“If we don’t win, we’re cooked.”
That’s how one unnamed insider on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign described Florida’s importance in the race in a Bloomberg Businessweek article last week.
The article noted that Trump’s team is using a computer model to rank the states by order of importance. Florida was at the top, followed by Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia.
There is no scenario where Trump wins the presidency without winning Florida, which is why he campaigned so aggressively in the state last week, holding five rallies over three days, and will be back for more events this week.
After a long rough patch for Trump that saw him slide in the polls and consistently trail Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, the candidate saw a glimmer of hope in Florida last week when two new polls found him leading Clinton in the state.
A Bloomberg Politics survey had Trump beating Clinton by two percentage points while a poll from Dixie Strategies had Trump up by four. They were the first polls showing Trump leading Clinton in Florida in nearly a month. The improving poll numbers could help energize his supporters, along with the recent revelation that the FBI is investigating additional evidence concerning Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Some questioned the methods used in the Bloomberg poll. Steve Schale, the Democratic consultant who ran President Barack Obama’s Florida campaign in 2008, argued that Bloomberg over sampled Republicans and noted Clinton’s lead in other recent surveys.
“No one knows better than me how tough this state can be, and no one is going to blow anyone out here,” Schale wrote on his blog. “But (Clinton) is ahead. It is a fact. Now she has to turn out the vote.”
Regardless of Schale’s assessment, Trump supporters were eager to tout the favorable surveys.
Christian Ziegler, the Republican state committeeman for Sarasota County, posted the Bloomberg poll results on Facebook and wrote: “But the media has been telling me that this election is over?”
For anyone attending Trump’s rally in Tampa last week, the election certainly didn’t feel over. The candidate drew a crowd of more than 10,000 to MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre. It was an electric event, one frequently punctuated by deafening applause and chants of “USA, USA” and “Lock her up.”
Trump fans point to the big crowds at his rallies as proof of their candidate’s popularity, but crowd sizes can be a poor predictor of electoral outcomes. Just ask Bernie Sanders.
Early vote totals are more revealing. They show Democrats and Republicans are neck and neck in getting out to the polls.
As of early Friday, 1,171,142 Republicans and 1,156,793 Democrats had cast a ballot in Florida either through in-person early voting or absentee voting.
Voter turnout efforts over the next week could make or break the campaigns in Florida and Clinton’s ground game is widely viewed as superior to Trump’s in the state. But the Businessweek article notes that Trump is not just relying on Republican voter turnout, but also on Democratic “voter suppression.”
According to the article, Trump’s team has been working to dampen Democratic turnout with targeted attacks aimed at dimming enthusiasm for Clinton among three groups of voters: “idealistic white liberals, young women and African Americans.”
There are different strategies for each group. Radio and Facebook ads targeting African Americans highlight a 1996 quote where Clinton used the term “super predators” to describe some young African American men.
The “voter suppression” efforts are intended to compensate for Trump’s inability to expand his appeal among key demographics. But they are a gamble.
“There’s no scientific basis for thinking this ploy will convince these voters to stay home,” the article notes. “It could just as easily end up motivating them.
Strong voter turnout
Some political observers believe the intensely negative tone of this election and the fact that both candidates are disliked by a majority of voters could lead more people to stay home and not cast ballots.
That’s not what Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Cathy Dent is seeing, though.
By late Friday nearly a third of registered voters in Sarasota County already had cast ballots, a turnout figure Dent described as “on track” to match recent presidential elections. Voter turnout was proceeding at a similar pace in Manatee County last week during the first week of in-person early voting.
“With all the chaos that’s been going on I sort of wondered, ‘Are people going to just stay home?'” Dent said. “But it doesn’t look like that’s happening at all.”
There were 152,890 people in the two-county region who had either cast absentee ballots or voted in-person through late Friday, a 29 percent turnout.
Voter turnout hit 75 percent in Sarasota County in 2012. Dent believes the county will match that number or slightly exceed it this year.
“They’re coming out in droves and that’s good for our country,” she said.
As of Friday, 32,548 Democrats, 38,740 Republicans and 17,578 voters with no party or a minor party affiliation had cast ballots in Sarasota County. In Manatee County 21,101 Democrats, 30,536 Republicans and 12,297 no party or minor party voters have cast ballots early so far.
Clinton’s Sarasota connection
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been dogged by questions about her family charity, the Clinton Foundation.
One of the leading players in the ongoing drama is Sarasota native Doug Band, who was former president Bill Clinton’s assistant and has been instrumental in shaping the Clinton Foundation.
Band is the youngest son of Sarasota attorney and real estate developer David Band. A University of Florida graduate, Doug Band got his start in politics interning for former U.S. Rep. Dan Miller, the Bradenton Republican who served from 1992 to 2002. Band later interned at the White House and has been close with the Clintons for decades.
While he mostly has avoided the spotlight, Band was front and center last week when a memo he wrote about the Clinton Foundation was released by Wikileaks. The document outlines in great detail how Bill Clinton’s personal financial ventures overlapped with his philanthropic activities at the Foundation. Some foundation donors paid Clinton for speeches or consulting work.
Questions also have been raised about whether foundation donors received favorable treatment from the U.S. Department of State when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Trump has zeroed in on the foundation to accuse Clinton of being “crooked.”
The perception many voters have that Clinton is not trustworthy may be her greatest liability. The dealings surrounding the Clinton Foundation have only added to that view, and Band’s memo certainly won’t help her dispel it as Election Day nears.