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Florida State House Rankings, May 2016

Six months before Election Day, now that the candidates and races are starting to develop, I wanted to take a look at my favorite of all subjects:  State House races.

For those of you all who don't know me well, I cut my teeth in the Florida House.  State House races are my first political love, and for young rising operatives, I believe them to be the best of all proving grounds.  Almost everything you do running for President, Governor, Congress, etc., you do running for the State House, just at a smaller scale.  

There are a lot of fun races this year, with the Democrats largely playing offense - though many of their best shots are against incumbents, which is typically a tougher bet.  As you will see, of the ten races profiled below, there is only one in the Democratic column.  Some folks might thing I am home-teaming this thing, but honestly, I could argue that one doesn't belong there either, as it isn't really at much risk and is included more for balance.  One other caveat, this is how I see these races today, but much can and will change.  I am pretty sure if we checked with a group of Republican and Democratic strategists, you'd find consensus that the map will be fought on the GOP side this year. 

I have ranked these seats in order of their likelihood to flip from one party to the other, with 10 being the least likely, to 1 being the most likely.   So here goes:

10.  HD 68 (Dudley Open):  Dwight Dudley's surprise decision to retire from the House has created an open seat in traditionally one of the top battleground districts in Florida.  The top of the ticket results would argue this seat is just barely a swing seat, though given both the Pinellas voter registration trends and the potential of a bruising Democratic primary, this seat barely makes the list. In 3 months, there is a good chance it will have fallen off.

9. HD 72 (Pilon Open):  If Pilon had run for re-election, this would be an honorable mention, but now that it is an open seat. it makes the first round of rankings.  The Democratic candidate, Edward James, comes from an established Sarasota family and has raised a significant war chest.  The Republican, Alex Miller, is formidable in her own right. Based on candidate quality alone, this should be higher up the list.  However, the district is quite marginal for Democrats.  Both Romney and Scott won the seat by a few points, and given the older -- and whiter make-up of the seat, it is a place less likely to be impacted by Trump.  Keep an eye on it, and ask me again in three months.

8. HD 69 (Peters Challenge):  This is one of the "swingiest" of seats in one of the swingiest of counties.  Kathleen Peters.  Both Obama and Crist won the seat by a few points, and there is no reason to think that Trump/Clinton won't have a similar outcome.  The incumbent has played it smart, avoiding ideological pits, focusing on mental health as her primary issue.  The Democratic candidate, Jennifer Webb, is a bit unknown at this point, hence this seat not being higher up the list.  In three months this could be a real race, or it might not even be on this list. But given the make-up of the district, it will be one to watch.

7. HD 120 (Raschein Challenge):  Two reasons this race makes the list:  the district's historical performance, and the problems Trump creates for all Republicans in South Florida.  As a legislator in a vulnerable seat, Holly has done everything right.  Full disclosure, she's been a friend for many years (we were staff together in the House) thus I hate even including her on this list.  Objectively, she has one of the more bipartisan voting records in Tallahassee, works hard for her district, and she's effectively scared off all top tier opponents.  But in her district, particularly in a Presidential year, any opponent is a threat.  Obama won the seat by six points, and with a good chunk of the district in heavily Hispanic South Dade, a Trump implosion with Hispanics could hurt her.  I expect her to win, but she's going to have to grind it out in a tough environment for her.

6. HD 47 (Miller Challenge):  Like HD 30 - which isn't even on the list at this point, this seat should be further up the list for Dems.  The top of the ticket statewide for the Democrats has carried the seat in each of the last four elections, but at this point, no Democratic candidate has emerged as a top tier challenger, and Miller is sitting on $100K, which is a respectable number.  However, the D's won the seat easily in 2012 against a fairly formidable opponent, and Orlando is one of those places where Trump could create problems for Republicans.  Miller starts with the edge, but can't take anything for granted.

5. HD 59 (Spano Challenge): Spano's opponent, Rena Frazier, is flat out one of the better recruits the Dems had in years.   The district is very much up for grabs at the top of the ticket, and voter registration is trending a bit Democratic.  That beind said, Spano is a heavyweight in his own right, well liked and a hard worker.  He won a four way primary in his first race over opponents he was not supposed to beat.  However, there is no question that Rena is the best general election opponent he has faced.  If Tom Lee runs for local office, and Spano takes a shot at the Senate, look for this one to move up the rankings.

4. HD 63 (Harrison Challenge):  On paper, of the two GOP held swing seats in Hillsborough, this one is definitely more favorable to the Democrats.  Obama carried the seat by a 5-6 points, and swept in Mark Danish over Harrison in 2012.  This time around, he faces a better candidate in Lisa Montelione, a Tampa City Council member who has had a respectable early fundraising show, and a weaker GOP nominee in Trump.  A GOP wave swept Harrison into office in 2010, out of office in 2012, back into office in 2014... you get the idea. He's generally carved out the kind of voting record you need in a seat like this, but to win, he has to buck the district's recent history.  If Tom Lee runs for the Senate, and Harrison takes his shot, this seat probably moves to #2 or #3 on this list.

3.  HD 103 (Diaz Challenge):  I don't think there is a single Republican incumbent in the State House more hurt by Donald Trump than Manny Diaz Jr., who is legitimately one of the nicest guys in town.  Going into re-election, he's got three major problems:  The seat is moving away from him -- quickly, he's running against one of the D's better candidates, and Trump.  Voter registration has trended away from Republicans, and this is the kind of seat where NPA voters lean Democratic -- and that is before the Trump factor.  He will have a ton of financial support, his race will be competently managed, and as a guy who cut his teeth in a district where we were called dead every cycle, I never count anyone out -- and no one can count Diaz out either.  But unless something changes, he clearly starts out as the most vulnerable incumbent.

2. HD 114 (Fresen Open):  Always one of the better opportunities for Democrats, this open seat has quickly rocketed to the top, now that it is all but sure that Trump will be the GOP nominee.  Both parties have top tier candidates in this seat.  Both parties will play heavily in this rare Dade County open swing seat.  But the D's have two major factors helping them:  like all of Dade, this seat is trending Democratic -- and Trump right now appears to be an anchor for Republicans with Hispanics. The Democratic candidate, Daisy Baez, put a real scare into Fresen in 2014, which was a horrible year for Democrats.   In a year where Hillary Clinton will likely beat Trump in Dade County by 30 or more points, Baez at this point is in an exceptionally strong position.

1. HD 49 (Coach P Open).  With all due respect to Rene Plasencia (Coach P), who is the perfect Republican in this lean Democratic seat, and who ran a near perfect campaign -- this is not a seat the Democrats should have lost, even in 2014. Obama carried the seat in 2012 by roughly twenty points, and Crist easily defeated Scott.  Coach P, a teacher and track coach, has decided to seek re-election in a neighboring seat, much more favorable to the Republicans.  I honestly don't think the GOP is even contesting this one.  Unless something exceptionally odd happens, the Democratic candidate, my buddy Carlos Smith, will win this seat. 

And here are a few that you should keep an eye on:

HD 30 (Cortes Challenge):  If I had written this column six months ago, this seat which has flipped from R to D to R in the last few cycles would have probably 5th or 6th on this list  It has all the makings of a battleground seat - central Florida, tight races at the top of the ticket, trending Hispanic, etc.  But to date, Cortes has fended off a top tier opponent.  Depending on what happens over the next three months, this will either move completely off, or move into top tier status.

HD 9 (Vasilinda Open):  Some Republicans see this as a pick-up opportunity, but I  think this seat is far more competitive on paper than it is in reality.  The top of the ticket Democrat has carried it by respectable margins, such as Crist, who won it by more than 10.  The one blip: 2012, where Obama won the seat by a narrower 5 points.  That being said, well known and well liked former State Representative Loranne Ausley has filed, is absolutely killing it on fundraising.  The GOP also has a good candidate, though not nearly as well known as Loranne -- nor as good as Peter Boulware, who failed to win the seat in 2008.  Loranne alone is probably a 3-4 point boost on top of the seat's Democratic performance.  Plus Loranne is an Ironman finisher -- she knows how to work. By the numbers, it is one to watch, but I suspect Loranne wins by double digits.

HD 93 (Moratis Challenge):  Representative Moratis holds down the one red seat in Blue Broward.  It is one of these seats that looks better on paper for Democrats than it is in reality, but this year he has drawn an interesting opponent, former Broward County Commissioner Ken Keechl.  Keechl will have real name ID, and has a fundraising base.  Romney won this seat in 2012, but I suspect this is a seat where Clinton should outperform Obama.  In no way yet can you say Moratis is vulnerable, but that doesn't mean he or the GOP can turn a blind eye to this race.

Almost every single Dade County Republican Legislative seat:  I have felt for several years that one day, on the Wednesday after the election, we will wake up and the Democrats will have won several seats in Dade County that no one saw coming.  This might be the year.  These incumbents all live in seats Obama either one or lost in narrow margins:  Trujillo, Oliva, Bileca, Artiles (Open), and Nunez.  In the other two, Avila and Pepe Diaz, the voter registration and Presidential top of the ticket trend lines are working against the Republicans, though they are in far safer seats for Republicans than the other five.  Right now, none of the above have Democratic candidates that merit inclusion on this list, though I have heard the Democrat getting into the Artiles open could be formidable.  But that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention.  In 2012, Jeff Soloman put a much closer than expected five point scare into Bileca -- and if the D's had thrown a candidate into almost any of the other seats, Obama might have pulled another Mark Danish or Carl Zimmermann across the line.  If Trump loses Dade by 30 points or more -- which is extremely possible at this point -- I would bet lunch that at the wave carries one of the above to the Dem column.

Like everything in politics, this is all subject to change.  I'll take another stab at this after qualifying.  In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to drop me a note.


Can #NeverTrump Actually Assure America is #NeverTrump?

While we've ended up on the opposite sides of many a political fight, there are few people I respect more in the business than Mac Stipanovich.  In many ways, Mac is the original GOP operative of the modern Florida political world.  While he is a proud member of the GOP establishment, few people have been more disruptive in Florida than Mac.  

One of the things I admire about him, he is a patriot more than a partisan, and while frankly only an idiot would question his GOP credentials, no one is going to tell him what to do either. Mac's support is earned, not assumed. Frankly, it is a place in life that I aspire to reach myself.  And in this election, Mac is firmly #NeverTrump. 

After 20 years in the business, there are a few things I've found consistent.   One of them -- to steal a phrase from ESPN's Chris Berman is "no one circles the wagons like the Republican Party."  Time and time again, the GOP have driven the car off the edge of the Grand Canyon in a primary, only to somehow get the thing to land on four wheels stronger than when it started.  Frankly, I wish my side was more like that.

My personal history tells me that, notwithstanding the principled stands of guys like Mac and my buddy, chief #NeverTrump agitator Rick Wilson, that we should assume the GOP will rally behind their guy, because when it boils down to it, power and the White House -- for most -- will trump all else (pun intended).

But what if it is most, but not all of the GOP base, goes to Trump. 

What if the Mac's and Rick's add up to enough people that Trump earns 2% less of the GOP vote than Romney. What if they are 5% or even 8%?   What does that really mean?  Put more simply, how many Mac's and Rick's can Trump lose and still stand?

Let's start by looking at 2012.

According to the exit polls, Romney and Obama got nearly the same percentage of the partisan vote.  Obama got 90% of Dems, Romney 91% of Republicans.  Obama won the NPA vote by 3, and the net result was an Obama 0.9% win.  

Now the exit polls were based on self party ID -- 35% considered themselves Democrats, 33% Republicans and 33% NPA.  The good news, if we weight the exit polls to actual turnout, 40.3 D, 38.7R, 21 NPA, the party weights land at an Obama 0.7% win -- essentially the same as the exits.  So that model works pretty well for this exercise.

So let's start with how do we get Trump to a win?

Actually, all things being equal (chill out twitterverse, I know they are not -- this is just an exercise) if Trump wins the same share of the vote among Republicans as Romney (92%-8%), and Clinton got the same as Obama (90%-9), for Trump to win, he would need to carry the NPA vote by 1% (50-49%), compared to Obama winning them 50-47 in 2012.  The margin would be very tight, but he'd still win.

Now in reality, this alone is a huge climb for Trump.  More and more Hispanics and Blacks (both AfAm and Caribbean voters) are registering NPA, so the NPA pot is getting more diverse, hence more Democratic in a Presidential year turnout.  Because of this, a far more likely scenario is Trump on his best day losing NPAs by 3-5 points.

But for fun, let's assume that happens, and that Trump wins the NPA vote by a point.

So we start here:

If Trump and Clinton both win/lose exactly same share of their own party as Romney and Obama, and Trump wins NPA by 1%, Trump wins the election by about 0.2% 

But what if the #NeverTrump movement keeps the GOP from unifying...

Let's assume, #NeverTrump leads to a 2% reduction in GOP party loyalty -- or more specifically, rather than winning Republicans 92-8 like Romney, Trump wins them 90-10.  

In that case, Clinton wins the state by 0.5%.  And to make it back up, Trump would need to win NPA by a 54-46 margin (Again, Obama was +3).

What if that number rises to 5%, that #NeverTrump leads to Trump winning 87% of Republicans, not 92% (87-13)

In that case, Clinton wins the state by almost 4% if they all go to her.  Under this scenario, he'd need to win NPA by 20 points to make up the difference.

Even if none of them go to her -- they all just sit out (ie 87-8-5), she wins by 2%.  Under this scenario,  he'd still have to win NPA by 10 to make it up.

And lastly, what if the #NeverTrump number is 8%, the Trump share of the GOP vote is 8 points lower than Romney got -- in other words: 84-16 Trump/Clinton:

In this case, Clinton would win Florida by the largest margin of any candidate since Bush beat Dukakis in 1988 - well over 6 points.  In this case, he'd have to win the NPA vote by 31 points to make up the difference (65-34)

And even if not a single one of them voted for her -- so all 8% just sat out (84 Trump, 8 Clinton, 8 Don't Vote), she still wins by 3 points. To make it up, he'd need to win NPA by 15 points.

Again, this whole thing starts with the assumption he can win the NPA vote by a point, which I think is a massive uphill climb.  It also assumes that Clinton wins the same share of the vote among Democrats that Obama did in 2012.  Thanks to Trump, I am pretty confident of this.  

 In other words, Trumps path to victory is almost entirely dictated by his ability or inability to unify his base and turning #NeverTrump into #OKIGuessTrump.  And he has a lot of votes to earn. Right now, Trump's popular vote total is about 18% of the total votes that Romney won in the 2012 general election.  That is a lot of people for bring into the tent.

For Republicans like Mac, who believe that his party needs a post-Trump reset, the path to stopping Trump in a place like Florida is pretty simple, and it starts by just convincing a few of their partisan friends to follow their lead.


Dear Democrats: Think Trump Can't Win? Meet Rick Scott


Dear Democrats:

Well it is a done deal. Republicans have chosen Donald Trump as their nominee, and already, my social media timeline is full of Democrats & Republicans saying this election is over. And I am here to tell you that you are wrong.

Yes, I get it. We all cheered his getting into the race. I even told a national news outlet that his running was proof of a God that loved me. And down deep, we all thought it would flame out. But it didn't. And now he is one person away from the nuclear codes.

Trust me, I understand all of the reasons why he should lose. His misogyny is disgusting, his anti-immigration rhetoric is offensive, and his focus on Muslims is xenophobic pandering at its worst. His oppo file could fill the Library of Congress, and his business record is spectacularly awful. His numbers with Hispanics are almost statistically impossible, and his ratings among women aren’t much better. If this was a traditional election, this would be over. Book the plane ticket for the inauguration, rent the tux, buy the gown, and reserve the hotel room, because we are headed to a landslide of Johnson or Reagan proportions.

In the end, maybe it will be. But this isn’t a normal election, and these are not normal times. And in recent times, my state — one that elected Barack Obama with more than 50% of the vote twice — has proven it.

Two words: Rick Scott.

Rick Scott burst on to television screens across Florida in April 2010, announcing his decision to run. His delivery on camera was awkward and stilted, but his message was pretty simple: Tallahassee is broken, the economy is bad and “let’s get to work” to fix it.

He was so new to Florida that he almost failed the basic residency requirements to qualify for the ballot. And after a quick google search, you would have been justified in thinking the man had a screw loose. Rick Scott had been the CEO of a hospital chain which had paid the largest single fine for Medicare fraud in the nation’s history, and while he was never charged with a crime, he was forced to leave his job. That guy can’t win, can he? But Scott rolled the dice, betting GOP voter anger with the establishment would mean voter approach his business record with blinders.

His campaign played in a new ideological space for Florida. He openly embraced the Arizona immigration law, and stressed his outsider self-funding status. He also ran ads arguing that McCollum was soft on immigration, called him an insider engaged in crony capitalism, and even ran an ad lecturing President Obama about Muslim extremism and the plans to build a Mosque near Ground Zero. Like Trump, his message was laser focused on uniting a coalition of nativist xenophobic voters with people legitimately disaffected by the modern economy

In less than two months, Scott went from nowhere to leading the GOP field by a dozen or more points. Late in the game, in an effort similar to #NeverTrump, the GOP establishment swung back hard, going right at Scott’s character and preparedness to serve. And like this one — #NeverScott had its moments, but in the end, Scott narrowly won.

Any of this sound familiar?

On primary night, plenty of Democrats were congratulating themselves. I had Republicans texting to congratulate me on our win — 10 weeks out. But just a few days later, as the dust settled and Republicans came together, we found ourselves trailing him in our internal polls. The campaign against Scott was direct. But in the end, a united GOP, and the anti-incumbent, anti-Washington sentiment of 2010 carried him to a narrow victory. Four years later, the story was similar.

So Democrats, why do I tell you this story?

Simple. In 2010, I heard from donors, activists and voters alike one simple message: “Oh don’t worry, there is no way Rick Scott can win.” In fact, whenever I would publically warn Democrats to not underestimate Scott, I’d get a text or email saying something like this: He can’t win Steve, right?

And I hear the same things now.

In fact, the parallels are eerie. Like Scott, Trump has dominated the airwaves, albeit with free instead of paid media. His opponents can’t get a word in edgewise, except in debates — which like in 2010, proved to matter very little. And in 2010 and 2014, whenever one of Scott’s opponents would get traction, he’d write a check for more TV to drown them out, just like when Trump feels pressure, he says something outrageous to regain the media cycle.

In both of Scott’s wins, his personal favorable numbers were often Trumpesque — and it wasn’t that voters didn’t know about his issues — they chose to support him notwithstanding. Similarly, like Scott, Trump has gone to places with the GOP base that were previously off limits, tapping into fears and angers at their most core, while also branding himself as an outsider who is not corruptible by the political system. He’s embraced the tea party fringe, giving them the voice they want.

Rick Scott ran an exceptionally smart campaign. He understood how to brand himself. He has surrounded himself with very good people — many of whom I call friends today, who knew what they were doing. He chose running mates that tried to reassure key constituencies that he wasn’t that extreme. He learned how to appeal to his base at the right time, and when to pivot to the middle. He rightly gambled that #NeverScott would go away after the primary, and the establishment would quickly come together. He believed that economic and security concerns would matter more than his personal failings — and he expended the resources necessary to control the message dialogue. And sure, he got some good breaks.

Any of this sound familiar?

But more importantly, Scott, just like Trump today — not withstanding all the outrageous comments, tapped into the real economic anxiety that exists today. The reality is for many Americans, the modern economy that provided the quintessential American compact — work hard, and you too can live the American Dream, has really changed. Towns like the one I grew up in, Kankakee, IL, are fundamentally different than they were 30 years ago.

In many ways, America is better positioned today to lead the world economically than any time in the post WWII era. But if you are a 40 something year old guy in large swaths of America — like one of my childhood schoolmates who never got out of Kankakee, many who thought they would grow up and work in a factory for life just like their Dad, and his Dad, you wouldn’t know it. And just like Scott did, Trump has spoken to that economic reality in a way that has allowed voters to forget all of other candidate qualities that traditionally would have disqualified them. It is also why you see Sanders winning in some of the same kinds of places as Trump.

It isn’t the first time that America has gone through an economic transformation like this, and just like every time in the past, we are going to come out of it stronger. Like the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy between Reconstruction and WWI, this era will economically bumpy — and because of that bumpiness, there is a real, and understandable fear among many voters. We as Democrats like to win logical arguments, but as the 2016 election proved — and with all due respect, Rick Scott showed in 2010 and 2014, it is hard to have a logical argument with a worried, angry electorate.

Let’s be clear, Trump is a charlatan of the highest order. If you took away the party labels and the Trump brand, I suspect 75% of general election voters would reject him. But Donald Trump isn’t going to beat himself. Everyone is going to have to work like never before to keep it from happening. We need to come together, donate our time and treasure, organize ourselves, register voters, talk to our friends and neighbors, and make sure everyone gets out to vote.

How does Trump win? The same way as Scott won: An overwhelming microphone, tapping into the fears of the electorate — combined with a complacent Democratic base.

Can we beat Trump? Absolutely.

How do we beat Trump? Well, take his candidacy seriously, organize, register voters, talk to our neighbors and friends. We win it one conversation at a time — one voter at a time.

Will we beat him? Well, that is up to us.

So let’s get to work.


Steve Schale



The Democratic Nomination is Over. 

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

The facts on this are no longer disputable: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Happy Birthday Nana!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Nana!



Thoughts on Brussels

It was one of those conversations that changed everything.

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

Why does it seem like countries like yours have a lax attitude towards terrorism?

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

"You don't understand terrorism"

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is so easy to view these atrocities as us versus them, with them being some amorphous collection of people over there. Events like the murders in California, or the attacks of Paris and now Brussels shock our collective conscious, mainly because they disrupt the peaceful order. But what about those people who live in places where that peaceful order doesn't really exist? This isn't a once a year or once every few months kind of thing. For them, this is a fight they deal with daily, all while trying to do the things the rest of us do: go to work, taking care of family, and do their part for civil society. I am sure of one thing: all of the people currently fleeing places like Syria, or Egypt, Burma, the DRC, Nigeria and so many other places - they'd rather not be fleeing. Who wants to walk away from their home & all their possessions for an uncertain future?

Last year, the porter who helped me in the Johannesburg airport was formerly a lawyer in Kinshasa. You think that guy wants to be carrying bags for an American in South Africa? But that life was better than a life living in fear of terrorism and unrest. Again, that's his reality, and not of his own making.

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

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

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

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


Reality Check for Bernie --- and Florida Democrats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a nutshell, we have work to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Dumpster Fire Comes to Florida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Primary 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Indicators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The intangibles:

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

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

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

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


Will Florida Extinguish The Bern?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



2016 Florida Primary: Marco Rubio vs. History

Couple of interesting tidbits on the upcoming Florida primary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But more on that to come.

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


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