Which way Florida?

Which way Florida?

By Hastings Wyman –

The Sunshine State gets fought over every four years, in 2000 all the way to the US Supreme Court. In the last presidential contest, in 2012, President Obama edged out Mitt Romney by 50.01% to 49.13%. In this year’s volatile contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, pre-convention polls showed 2016 would likely be no exception, with first one then the other taking a narrow lead.

The latest survey, however, suggests that – for now, at least – Clinton has opened up a significant lead, 48% to Trump’s 42%. The poll of likely voters was taken by Suffolk University in Boston on August 1, 2 and 3, the week following the Democratic Convention. The trend follows nationwide polls, with Clinton moving to a 52% to 43% lead over Trump in the CNN/ORC survey of adults taken immediately after the DNC.

Florida is an important state for both campaigns. With 29 electoral votes, it is tied with New York as the nation’s third largest state, and is the nation’s largest swing state.

SPR’s interviews with Dr. Susan MacManus, professor at the University of South Florida; Barney Bishop, Tallahassee-based political analyst; and a longtime Republican operative were all taken before the Suffolk poll had been released.

In any case, MacManus put Clinton in the lead, noting her strength with women and with Hispanics. Clinton is advertising on Spanish-language radio stations and has an active registration effort among Latino voters. Moreover, Tim Kaine, Clinton’s running mate, has campaigned actively here, delivering parts of his speeches in Spanish, which he speaks fluently. In addition, Kaine adds a centrist element to the Clinton campaign that goes over well with Florida’s large share of registered independents.

MacManus adds, however, that “Still, [Trump] is drawing huge crowds in Jacksonville and Daytona” from “people that are really disaffected.” She adds that now “is not a time when people are paying attention, so he’s not running any ads.” Polling aside, she opines, “I don’t think it’s going to be a runaway.”

A longtime GOP professional says that Trump “is doing really well in some areas, with poor white voters that traditionally vote Democratic, but it’s not true everywhere.” He notes that Hispanics are divided, but more Democratic this year than usual. Clinton is stronger with Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics in the Orlando area, while Trump does better with older Cubans and Nicaraguans in Miami. Trump has worked through ministers at Hispanic evangelical churches.

The GOP insider points out that even in a bad year, Republican presidential candidates “do things that help” the GOP down-ballot. But this year, “there’s no micro-targeting that would have residual benefit to other Republican candidates.”  In general, there’s a much more active organizational presence, including local headquarters, for Clinton than for Trump. Trump is relying primarily on the national, state and local Republican get-out-the-vote efforts, rather than putting in his own muscle. Although GOPers believe their Florida operation is one of the best in the nation, it probably does not match the Clinton effort. One estimate is that Clinton has some 200 paid staffers in the state to the Republican Party’s 71.

As for Trump’s prospects, says the Republican operative, “By every law of political physics, he should be dead, and he’s not. But that’s been true all along. The cat has more than nine lives. But when is the one time when he jumps the shark and people can’t take it anymore?”

Bishop says, “It’s very competitive for Hillary Clinton at a time it shouldn’t be. Donald Trump is getting some bad publicity and unfortunately it’s all self-generated,” pointing out that picking a fight with a Gold Star family “was stupid.”

He notes that the defections of two longtime Republican professionals, Sally Bradshaw, a top advisor to Jeb Bush, and John “Mac” Stipanovich, the campaign manager and chief of staff for former Gov. Bob Martinez (R), “show how bad [Trump] is doing.”

Bishop believes that “Trump can still pull it out. Florida is a very competitive state.” He also says, “I’m not sure that polling picks up the full measure of support for Trump… He might be under-polling a little bit.” And he notes that President Obama is “not popular” in Florida and that polls show voters believe that the nation is not going in the right direction.” Bishop concludes, “The number of days are dwindling. [Trump’s] opportunities are going by fast and furious.”

For now, Florida is in Clinton’s corner, and by a wider margin than the usual 1% that separates the parties in the Sunshine State. If Clinton continues to maintain her lead in Florida, and on Election Day exceeds the usual razor-thing margin that Democrats enjoyed in previous presidential elections, she’s all but a sure-thing to make it to the White House. But given the volatility of this year’s campaign, anything can happen. Stay tuned.