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Dante Revisited: The Nine Circles of Florida Road Warrior Hell

It has been a busy couple months in the old Toyota (so old, it is pre-recall era), which makes it an opportune time to have a little fun with the blog. 

So here goes, Dante's Inferno revisited:  what the nine circles of politico hell would look like if hell was Florida's highways, destinations and airports.  As I've visited all 67 counties in the last couple years, most many times, I feel like I am pretty well suited to make these calls. 

Sometime in the near future, I'll hit the various spheres of Florida's road warrior Paradisio.  Hint:  Tampa Airport.

I hope my fellow political road warriors will weigh in with their thoughts.

1.   Political Conferences at Disney and other "Destination" resorts.   Growing up most of my life in Florida, I am a fan of Disney.  Nikole and I have been many times and love the place.  However, going there for a business is almost unfair.  You know you want to have fun and get in the Disney spirit, but you have to put on a suit and tie and play the other role, while everyone else around you is essentially care-free.   And if you aren't at Disney, Murphy's Law dictates that your political conference will probably be some place like the Fountainbleau in Miami, where you get to try to hold meetings while watching the surf.

2. Tallahassee.  I live here and it is a great place.   However, getting to and from this place is often just a tiny bit easier than getting to and from Bismarck, ND (trust me, I know this one).  As they say, Tallahassee is just one stop from the world, except that one stop is Atlanta airport (a place Dante definitely dreamed about in writing Inferno), which is the wrong way if you are headed anywhere south.  Sure, you can fly direct from Ft. Myers to Germany, which is probably the same connection you will make if you try to get from Ft. Myers to Tallahassee. Oh, and for the pleasure of one-stoping to the world, you will pay about 4 times what it costs if you lived in say, Tampa. 

3. Following a school bus on U.S. 1 in the Keys (nominated by Tom Eldon).  Going to the Keys for work is a perk of living in Florida, except getting to the Keys tends to take some work, and sometimes that work means following a school bus down Overseas Highway.  As Tom Eldon of Schroth, Eldon and Associates suggests, if this happens to you, pull off the road and go fishing for two hours, and by then, the chances are good that you won't catch the bus before you get to Key West.  Why isn't this further down the list, you might ask?  Well, because its the Keys and how bad could it be?

4. Orlando International Airport.  In the Pantheon of big airports, MCO is a pretty good one.  Well laid out, clean and easy to get around (just avoid the $5 a gallon gas station nearby).  Except when you go through security and you are in a hurry.  One day, TSA will find a special method of clearing all those massive tourist shopping bags, but until then, pull up a chair because you will be there for a while.

5. I-10.  I've probably driven I-10 at least 400-500 times in my political career.  As an interstate, it is uniquely special.  On a road where driving 70mph could be considered cruel and unusual punishment, expect to find about 75 state troopers every mile.   How many times have you been on I-10, say passing Madison going towards Jacksonville, then feel like you drive for 2-3 days, only to realize you are just getting to Live Oak?  You know who has never driven I-10?  Cell phone companies.

6. US 19 from St. Pete to Weekee Wachee.  I like Pinellas County a whole lot.  I am a big fan of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County is without a doubt home to the best grouper sandwich in Florida (Woody's).  I've spent so much time there in the last four years that they might make me start paying taxes.  In fact, it is one of the few places in Florida that I could see living in one day---as long as I could avoid US 19.  US 19 is essentially the spine of Pinellas County, connecting coastal Pasco and Hernando counties with St. Petersburg along a highway that includes 1750 traffic lights, 37 Hooters and more chain restaurants per mile than any place else in Florida, except maybe US 192. 

7. I-4.  Tampa to Orlando.  I-4 is Florida's Box of Chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.  Sometimes you leave downtown Orlando at 10:00 AM and find yourself in downtown Tampa a few minutes after 11.  Sometimes you leave downtown Orlando at 10:00 AM and find yourself in downtown Tampa a few minutes after 11---a week or two later.   On behalf of everyone who has spent most of an afternoon in a rain storm on I-4, thank you President Obama for high speed rail. 

8. I-95 from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami.  For most of the length of I-95, the driving is pleasurable, as long as your idea of pleasurable is bump drafting at Daytona.  But once you get to Ft. Lauderdale, it turns into a real adventure.  As one nominator said about the stretch, "it is seven lanes of hell, complete with thousands of drivers who apparently have made peace with God."  Hint:  pay the toll to use the express lanes in Dade County.  At least you will have orange cones to protect you from the melee.

9. The Miami International Airport.   Flying into Miami isn't all that bad, assuming you can figure out how to get to the expressway from the sand lot behind the abandoned industrial complex--also known as rental car row.  Leaving Miami on a regional jet?  Good luck.  First you have to navigate the parking lot known as Dolphin Expressway just to get there, then find your rental car return location, ride the bus to the airport, stand in line for TSA, walk halfway around the world to your gate, get on a bus to ride well out into the tarmac, get off bus and hope it isn't raining, then board your plane. 

Near misses:  Love/Hate relationship with Panera Bread, Continental's prop planes, Atlanta International Airport, the Sawgrass Mills Mall. 



What's Crist to do (besides dropping out and endorsing Kendrick Meek)?

If I had a dollar for every question I've gotten about the Crist campaign, just in the last 96 hours, I wouldn't be driving a seven year old car with 130,000 miles.   I can only imagine how many calls my GOP friends are getting. 

The most recent frenzy is driven by three recent polls that show Rubio ahead anywhere from a few to a dozen points, once again turning both Tallahassee and Washington on its head.   I even spent a good solid hour today beating down the rumor from my friends in the nation's Capitol that Crist was about to join the Democratic Party.  Apparently, false speculation that Vice President Joe Biden and Governor Crist had dinner last week fueled that rumor. 

Adam Smith and Beth Reinhard today wrote a solid article about Crist's current fortunes.  It is a must read and in it, the Governor talks about what he plans to do about it:  focus on governing.  Quite honestly, that isn't enough.  I'd take it one step further. 

So here it is Governor, my advice.  Just two things: 

1.  Suspend your campaign. 

Crist's own numbers show he has more than $6 million on hand, more than enough to run a strong primary.  What Crist needs to do now is change people's perception, and he can only do that by being a strong leader.  People like Crist personally, but he's never ditched the view that he's just another ambitious pol. In these economic times, that perception is certainly dogging him. So, Governor, be bold and call a press confernce to announce you are stepping off the campaign trail until the session is over and get to work running the state.  

Now, surely some will compare it to McCain's ill-fated decision to 'suspend' his campaign in 2008, but the circumstances are totally different.  First, McCain wasn't running the country and secondly, when he stepped off the trail to help save the economy, he did nothing to show he was a leader.

Go be the Governor now and make yourself not just relevant, but the leader of this state during its most trying times.   America is looking for leaders, not politicians.  You have a rare chance to redefine yourself as one of the former.

2. Be yourself.

Why did people flock to Barack Obama?  He was different and authentic.  These characteristics also drove Scott Brown to victory in Massachusetts. 

Right now, Governor Crist is never going to out right Rubio, and he should stop trying.  He is who he is, and he should embrace it.  His best shot, quite honestly, is the right becoming concerned that Rubio simply is too far to the right to win.  So stop trying to be the "real conservative," it clearly isn't playing and its not going to work.   So Governor, go be yourself.  It has served you well throughout your career, so why not just embrace your brand?

The Hard Truth

As Smith and Reinhard said, the problem for Crist is he doesn't have a lot of good options.  The economy is largely out of his control, and that is impacting him more than any ideological issue. Moreover, the simple fact that Rubio leads Crist by 50 points in one poll among voters who have an opinion about both is very bad news.   But in that poll, 60% of Republicans still approve of his job as Governor, another reason for him to focus solely on governing.

Frankly, he could do these things and still lose.  But on the flip side, he is losing, so why not mix it up?

And for all you disaffected Crist GOP voters who believe that Rubio is to far to the right for your liking, I have a suggestion for you:  get to know my friend Kendrick Meek


Five Takeaways from the Week

5. Marco is in the lead.  This week, Quinnipiac released a poll that showed Rubio with his first lead over Charlie Crist in the race for the U.S. Senate seat that became open when Mel Martinez went all Sarah Palin on Florida by up and quitting one day.  Rubio has experienced a fairly clean ride up to this point, but now that he has a lead, expect the press to start doing a more thorough job looking at his record. 

4. President Obama and Crist meet again.   In February, during President Obama's first post-election trip to Florida, Governor Crist appeared on stage to endorse the Recovery Act, though in doing so, cemented the growing belief among Republicans that he wasn't a pure Republican.   There was great speculation about whether Crist would appear with the President again, finally agreeing to meet the President when AirForce One landed in Tampa.  To me, it seems as though over the last 7-10 days, Crist has gotten back to his more moderate roots, figuring to win, he needs to be who he is.  And in case you missed it, no hug this time.

3. The State of the Union.   President Obama threw down the gauntlet on Wednesday, striking a very populist and centrist tone, calling on Congress to get its act together and start working for the American people.  After working through the traditionally tough first year of any Presidency, Obama seemed to find his feet on Wednesday, returning to many of the outsider themes that propelled him to a landslide victory in 2008. 

2. Fair Districts Makes the Ballot.    A constitutional initiative that would require the legislature to follow standards in the drawing of Congressional and Legislative districts has made the ballot.  The initiative, sponsored by Fair Districts Florida, already has Tallahassee insiders and incumbents worried, since it would reduce the ability of incumbents to draw districts exactly the way they want. 

1. All Aboard.   On Thursday, President Obama and Vice President Biden traveled to Tampa to unveil a new national high speed rail initiative, one highlighted by a $1.25 billion grant to build a rail line between Tampa and Orlando.  The project, which will start in 2011, will generate thousands of new jobs and help Florida modernize its economy.  And picking Tampa for this announcement is certainly smart politics, as the winner of Hillsborough County has won the White House in every election since at least 1948. More on that here:  Welcome Back, Mr. President.


State of the Union

One narrative of the Obama political career is clear:  he knows how to take a shot and come back stronger.  Last night was no exception.

Even the most strident Obama supporter would admit that the first year has been tough, and quite frankly, some of it has been out of his control.  As much as the Republicans hate to hear it, the reality is this guy inherited a disaster.  Imagine being sixteen and your parents give you a car, except it is stuck in a ditch, missing two tires, with an engine that didn't work and out of gas.  In the GOP world, that kid would be a failure if the car wasn't driving in the Daytona 500 the next day. 

That being said, the administration has had their bumps and at times, did the one thing that would have been the cardinal crime during the campaign:  they lost control of their own message.  Its not that surprising, as most President's struggle initially to transition to the challenging of governing.  Plus this President suffered from unrealistic expectations. And to their credit, the GOP are masters at being in the minority.

But last night, the President took it all back, outlining a clear and optimistic vision for moving America forward---and moreover, challenged every patriotic American to sign up, saying that "Americans deserve a government that matches their decency."  Amen, Mr. President. 

Kennedy had his man on the moon moment, so did Reagan when he commanded the Soviets to tear down the wall.  Last night, our President challenged America not to quit, to put partisanship aside and work together to modernize our economy and workforce, and most importantly, rise to the occasion and grab firmly the mantle of being the world's greatest country---and never let go.  That is the challenge of this generation.  Our only choice is to embrace it.

Mr. President, count me in. 



Over the last few days, the punditocracy has lit up over the election of Scott Brown to the United States Senate, and as could be expected in the era of the 24 hour news cycle, pretty much everyone has overreacted.

I am not going to downplay the election, Brown's election is significant.  While Republicans winning in Massachusetts isn't as rare as some in the GOP want to suggest (anyone remember Governor Mitt Romney), it is consequential and yes, there are lessons to learn. 

That being said, everyone should underreact, take a deep breath and listen to what the voters are saying.

I know that hyperbole sells papers and gets you quoted, and the easy thing here is to say this is a massive repudiation of the Obama agenda and the start of a new GOP alignment.  But quite honestly, that is as ridiculous as those who said that Obama's election marked the end of the GOP. 

From where I sit, here are the main lessons of the Brown win.

1.  Candidates matter.  Brown was an excellent candidate who tapped into the populist (not conservative) anger in the country.  He was engaging, energetic and interesting.  He was a better candidate than Coakley in virtually every category.    Polls across the country show people are really looking at candidates more than parties (just look at polls in AL, GA Governor's races).   Parties can not just throw up warm bodies and expect to win.

2.  People are restless and want solutions.   No shocker here.  Average families are tired and worried, and they want their leaders to roll up their sleeves and get to work.   Brown didn't run as a rank partisan (nor did Governor Christie in NJ).  Republicans who read this as an endorsement of more partisanship will be sadly disappointed in November.

3.  Democrats did not react quickly enough.  I am shocked that national Democrats didn't see this coming.  I am not sure that earlier response would have made the difference, but that being said, Dems were slow to respond.  I am confident that the return of David Plouffe will ensure that better systems are in place to ensure this doesn't happen again. 

4. Basketball players from Tufts are winners.  Since they both went to Tufts and both play basketball, the Scott Brown win is definitely good news for Dan Gelber--a statement no less absurd than any of the other 1000 politicians trying to claim some shred that they are "the next Scott Brown"

So what comes next?  At the risk of being proven wrong, here goes:

1.  President Obama will come out of this stronger.  The short history of the President's political career does show one recurring theme:  this guy knows how to rally.  Every time he is being counted out---after losing his Congressional bid, early in his Senate race, in late 2007, after New Hampshire, after the primaries, after the Palin bump--you name it, he's come back stronger.   Moreover, voters like Barack Obama as a person, see him as an adult and want him to succeed. 

2. To my Republican colleagues who say he is done:  Remember Reagan.    There were a lot of similarities between Reagan and Obama's initial campaigns.  Both outsiders, both having to really prove themselves in the debates before cruising to election.  Now there Presidencies seem very similar.  Right now, the President's average approval is 49%, the same as Reagan's in early 1982 (it was an average of 42% in Gallup polls throughout 1982).  Yet he cruised in 1984, both because the economy improved and...

3.  Partisan purity loses.  Republicans, who right now are rushing to require partisan purity tests for party support, best heed history (Dems in 1984) and their own former party chair, Haley Barbour, and remember that "People are crazy if they think we win by getting more pure. We win by getting big."  Reagan found his feet, was helped by a recovering economy and ran against a perfect foil.  For a party that can't run to the right fast enough, they may well be teeing up the same ball for Obama in 2012.

4. Voter anger is aimed at both parties.  Right now the voters don't like either party, and that's bad for the party in charge. A recent poll showed 93% of Americans think there is too much partisan fighting and 61% blame both parties equally for the nation's troubles..  If I was a Florida Republican, I wouldn't be overjoyed by the Brown win, I'd be a little worried.  Look at the Governor's race.  One nominee is a relative newcomer who has a long business background and a reputation for getting things done, the other has fingerprints on almost 30 years of federal and state decision making.  Where do you think frustrated voters are more likely to land?

5.  The Democrats are better for the loss.  I know some in my party don't like to hear this, but the loss will do the body good.  I'd much rather be having the conversation on adjusting course and strategy in February of 2010 than after a bludgeoning in the late fall of 2010.  But that being said, Democrats over the next few months have to be bold (and bold isn't always ideological) in Congress, led by a President who is actively selling his agenda and bolstered by an engaged grassroots. 




Welcome back, Mr. President

In anticipation of President Obama and Vice President Biden's trip next week, now seems like as good a time as any to look at some fun political facts about Florida, Florida, Florida.

In the nation's current political alignment, especially for the GOP, Florida is a real make or break state.  There are very few scenarios where the GOP could win the White House without Florida's 27 (soon to be 28 or 29). As a result, Florida's electoral votes essentially assure a Democratic win. 

As I used to tell our young staff in 2008, it was win and you're in.

History tends to prove this point. 

Since 1928, Florida has only landed on the wrong side of two Presidential elections:  1960 and 1992 (the other big battleground, Ohio, has also been wrong twice:  1944 and 1960).  In both cases, Florida narrowly went for the GOP, while national Democrats won the ultimate prize. 

In fact, you have to go back to 1924 and the re-election of President Calvin Coolidge to find the last time that a Republican won the White House without an assist from the Sunshine State.

So if Florida is the epicenter of Presidential politics, what is the epicenter of Florida?  Simple:  Tampa, the place where the President will pay a visit on Thursday.

According to the Division of Elections, since 1948, the winner of Hillsborough County has won Florida all but one time (1960---that year, it voted for Kennedy, but Nixon won the state).

And since 1992 (the point where POTUS elections in FL became reliably competitive), the Tampa media market as a whole has selected the winner.

Year                Winner                 Tampa Market                 Statewide

92                   Bush                             +4%                            +2%

96                   Clinton                          +4%                            +6%

00                   Bush                             +2%                             Tie

04                   Bush                             +7%                             +5%

08                   Obama                          +0.5%                          +2.5% 

Certainly in 2008, the importance of the market wasn't lost on either the Obama or McCain campaigns.  We stuck our campaign state headquarters right smack in the heart of the market and made St. Petersburg the first public Florida stop of then Senator Obama's general election effort.  In fact, McCain and Obama both made four visits (and even more 'stops') to the market between August and Election Day, and sent their ticket-mate's there three times each. 

So what is it about this market?    

First, in terms of vote share, no market is bigger in Florida.  Nearly a quarter of all votes cast in a Presidential election will come from the Tampa market.  When you add the 20% that comes from the Orlando market, the importance of the I-4 corridor becomes obvious.

Secondly, I-75.  Migration to Florida, especially in the late 20th century tended to follow interstates, with the more liberal, northeastern voters migrating into southeast Florida and Midwestern voters ending up on the west coast.  As a result, while the politics of Broward look a lot like the politics of New York and Boston, the politics of Tampa feel a lot more like the more centrist and competitive politics of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.  If you don't believe me, count the Bears and Packers fans at a Bucs game. 

Lastly, it is a little microcosm of Florida.  It has some rural ag, a growing Hispanic population (and an established Cuban population), large urban African-American centers, traditional white working class communities, and a whole lot of soccer moms.  To do well in this market, you have to have a message with wide appeal---the key ingredient to winning across the state.

So welcome back to the Tampa area, Mr. President.  Personally, I hope we will see you here lots more over the next three years.


Five Takeaways from the Week

5. Dockery/Fetterman file more ethics legislation.   GOP Gubernatorial candidate Paula Dockery, along with first-term reform-minded Democrat, Adam Fetterman, have filed sweeping ethics legislation that would make it illegal for legislators to vote on an item that could personally benefit them.  Current conflict of interest rules are very narrow and have come under criticism from good government reformers.  Dockery's decision to push this issue again in 2010, especially after the state's growing public corruption problems, is certainly to create for interesting debate inside the walls of the Florida GOP.

4. Unemployment in Florida rises again:  Florida's service/tourism economy inevitably leads to it recovering slower than other states, and as if more evidence of Florida's economic woes was needed, the most recent Labor Dept statistics showed a continuing rise in the jobless rate.  Ideology aside, the bad economy is the number one drag on Crist's candidacy today, which is why this week at a meeting of the local Florida Public Relations Association chapter, I suggested that Crist should consider taking a 90 day (through session) hiatus from campaigning so Floridians could see him focusing on getting our state back to work.

3. Vice President Biden visits Miami:  The Vice President came to Miami this week to meet with Haitian and other Caribbean leaders in South Florida about the recovery effort in Haiti.  Biden's visit highlights the growing Caribbean population in South Florida and the region's strong ties to the devastated island.  On the heels of this visit, the administration announced it would extend temporary protective status (TPS)to Haitians taking refuge in the United States, something the Haitian community has made a priority in recent years.  And if there was any question whether Florida was important to this President, both Obama and Biden will be in Florida again next week, each making their third trip to the Sunshine State.

 2. Downtown Scotty Brown Wins.  This week, the Bay State sent Republican Scott Brown to the United States Senate, in an election that surprised man, though not this author.  Brown, who prior to public life was apparently second best known (no reason to repeat why he is best known) for knocking down baseline 15 footers over Florida's own Dan Gelber while at Tufts, ran a brilliant campaign and rode a wave of frustration in the country to victory.  As to be expected, already both sides are over reacting.  I'm going to write more on this soon, but for those wondering what to expect next, check your history for how Barack Obama bounces back from adversity. 

1. SCOTUS re-writes campaign finance laws.   This week, the United States Supreme Court officially returned America back to the political wild west, throwing out laws regulating corporate and union spending in federal races.    While clearly this is a win for media and mail consultants (economic stimulus for political vendors?), candidates who are cheering this decision should keep in mind that the net result could be that it is harder for candidates to control their own message, as deep pockets sped more to control outcomes.  

My suggestion for reform at this point is simple:  throw away contribution limits to make it harder for candidates to hide behind 'committees', require total transparency (24 hour reporting), eliminate outside groups or at least force groups to clearly identify themselves (no more "People for Mom and Apple Pie"), and let voters make the decision if they are comfortable with candidate X taking $XX,XXX sized checks from industry group Y.

1A.  The wedding of Lisa Schale and James Drake.  This last week, my youngest sister Lisa Schale was married in Portland, Oregon  (and if you are curious, it only takes one connection to get from Tallahassee to Africa, but two to get to Portland!).   While I am blessed to be one of five, I think we all agree that Lisa is our star.  A brilliant performer who has played key roles in a number of traveling Broadway plays (Evita, Cats, Little Mermaid), Lisa married fellow actor James Drake, who she met while on tour for Evita.  James is a great guy and they had a beautiful ceremony, complete with Broadway singers and even your's truly serving as a "bridal attendant."  Congratulations, Lisa and James.  I love you both, am proud of what you are doing, and wish you the very best in your new life together.


Dem Registration Gains- Trends in State House Seats

Earlier this week, I took a look at macro-level Florida voter registration trends, which showed that despite a difficult political climate, Democrats are continuing to grow their advantage over Republicans in statewide voter registration.

Today I want to look at it my favorite micro-perspective, State House seats

Certainly, State House seats are not a perfect cell to look at.  They are purposefully drawn, generally to try to guarantee a certain outcome, making cross comparisons a little tricky.  That being said, they are small enough to create some interesting comparisons.  And just like the statewide numbers, there is very little in the state house registration trends that wouldn’t make a Democrat smile.

According to district by district state house data from summer 2009, since the 2002 redistricting, Democrats have gained in terms of two-party voter registration in 81 of the 120 state house seats across the state, including some 41 seats held by the GOP. 

Some of these shifts have been quite striking.

For example, take House District 107, the Miami Beach-Little Havana seat held by Democratic Rep. Luis Garcia.  In 2002, the GOP held a 5500 voter advantage in registration.  Today, Democrats outnumber Republicans by roughly 2500, a shift of almost 11 percent.   In fact, nearly 90% of all growth in HD 107 registration has been Democratic or independent.

The impact showed up on Election Day, where in 2008, President Obama received roughly 8% more of the vote than did John Kerry.   Trust me, I caught a lot of flack in 2006 suggesting that a Democrat could win this seat.  Today, it is nearly a safe Democratic district.

Or the seat held by Speaker Designate Dean Cannon, a district that when he first ran, provided him with a 7300 voter advantage.  Today, Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 1000 voters—and its growing, probably because less than 20% of the voter registration growth has been Republican over the last seven years. 

Not surprisingly, these trends tend to follow larger trade winds.  For example, of the six fastest Democratic trending seats currently held by the GOP, four are in Orlando:  Cannon (HD 35), Nelson (HD 38), Precourt (HD 41) and Einsaugle (HD 40), and five of the next nine are in the Miami media market (Bogdanoff (HD 91), Robaina, Rivera, Lopez-Cantera and Fresen).

What is unique about all nine of these districts?  In 2002 (and even 2006), arguably only two of them could be deemed competitive- HD 38 and HD 91, and in both cases, just barely.  Today, you could easily make the case that at least six and potentially eight are competitive.  

Also, in all nine of these cases, larger demographic and population shifts will almost certainly continue these trends for the foreseeable future.

One other thing worth noting:  Across the state, the data does show a lot of hardening of partisanship in base seats.  Generally  base GOP and really base Dem seats are just getting more that way.   But in those places where the trends are helping one party over another---largely in the 30-40 districts designed in 2002 to be just a few points too Republican to be competitive, districts are shifting from lean safe to lean swing, creating more opportunities. 

Now let me make this clear, I do not believe in any way this means the Democrats can or will win back the House in 2010, and without a lot of good fortune or luck, it is probably not going to happen in the near future. 

But I do believe that the state will continue to trend more competitive in the Legislature---and if I can be so bold, even if the GOP succeeds in a worst-case scenario map for the Democrats.  And just like a Cuban Democrat winning a Little Havana district, a scenario where the Democrats win back the House in the next decade isn't all that far-fetched anymore.   

There will certainly be more to come on this topic. 


Democrats in Florida- The Future is Bright

This is the first of many posts I am going to write about the state of the battlefield in Florida and the forward trajectory of the state's politics.

Recently, the Florida Democratic Party released the most recent voter registration numbers, which show despite all the media hand-wringing about the fortunes of Democrats across the country, that Democrats added about 40,000 more new voters in 2009 than Republicans. 

The Democrats now hold a seven point voter registration advantage over the GOP, for a raw advantage of nearly 800,000 voters.  This the largest advantage for Democrats since 1990

This alone is very good news for Democrats.

But the better news if you live on my side of the aisle:  There is no reason this trend should slow down any time soon.

First, the Democratic trends are most striking among younger voters (Dems hold a 16 point advantage among young voters) and among Hispanics (registering 3:1 Democratic).  In Dade County alone, between 2002-2008, the Democrats increased their voter registration advantage by more than 100,000 votes, largely on the back of changing Hispanic political behavior.

Since the last redistricting, the Democratic advantage has grown by some 500,000.  And the Democratic advantage is growing in places where the bulk of people live.

For example, as of the book closing in October 2008 (I have not seen the county by county for 2009 yet), the 25 or so counties where the Democrats made the bulk of their gains comprised some 75% of the total two-party vote in Florida. 

And even more good news for Democrats, in those counties that are electorally "swing counties" (ie- voted for Crist and Sink, or Bush and Obama), the gains are truly remarkable.  In fact, the largest voter registration gain for the GOP in any swing county is in Pasco County, where they have added roughly 2500 more voters than the GOP over the last seven years.   On the flip side, Democratic registration gains in places like Orange (plus 67.000), Hillsborough (plus 30,000) and Pinellas (plus 30,000) are all significant. 

Further, these changes are threatening to move two major counties, Orange and Dade (remember Jeb won the county twice), out of the "swing" category and into "base" Democratic counties.

Add to this, we will go into 2010 with our strongest top to bottom statewide ticket in years. 

I am going to have much more on this subject in the near future, but needless to say, from my perspective, the long term futures market for Democrats is very bright in Florida.


Five Takeaways from the Week

It has been a long few days of political operative world travel, so pardon the late and shorter version of 5 Takeaways from the week.


5.  Florida Emergency Management Director resigns.   It isn't every day that a key member of the state's emergency response team resigns with no notice, especially in the middle of the state's worst cold snap in years.  But given the accusations made about Ruben Almaguer, it should come as no surprise.

4. Rothstein to plead guilty.   Alleged ponzi schemer and occasional world traveler, Scott Rothstein will plead guilty to a variety of charges.  The question on the minds of many---did Rothstein give away anything for his plea deal? 

3. Meggs still after Sansom.  After courts threw out the other charges against former House Speaker Ray Sansom, Tallahassee State Attorney Willie Meggs came back with a few more creative charges.  Even if these don't stick, Sansom isn't out of the woods as a House Committee begins hearings on whether or not he will remain a member of that chamber---and he and future pols in his same boat probably should hope Dan Gelber's honest services bill doesn't become law. 

2.  John Thrasher to become new RPOF Chair.  With a resume that already includes House Speaker, State Senator, Alex Sink donor and Uber Lobbyist, John Thrasher now wants to be chair of the GOP.  Thrasher is a very organized and hard-nosed fundraiser who would surely bring order to the disorder of the Republican Party of Florda.  However, he is also the epitome of establishment, arguably even more 'establishment' than Jim Greer.  Will the grassroots accept that?  We will find out soon.

1.  The GOP Soap Opera Ends:  Greer is Out.  After months of hand-wringing, the GOP finally forced its embattled and controversial chair, Jim Greer, to resign.  Greer, known more for bluster than winning, had managed to alienate both donors and activists, all while running up an endless number of newspaper headlines around his party's credit card spending. 

Now here's the interesting part:  Greer still knows which GOP politicians had access to those credit cards and where they spent party money, undoubtedly with the chance to embarrass at least one or two.  My gut says Greer is a good party guy and holds his powder, but just the fear that he could drop a dime to a Bousquet, Caputo or Deslatte, is probably enough to keep a couple pols from sleeping well at night.


HONORABLE MENTION:  Me guest lecturing for Hse GOP Leader, Adam Hasner's grad school class.  I started this morning in Boca Raton (long day that included Miami, Orlando and now St. Augustine), giving a guest lecture for a class at Lynn University taught by Adam Hasner.  Needless to say, I was a little surprised when Adam called to ask me to join him, but I really enjoyed the opportunity.  He's got a good group of students at Lynn, has put together a fun course and I had a good bit of fun. I hope he'll invite me back next year.