergoing the most radical changes.

Metro Orlando at a Glance

Let me start by laying out a few interesting facts. Like most of my blog posts, I look at data from the five Presidentials between 1992 and 2008. Why those five? Well, 1992 is essentially the birthdate of Florida as a truly battleground state.

First, since 1992, some 2.7 million voters have cast a ballot for President in these three counties, and a mere 6700 votes separate them. However, it is important to know that the Democrats only carried the region once, in 2008, by over 100,000 votes. The other four times, the GOP won.

Secondly, the metro Orlando area has grown from 7.5% of the statewide vote in 1992 to 9.1% of the statewide vote in 2008. Furthermore, its share of the statewide vote has grown by more than 1/2 a percentage point every election cycle, regardless of turnout changes or other statewide factors. If these factors continue, and given the growth in the community, they likely will continue, the metroplex alone will be more than 10% of the statewide vote by 2020, and in 2016, it could very well have more voters than Dade County.

Next, and here is where it is very important: the growth in the statewide vote share is driven almost entirely by the Democratic side of the equation. Here's why:

In 1992, the area made up 7.5% of the statewide vote. However, for Republicans, 8.5% of their vote came from the three county area in 1992, compared to just 6.4% for the Democrats.

Fast forward to 2008, the area made up 9.1% of the statewide vote. The Republican number remains pretty steady, with the region making up 8.2% of their vote, however, the Democratic number had skyrocketed, with 10.1% of their statewide vote coming from metro-Orlando.

In terms of real numbers, or vote margins, the Republicans won the metro-Orlando area by some 51,000 votes in 1992 (more than half of their statewide margin), while in 2008, Obama carried the same three counties by over 100,000, which was nearly half of his statewide margin.

And as the area grows, it becomes a bigger share of the pie for Democrats, but not for Republicans. While the statewide share of the Republican vote coming from the area remains constant over five cycles, it has grown by some 40% for Democrats.

So what is driving this? Conventional wisdom suggests Puerto Rican growth, which is what I expected the data to bare out. In this case, that answer is more than half right, but it isn't the entire story.

Time to pull some census data.

In 2000, the metro area had roughly 1.4 million residents. Over the decade, the three county area added another 436K residents, putting the total population at just under 1.85m. (Unfortunately, I don't have good 1990 data at the county level).

Of that 436,000 resident increase, 119K can be attributed to Puerto Rican growth. In other words, roughly 27% of the total growth in the Orlando area comes from Puerto Ricans. For the purpose of this piece, I focus specifically on Puerto Ricans to the exclusions of other Hispanics, since every new Puerto Rican over the age of 18 is eligible to vote the day they move to the Orlando area.

But Puerto Ricans are not the entire story. African-Americans are just as big of a story -- and in the case of the 2012 election, may be a bigger part. Here's why.

Of the same 436K resident increase, 106K are African-American residents. In other words, the raw increase in residents among Puerto Ricans and African-Americans was almost equal. Now, when you add the non-Puerto Rican Hispanic, overall Hispanic population grew at a much larger rate, but again, this exercise is designed to look at what is happening at the ballot box, and for many, if not most new non-Puerto Rican Hispanic residents, there is a lag time between moving and voting.

And it these census trends that are driving registration and voting behaviors.

Unfortunately, Hispanics are not always reported as a separate ethnic category, and in the past have been classified as either white or black when aggregating state voter data.

While this limits the analysis, there are still some interesting data points:

First, since 1994, voter registration in the three counties has grown almost twice as fast as the state as a whole. Secondly, Democrats are gaining voters in Central Florida over that same period twice as fast as Republicans. In fact, in 1994, Republicans made up 50% of the region's voters, while today, the number is 33%. Democrats on the other hand have held steady, at 41% (independents have sky-rocketed, growing by nearly 600% over the last 18 years). More simply, in 1994, Republicans had an 8 point advantage in registration in 1994 and today, the Democrats have an 8 point advantage.

But what is driving that change? The Secretary of State only has available race by party by county data going back to 2006, but that data alone is very telling. Between 10/2006 and the GOP Presidential primary in January of 2012, the region gained roughly 84,000 new voters, with more than 75% of them either African American or Hispanic. Of these African American or Hispanic voters, over 84% registered as Democrats, split nearly evenly between African Americans and Hispanics. Only 6% of the same voters registered as Republicans.

At the same time, white voters only grew by 7% between 2006-2012, and only 12% of those registered Republican. In total, over that 5+ year period, which included the 2010 debacle for my party, Democrats added nearly 62,000 new voters, while the GOP lost 115.

All of the sudden, the reasons behind the jump from Kerry's narrow regional loss in 2004 and Obama's significant regional win in 2008 seems more obvious.

Looking Ahead...

There is a lot that could be written, but here are a few macro level thoughts.

First, despite the conventional wisdom that Hispanic growth is alone fueling the political change in Orlando, at least in the 2008 election, there is some evidence that African-American voter growth played an equal --and maybe even bigger role in terms of the trends that led to Obama's stunning 2008 margin. Turnout was higher in Orange County, which has a higher percentage of African-Americans than Puerto Ricans on its voting roles, than it was in Osceola, where the numbers are essentially reversed. The turnout difference wasn't significant, but it is enough to argue that the electoral outcome changes in metro-Orlando are being driven both by Puerto Rican and African-American growth.

Secondly, the demographic trends in metro Orlando aren't changing anytime soon. Between 2000 and 2010, the non-Hispanic white population remained basically stagnant, meaning that as a percentage of the population, non-Hispanic whites drooped from over 55% of the three-county population to just over 40%. At the same time, Puerto Ricans grew from 9% to roughly 15%, and African Americans grew from 15 to 17% of area residents.

Looking just at the race in November, while I don't think the electorate will grow as much between 2008 and 2012 as it did in the preceding four years, even at a relatively modest 8.6 million turnout projection for 2012, given the current population and partisan trends, a close election would likely net the Democrats a margin of 125-150K votes in these three counties. In a 2000esque tight election, that probably flips the state to the Democrats.

Next, and maybe the biggest piece, is potential for real emergence of Puerto Rican political leadership over the next few years. The Puerto Rican community has been under-represented in elected office, but that is changing---and will specifically change at the state level in 2012, as the region goes from one to three state legislators, with the opportunity to elect a Puerto Rican member of Congress. Given the fact that over time, this population will continue to grow faster than African-Americans, and more political participation will hopefully lead to higher voter turnout, making this already critical voting bloc even more important.

And finally, third, as metro Orlando grows, it will become a bigger share of the state and more important for Democrats. While winning Florida still starts and ends with winning key swing counties and suburban swing voters, the changing Orlando area means that one fundamental component could be changing. For years, a push among swing voters usually went to the GOP, given their slight edge in base voters. However a changing Orlando area could tilt the I-4 corridor in such a way that a push among swing voters will now go to the Democrats.

The basic promise of a competitive Florida has generally lied in the calculus that Democrats down south and Republicans up north cancel each other out, and battle for the statewide prize in the Tampa and Orlando media markets. But if the three counties around Orlando continue to trend in the coming decade and beyond like they have in recent years, the fundamental balance of the I-4 will shift. I'll let you ponder what that means.


Here we go again, Florida.

Everyday of this primary seems to last a week.  As I sit down tonight to really plow through the public polling of the day, the Quinnipiac Florida Primary Poll, which hit my inbox around 6:00 AM, seems like a lifetime ago.  Lots of numbers got tossed out there today, so I am going to try to make a little sense of it --- as much for my own edification as for yours!

Two polls came out today showing Romney with a two point lead.  Quinnipiac shows Romney holding a 2 point lead (36-34) with Gingrich surging, and another CNN, also has it at 36-34, but with Romney surging.  In truth, both could be nearly right, since the margin of error on they daily subgroups is very high.  That being said, there is information in both is both good news and bad news, though as you will see, there are lots of things that should make Gingrichworld nervous.

Since Gingrich is the insurgent candidate in this case, I'll take a look at it from his perspective.

Good news for Gingrich

  • In both polls, he is much better off than he was two weeks ago.  The Q poll has Gingrich's vote share up 16 points, and Romney's down 7.  That is a 23 point shift in a week.  Last week Gingrich was going to get run out of Florida like UNC losing to Florida State.  CNN also shows him growing, gaining ten points in the two weeks since their last poll.
  • The Q poll also looked at a number of leadership traits, and by and large,  Gingrich is creaming Romney.  Voters think he is far better qualified to handle foreign policy questions (+27 over Romney), better prepared to handle a crisis (+15), and has the knowledge and experience to be President (+19). 
  • They also believe Gingrich are more competent (+3), and that is helping drive your surge.  Since his South Carolina win, he's gone from a 10 point deficit to a 13 point lead in this category.
  • He seems to be winning the is energy/enthusiasm battle on the ground. Gingrich will also a find himself in a much better position communication wise, with the Super PAC buy really kicking in over the last five days.  No longer will the airwaves be left alone to Romney.

Bad News for Gingrich

  • They like Romney better.  Winning didn't do a lot for Gingrich favorables.  In the Q poll, his favorables are 10 points less than Romney, and he has higher unfavorables.  He also have a 12 point gender gap in his favorables among men (67) and women (55), while Romney is liked almost equally by both---which explains why women give Romney a seven point advantage, essentially driving his margin.
  • They think Romney can win.  The Q poll has Romney with a 14 point advantage, and while Gingrich have definitely moved the needle since South Carolina (voters after the primary only give him a +3 advantage, Gingrich still trails -- or at best are tied with him (PPP had it 37-37)
  • And winning matters.  "Defeating Obama" has an 8 point advantage over "Shares my Values" -- a margin that has grown slightly since the South Carolina primary.
  • Finally, they trust Romney more on the economy, by a 17 point margin.  

 In the wash, it feels like Romney is in a better spot, though not by much.  And with another debate on Thursday night, we could be looking at a very different race yet again come the weekend.