Decision 2004: Florida
by Mike Vogel
Updated 1 decade ago
The president has the economy and Jeb on his side.
Why Kerry Will Win Florida
The Democrat has a well-stocked war chest and, for once, an organized, get-out-the-vote effort in Florida.
Reason 1: Brother Jeb
The governor's not as overwhelmingly popular as he was in 2000 (23% rated his job performance as poor in April, compared to just 13% in June 2000, according to the Mason-Dixon Florida Poll). More important for his brother George W., he has built a much better voter turnout machine than the GOP had in 2000. It was evident in the governor's 2002 re-election, when Jeb Bush trounced Democrat Bill McBride by 650,000 votes.
Even Democratic strategist Karl Koch acknowledges: "Their game-day operation was very impressive." The key, says David Johnson, former executive director of the state GOP, was identifying Republicans who weren't consistent voters and persuading them to vote. A Republican-dominated state Legislature and complete Republican control of all the state's constitutional offices -- some of whose holders want to succeed the governor and are anxious to burnish their party service credentials -- also will push the president to victory. The Bush-Cheney camp says it has trained 70,000 volunteers in Florida. "The Republican Party, versus the Democratic Party, is highly organized and operationally efficient," says Adam Goodman, president of The Victory Group, a Tampa strategy firm.
Reason 1: Deli meats, Slim-Fast and lawyers
Democrats are crushing the GOP in third-party advertising and paid get-out-the-vote workers. The money is coming from "527" organizations, so named for the tax law section that allows them to exist. They can take unlimited donations, flood the airwaves with negative advertising with impunity and only have to promise not to coordinate with the candidate campaigns, though they're free to coordinate with other 527s. Through August, 527s had raised $246 million nationally, according to IRS reports, with anti-Bush giants such as the Media Fund ($28 million) and America Coming Together ($26.9 million) leading. In contrast, the largest GOP 527 was the Club for Growth with only $5.28 million.
Of the 20 largest 527s, only two were pro-Republican. Anti-Bush 527 backers include billionaire George Soros and Floridians such as Slim-Fast founder and Palm Beach resident Daniel Abraham ($950,000, No. 17 nationally), Coconut Grove's Dan Lewis ($1 million, No. 12), Boar's Head Provisions owner Frank Brunckhorst of Sarasota ($750,000, No. 19) and Miami businessman Jonathan D. Lewis ($500,000, No. 22).
America Coming Together Florida, the Media Fund and other 527s have been on the airwaves and the ground in force throughout the summer, while the GOP, which thought the 527s would be ruled illegal, was on the sidelines. Result: In the second quarter alone, Kerry and anti-Bush 527s accounted for 61% of the $19.3 million in presidential campaign spending in Florida, according to tracking firm TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.
Full Speed Ahead
Don't expect much of a breather between the November election and the priming of the pump for 2006. State Democrats want to keep the U.S. Senate delegation solidly Democratic and retake the governor's mansion after Jeb Bush leaves office. Republicans, meanwhile, would love to split the U.S. Senate delegation this year and train their fire on unseating Bill Nelson in 2006. Katherine Harris has all but announced running against him, which could make it the signature race nationally in the 2006 election. She's in a hot race to keep her congressional seat, however ("Rematch," page 26). Meanwhile, the GOP has to settle on who it wants to succeed Bush. "The '06 campaign will be in full speed by the spring of '05," says Adam Goodman, president of The Victory Group, a strategy firm in Tampa.
Reason 2: The internet
The Republican e-campaign will further boost turnout. An interactive website allows volunteers in precincts statewide to access names of neighbors who are independents or not registered and a map with walking directions to their homes to call on for George W. -- an important feature in a state so diverse that each region needs its own mini-campaign. "Florida is still really a state where the local county organization, the local party, the local club makes or breaks the races. Personal contact means so much more in these races," says Bruce Barcelo of Barcelo & Co. in Jacksonvile, a public opinion research and strategy firm that's worked for the GOP. Bush supporters also can, through the campaign website, order absentee ballots and get directions to early voting locations.
Reason 2: Palm Pilots at the grassroots
Money from the 527s also is paying for a more organized effort to turn out Kerry voters. In recent years, the state Democratic Party's turnout campaign has been a dismal operation. The 527s' efforts "are awfully well-funded and organized and on top of things," says Karl Koch, a strategist and chief of staff for Democratic Congressman Jim Davis of Tampa. "They are going to have a very, very positive influence for John Kerry."
ACT, a 527, opened its first Florida office in February. By August, it had seven offices and close to 300 paid staff, with 100 canvassers working on any given day making $8 an hour going door to door with Palm Pilots to convince undecideds of Kerry's pluses, register voters and mobilize the base. By June, it had knocked on 272,000 doors. "We're doing the difficult, tedious groundwork that impacts elections," says ACT spokesman Tait Sye.
In Hillsborough County, the local party by August had at least 2,000 volunteers signed up to ferry people to the polls, monitor precinct turnouts and watch the precincts for problems. It offered sitters to single mothers, rides to senior citizens and group trips for Muslim women not comfortable going to the polls alone. "We're the battleground," says Janee Murphy, the Hillsborough Democratic Party chair.
Election Night Viewing
Watch Hillsborough County returns. The county is a bellwether in presidential elections. Polk County also is up for grabs. The truism in Florida politics is that south Florida votes Democrat, north Florida votes Republican and the decision rests along I-4.
Reason 5: Catch-up ball
After initially fumbling the opportunity to raise money through the 527 section of the tax code, conservative groups like the Florida Leadership Council are coming on strong. The other 527s on the right got a late start but are now raising funds for anti-Kerry ads and voter turnout to at least mitigate the sizable Democrat money advantage.
Reason 6: Cuba
Bush is on track to capture as much of the Cuban vote as he did in 2000. The president's policy, which included restricting travel and the transfer of family funds to relatives still in Cuba, solidified his support among reliable voters. Indeed, in a poll in August, Bush had 81% of the Cuban vote, not far off his 2000 triumph among Cuban-Americans, while Kerry ran well to his left. "The non-voting Cubans are going to vote Democratic," says Dario Moreno, director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University in Miami. The minority of Cuban-American voters who dislike the policy tend to be more recent immigrants and younger U.S.-born Cubans who aren't reliable voters. Republican U.S. Senate candidate and Cuba native Mel Martinez will be a rare instance of someone lower on the ticket helping the top.
Reason 7: Never complain too much
The drumbeat that touch-screen voting machines are unreliable could backfire on Democrats by depressing minority turnout. "When you have people and equipment ... they have their flaws. Will it keep African-American voters home?" wonders Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida professor and authority on Florida politics. It matters. Seven of 10 registered African-Americans in Florida voted in 2000; only four out of 10 voted in the 2002 gubernatorial election.
Democrats also are making a big push to match Republicans in the use of absentee ballots, but Democratic voters lack experience in filling them out properly and mailing them. Kerry could lose some critical votes here.
Reason 3: Voter Registration
Democrats registered 99,246 new voters (40% of new voters) from December to May compared with the Republican's 52,626 (21% of new voters). The Democrat gains countered the trend, dating to at least 2000, of Republicans leading Democrats in percentage gains of new voters.
Reason 4: Cuba
President Bush's embrace of tighter restrictions on travel to Cuba and the ability of Cuban families here to send money there pleased older Cubans with enduring senses of outrage at Castro, but those restrictions hurt Bush with more recent immigrants and U.S.-born Cubans. If Democrats "can get 10% to 15% of that vote, it can make all the difference in the world," says Jim Kane, independent pollster and editor of the Florida Voter. Also, Bush benefited in 2000 from widespread Cuban outrage over the Clinton administration's seizure of Elian Gonzalez. No such spark will drive Cuban turnout numbers to the 82% to 83% Bush enjoyed against Gore.
Reason 5: The dominoes fall into place
Kevin Hill, a Florida International University professor, has constructed a formula for a Democrat to win a statewide race. A Democrat has to take 65% of the Broward vote, 60% of Palm Beach, Alachua and Leon counties, win in Miami-Dade and hold the GOP candidate under 60% in Duval, the Panhandle and southwest Florida while winning at least half of the I-4 counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Orange, Osceola and Volusia. Kerry has the Democratic strongholds in hand and will do well along I-4, says Dario Moreno, director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University in Miami. Kerry just needs to make up a bit of ground in Miami-Dade and -- much harder -- erode Bush's support in Duval and the Panhandle.
Reason No. 6: Gas prices/prescriptions
Florida's economy has done better than the rest of the nation's, but every time voters hit the gas pumps, they feel a twinge of unease. And while Bush was the first president to deliver prescription drug benefits to Medicare, seniors wanted more -- and resent the Bush-backed restriction on the government negotiating prices with drug companies.
GEORGE BUSH: Florida Money Pipeline
RANGERS (raising at least $200,000)
Al Austin, Tampa developer
C. David Brown, Orlando attorney
John D. Collins, Fort Lauderdale builder
Husein Cumber, railroad spokesman
Elizabeth Fago, Palm Beach Gardens businesswoman
Pepe Fanjul, sugar baron
T. Martin Fiorentino Jr., Jacksonville lawyer/lobbyist
Mark Guzzetta, Boca Raton real estate executive
Michael Hightower, Jacksonville insurance executive
Al Hoffman, Bonita Springs developer
Mori Hosseini, Ormond Beach construction executive
Bob and Mary Jane Martinez, former governor and wife
H. Gary Morse, Villages developer
Thomas F. Petway III, Jacksonville insurance executive
Sergio Pino, Miami home builder
Van B. Poole, Tallahassee lawyer/lobbyist
John D. Rood, Jacksonville real estate executive
Justin J. Sayfie, Miami lawyer/lobbyist
William Scherer, Fort Lauderdale lawyer
Ned L. Siegel and wife, Stephanie, Boca Raton real estate firm head
Enrique Tomeu, West Palm Beach construction materials firm president
Zachariah P. Zachariah, Fort Lauderdale doctor
PIONEERS (raising at least $100,000)
Jim Blosser, Fort Lauderdale lawyer/lobbyist
Edward Burr, Jacksonville builder
Al Cardenas, Miami lawyer/lobbyist
Charles E. Cobb, Coral Gables businessman
Robert E. Coker, sugar executive
Joe Cox, Naples lawyer
Richard Crotty, Orange County chairman
Emily Duda, agriculture
Kenneth Endelson, Boca Raton real estate firm head
Itchko Ezratti, Coral Springs home builder
Todd Farha, Tampa healthcare executive
Gay Hart Gaines, Palm Beach resident
Charles P. Garcia, Boca Raton investment firm founder
David Hart, Tampa healthcare executive
Hamid Hashimi, Muvico founder
Donald P. Hinson, Jacksonville real estate firm executive
James Holton, Madeira Beach real estate firm executive
Tramm Hudson, Sarasota banker
Fred Leonhardt, Orlando lawyer/lobbyist and Florida chamber head
Manny Medina, Miami internet firm chief
Jeff Miller, U.S. representative, R-Chumuckla
Duane Ottenstroer, Jacksonville investment company executive
Fred Pezeshkan, Naples construction firm executive
Peter Rummell, St. Joe Co. chairman
Robert Theisen, Altamonte Springs construction executive
John Thrasher, Tallahassee lawyer/lobbyist and former state House speaker
R. Vijayanagar, Tampa doctor
Milton Wallace, Coral Gables attorney
Robert and Nancy Watkins, Tampa finance firm founder and wife
Stan Whitcomb, Bonita Springs real estate company head
Mammen P. Zachariah, Fort Lauderdale doctor
George C. Zoley, Boca Raton prison firm executive
JOHN KERRY: Florida Money Pipeline
VICE CHAIRS (raising at least $100,000)
Jeremy Alters, Miami trial lawyer
Fernando Amandi, Palm Beach County investor
Mitchell Berger, Fort Lauderdale lawyer
Barry Cohen, Tampa lawyer
John Cosgrove, Miami lawyer
Milton Ferrell, Miami law firm head
Phil Freidin, Miami lawyer
Alex Heckler, Fort Lauderdale lawyer
Chris Korge, Miami lobbyist
Rodney Margol, Jacksonville lawyer
John Morgan, Orlando trial lawyer
Arthur Halleran, Miami investment firm head
Bob Spohrer, Jacksonville lawyer
Kirk Wagar, Miami lawyer
Jim Wilkes, Tampa law firm head
Bob Farmer, Bal Harbour Kerry pal
CO-CHAIRS (raising at least $50,000)
Michael Adler, Miami developer
Jay Blumenkopf, Boca Raton lawyer
Don Hinkle, Tallahasse lawyer
William Huggett, Miami lawyer
Frank Sanchez, Tampa business consultant
Diana Wasserman-Rubin, Broward County commissioner
Key donors to "527" fund-raising groups
(among the top donors nationally to 527s)
Dan Lewis, Coconut Grove, $1 million
S. Daniel Abraham, Slim-Fast founder, Palm Beach, $950,000
Frank Brunckhorst, Boar's Head owner, Sarasota, $750,000
Jonathan D. Lewis, Miami, $500,000
The Last Word
In presentations this summer, University of South Florida political authority Susan MacManus pointed out four topics this year where the national media incorrectly gauged public attitudes: The Schwarzenegger victory in California; Howard Dean's candidacy; "The Passion of the Christ" film; and the gay marriage ban in Missouri.
MacManus suspects people aren't being honest with pollsters about their level of post-9/11 fear. If enough undecideds come to the conclusion that Bush is stronger on terrorism and foreign affairs, a Bush re-election could be the fifth blown call, she says. "If it's terrorism at the end of the day, it's Bush," MacManus says. "If it's domestic, it's Kerry."