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A short take on what should be next for the state party

Soon the Florida Democratic Party will release its review of the 2014 elections and recommendations for the future. While not a member of the committee writing the report, I've been a part of ten election cycles, and fortunately more wins than losses. I could write for hours on the path forward, but I'll keep this to the high points. With that, here are my two cents.

1. Drop the pointless "left vs moderate" debate and build bench with candidates who can win where they run.

I'm admittedly over the handwringing over what a "real Democrat" means. In a nutshell, what a "real Democrat" means to me: an individual with a servant's heart, focused on the middle class and social justice...and who can win.

The latter is what matters. And guess what, one size doesn't fit all. In 2006, when we won seven seats plus two more specials, our winning candidates were all over the ideological spectrum, from NRA members on the right to those on the far left of the scale. They won not because they fit into a box, but because they had a real relationship to their district - meaning they had some following & ability to raise money, had resumes that sounded like state legislators, and had a world view that fit the community they lived in. Two of my favorite people in Congress, Gwen Graham and Debbie Wasserman Schultz would be unlikely candidates in the other's districts. But both work where they are. We need to embrace that.

2. Control what you can control.

State parties can't control the national mood, or for that matter the state mood. They can't define the narrative. And they can't control national waves.

What they can control is this: maintaining good voter data, recruiting good candidates and make sure local activists are doing things that matter, like registering voters and working vote by mail. Everything -- and I mean everything, is secondary.

Having a lot of good candidates means in good years, you have lots of options, and in bad years, you can stop the bleeding. Having local parties focused on real party building efforts mean that those candidates always have a strong & growing voter base to work from.

And you need good candidates to win, and down the ballot, demographics isn't destiny. Sure, lightning struck in a bottle in a few places in 2012, but we should look at 2004 as a more relevant cycle. The previous legislature had been a mess, Kerry had run a very base centric campaign, and the Dems lost three seats in the House. Why? With a few exceptions, it was a narrow and somewhat underperforming Dem field of candidates. Recruiting is hard. But it has to be the priority. It's also hard to tell good people you can't help them. But for the state parties, the only metric of success is winning.

For local parties, we have to get back to a focus on meaningful activities, starting with voter registration. Here's a stat: for all the positive demographic trends that legitimately should give Democrats a lot of hope, since the day we sent the 600 or so Obama kids home in 2008, the Dem voter registration advantage in Florida has dropped from just over 700k to just over 400k. Let's collectively focus on turning this around as a goal for local parties.

3. Break down our own echo chambers.

When we only listen to others who reinforce our own world view, we become limited in our ability to understand the electorate at large. We complain about Republicans who only get their news from the alternative reality that is Fox News, yet we are often guilty of the same. The partisan chattering class only represents the partisan chattering class. And even if everyday voters share lots of our goals, they don't share the partisanship. There is a reason why people aren't joining political parties - on either side. Who can blame them?

I often tell candidates to view a trip to Publix as a good take on the space we operate in. People in there are busy, often distracted & typically just want to be left alone. When talking to voters, you have to be able to break through to them in same way you would try to connect with the guy behind you in line at Publix. Voters already don't trust parties - or frankly politics. Don't reinforce that.

4. Money matters.

Winning campaigns usually spend more. It's just a fact.

Winning candidates usually raise more. Also a fact.

When candidates raise more, the party doesn't have to spend as much helping them get across the line to win - meaning they can win more races.

5. Stop blaming the party for everything.

The state has 20 million people, 12 million active voters, and 10 media markets including 4 of the top 10 in the nation for political spending, while combined the GOP & Dem parties probably have 50 full time staff. It's not their fault it rains on Saturday. Most of the thing the parties get blamed for are actions candidates and potential candidates take on their own accord.

With Presidential campaigns this is even more true. The modern presidential is its own machine, dwarfing party resources.

Moreover if you don't like what the FDP does, go do something else. Go help candidates you like, go register voters, go recruit smart people to run for office.

6. Don't overthink it.

As I said before, there are lots of things Democrats should be doing, but only a few they must do.

Focus on the one percent of common sense things we have to do to win: candidate recruitment, voter registration & voter turnout.

Candidates must have their own compelling reason for running. Their job is to find the message to get over 50 percent. The party job is to get them as close to that number as possible. Again, all the rest of is secondary.

7. Get out of Tallahassee

Part and parcel to #3, there is no reason for the FDP to be located in Tallahassee. It's geographically misplaced and it's an echo chamber that isn't representative of the state.
Go to the Orlando media market. That is where the state is most dynamic right now. Lay down a marker and start organizing.

8. Have fun.

Not all fun campaigns win, but virtually all dysfunctional and miserable campaigns lose. Politics is supposed to be fun, and if you aren't having fun, you are doing something wrong. As Gandhi said "be the change you want to see in the world."

You are engaged in the 240 year struggle to keep our democratic republic afloat. That's a damn cool thing. If you are enjoying it, others will come along.


So what's new with Hispanics in Florida?

These days, every single conversation about Florida and 2016 generally starts and ends with the Hispanic vote - and for good reason, it is easily the fastest growing segment of the population. 

The Hispanic vote in Florida is critical, though I would caution election observers, it isn't the silver bullet. One place where most GOP and Democratic strategists agree, the path to a win in Florida for both parties is a complicated puzzle, where both parties are trying to manage their winning and losing margins in a myriad of different population centers and ethnic voting blocks.   That being said, it is a population where margins are movable, which makes it important.

This is the first of a series I am hoping to work on this summer that looks at some of the key voting blocks in Florida and how the world is changing within each as we line up towards another likely barnburner Presidential contest here. I chose to start with Hispanics because it is the piece that gets the most attention, and these days, it is is also the most dynamically changing group.

This piece will look at how the potential Hispanic vote has changed, just over the last six years, starting with 2008, which was the first year that Democrats really dominated the Hispanic vote in a statewide election, carrying the statewide Hispanic vote by 14% according to the exit polls --  which in all fairness, I think was a few points optimistic. 

The data for this piece is largely voter registration trends, which will give a fairly clear sense of where Hispanic vote growth could or will have an impact, both on a regional and partisan basis.  However, there is a huge caveat to looking at registration numbers – besides the obvious that registration doesn’t equal turnout – the Hispanic tag on the voter file is a self-reported indicator.  Not all Hispanics self-identify themselves as Hispanic. and prior to 2006, there wasn’t reliable data on Hispanics, since many counties counted Hispanics by the racial background:  white or black.  That's another reason for using 08 as a starting point.

But nonetheless, the trends between the 2008 general election and the 2014 general election are pretty instructive and interesting, and they certainly help explain why Hispanics at the statewide level are performing better for Democrats.  However, as I will point out later in this piece, and more thoroughly in my next few summer projects, the growth among Hispanics is only good news for Democrats if we as a party can claw back some of our losses among whites.

So back to Hispanics.  Here are some key toplines:

  • When the books closed on 2008, Hispanics added up to about 1.35 million registered voters.  This was just over 12% of the electorate.  Again, remember the caveat above – this under represents the total Hispanic vote in Florida, which I think was 14-15% of the total electorate in 2008.
  • When the books closed on 2014, Hispanics had risen to 14.5% of the state’s registered voters, or just under 1.75 million voters.
  • The total increase in active registered voters – that is all voters of all races and ethnicities --between 2008 and 2014 was just under 700,000 voters, from roughly 11.2 million voters to 11.9 million.  Of the increase in the election pool, about 400,000, or 56% can be attributed to Hispanics.
  • In 2008, Democrats held a 67,000 voter registration advantage over Republicans among Hispanics.  Six years later, it had risen to over 191,000.  If you go back to book closing 2006, the GOP in those days held a 40,000 voter advantage over Democrats.  Any way you cut it, that is a remarkable shift among a group that makes up less than 15% of the total registered voters.

Two other noteworthy things happened over that same time:

  • Self-identified Hispanics now outnumber self-identified Black voters (African American and Caribbean American) by over 120,000 voters.  In 2008, Black voters had a 100,000 vote edge over Hispanics.
  • Further, non-Hispanic white voters only made up 13.5% of the change in voter registration between 2008 and 2014.  Put it another way, 86.5% of the change in voter registration can be attributed to racial and ethnic minority groups.  Granted, a lot of this was due to the global economic meltdown which significantly slowed the migration of whites to Florida from other states, however, this trend lines up with what we are seeing in census numbers too.  The population growth in Florida is being driven by racial and ethnic minorities.

The growth is also happening in some predictable places – and a few places that aren’t so obvious: 

  • 39% of the growth in Hispanic registered voters has happened in the Miami media market.  Nothing surprising there. But what is interesting about Miami – there are 150,000 more Hispanics on the voter file today than there were in 2008, but only 115,000 more total voters.  In other words, since that market is largely built out from a population standpoint, Hispanics are disproportionably becoming a larger share of the voter pool, with the Hispanic share of the registered voters growing by almost 5%, compared to 2.5% statewide.  Plus it’s not just Miami-Dade – about 1/3 of this growth is from Broward County. And if you want to know why Democrats are winning in Dade and Broward by bigger margins:  of the 150,000 voter growth among Hispanics in the Miami media market, Republicans saw less than 1,000 additional Hispanics join their rolls between 2008 and 2014.  
  • To a question I get a lot – what is going on with Cubans, the last point above is quite important. There is a pretty strong correlation between exile era Cubans and GOP registration/performance.  And while it is tricky because nation of origin is not a voter file field, the fact that Hispanic registration growth has basically stopped in Dade County is a sign of two things:  new Cuban voters are not monolithic like their early generations – and just as important, Cubans are no longer the only Hispanic force in Dade. 
  • 24% of the growth happened in the Orlando media market, which is showing the most acute partisan impact.  As I mentioned in a previous post, if you look at the two recent GOP Presidential wins (2000 and 2004), Bush carried the three county metro-Orlando area by an average of 22,000 total votes.  In the two Obama wins (2008 and 2012), he carried the same counties by an average of just under 100,000 votes.  The challenge in off-year elections for Democrats – these voters are some of the lowest turnout populations in off-cycle years (I have a theory on this for another day). 
  • The Tampa market is also seeing a large growth – almost ¾ of the growth in voter registration between 2008 and 2014 can be attributed to Hispanics, and half of that is in Hillsborough County alone, where Hispanics grew from 11.8 to 15.2% of the voters.  This is one of the reasons why Hillsborough has looked much more Democratic in statewide elections the last 4 cycles. But don’t lose sight of Polk, where Hispanic growth is outpacing the statewide growth. 
  • Lastly, the West Palm Beach media market, which counts for under 9% of all the statewide Hispanic growth, but where Hispanics make up 2/3rds of the voter registration growth.  The dynamic there is very similar to the Miami market, where particularly in Palm Beach County, the growth among Hispanics actually outnumbers the total growth in registered voters, meaning that as the white population shrinks due to slower population growth, and frankly mortality, they are being replaced in larger numbers by Hispanic voters.

So what does this mean for partisanship?

On this front, the evidence is pretty clear:  While the majority of new Hispanic voters are rejecting both parties, they are really rejecting the GOP. 

  • As noted above, between 2008 and 2014, Hispanic voter registration numbers grew by just under 400,000.  The number of Republican Hispanics grew by just 25,000, or roughly 7% of the total.  Democratic Hispanic registration grew by 150,000, or about 40%, with the rest going to neither party. To view it another way, of the newly registered Hispanics who are chosing a political party, they are signing up with the Democrats at a rate of 6 to 1.  The only two markets where GOP Hispanic growth outnumbered Democratic Hispanic growth were Panama City and Pensacola, and the total GOP advantage in those two markets grew by 400 votes. 
  • The Democratic numbers are very encouraging particularly in the Miami and Orlando media markets.  In the tight equilibrium that is Florida Presidential politics, higher Democratic margins in Dade, combined with higher margins in Orlando – and Orlando in general taking up a bigger share of the electorate, truly does shake the balance of the state’s electoral pie.  This demographic shift has taken Florida from a state where in 2008, many questioned the state's competitiveness to one where today, one can argue Florida fractionally leans Democratic in a Presidential cycle.   And without Florida, there is no GOP Presidential math, unless your name is Calvin Coolidge.
  • The trends are helping Democrats among Hispanics, at least at the top of the ticket, at the ballot box.  Simply:  Obama won Hispanics by a bigger margin in 12 than 08, and Crist out-performed Sink.  And most of the reason why can be attributed to demographics.
  • Frankly, while trying to be fair, there really isn’t a bright spot for the GOP anywhere among Hispanics, but before my team declare too much of a win, keep in mind that NPA/other party registration among Hispanics grew faster than Democratic registration in every media market in the state.  The new Hispanic voter may be rejecting putting the GOP label on their name, but they aren’t sold on us yet. 

Two last points:

All of this works for the Democrats under one really basic condition:  we claw back to 40% among whites.  If you believe the exit polls – and I think they aren’t that far off – Obama won Florida winning about 37% of whites, down from the low 40’s in 08.  Crist lost Florida winning about 36% of whites, down from Sink in the low 40s in 2010.  Obama was able to hang on in 2012 due to the inertia of the demographic change – and a turnout operation that took advantage of it, while Crist rode demographics to a race as close as Sink.  That being said, had either one of them matched the previous election share of the white vote, Obama would have won in a walk and Crist would be Governor today.

Here is why.  Even under the rosiest of Democratic demographic models, whites will still make up nearly 5x the number of voters as Hispanics in 2016. That means, all things being equal, losing a point among whites means winning Hispanics by about 5% more just to make up that loss.  Now, before I get into an argument with people who like to argue, some of that is made up by rising vote share among Hispanics and Blacks, but it is nowhere near one to one.  Let me put it another way to my Democratic friends – if we can win over 40% of the white vote in 2016, the math becomes much harder for Republicans – even in a scenario where a Jeb Bush was to cut the Democratic advantage among Hispanics.

With one last caveat.  Marco Rubio scares me. I’ve been pretty consistent on this one. If you are a Democrat, he should be the one you don’t want to face, because I do think, if he is the nominee, he is the one who could significantly change the Hispanic math in Florida and the Latino math out west.  Why?  I truly believe he will benefit from the same identity politics that galvanized African American voters behind Obama.  And before you tell me this won’t happen, I would remind folks that in 2007, there were a lot of skeptics that African Americans would really embrace Obama, a notion that frankly I found insane and one that got flipped on its head the minute he walked into South Carolina.  If a Rubio wins Hispanics in Florida by 8-10 points, the white win number for Democrats starts moving towards the mid-40s, and while I do think a Hillary Clinton candidacy will excite higher support among white women, it is still a pretty big hill to climb.  

Granted, that is a lot of information, with a lot more to come.  Next up, a look at the changing African American and Caribbean vote. Until then, your comments are always welcome.  You can email me at steven dot schale at gmail dot com.





Patrick Murphy Gives Democrats A Real Shot at Senate Seat

The revolving door that is Bob Graham's old United States Senate seat will continue in 2016.  Barring a surprise, Florida will have its fourth Senator representing that seat since Senator Graham retired -- and for Democrats, Congressman Patrick Murphy gives us a real chance to return the seat to the party of Graham.

At this point, there is little doubt that Marco Rubio is running for President, as frankly he should.  Rubio's presidential ambitions are well known, and even if he falls short in 2016, recent history says the best path to the GOP nomination is well, to run for President.  Outside of President George W Bush -- whose father was President, and excluding President Ford who became President the Frank Underwood way without his name ever appearing on any national ballot, the last GOP nominee who hadn't previously run and lost was Barry Goldwater.  And for Rubio, there is little upside to trying to remain in the Senate in the event that he is not the nominee.

My prediction for what it is worth - Rubio is going to be far stronger in the nomination fight than people expect. It would not surprise me at all if he's the nominee.  

So back to the Senate race. 

Here's a fun fact: 

Democrats running for the Senate in Presidential years consistently outperform the Presidential nominee. Even in loses, no Democratic nominee for the Senate has under-performed the Presidential nominee since 1980.  And I imagine if I looked back further, this trend extends for quite a very long time.

Now Democrats shouldn't be under any illusions that winning the Senate race in 2016 will be easy.  All three of the possible GOP nominees, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez Cantera and former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford are impressive in their own rights.  I know the latter two are not as well-known as Atwater, but I know both of them personally and anyone who doubts their ability does so at their own peril. 

It is also worth noting that Will and I were staff in the Florida House at the same time.  He's gone on to be a possible statewide candidate and I am still a political hack.  Not sure what that says about me!

Winning in 2016 will be expensive and require a candidate who can appeal across the political spectrum, and Democrats have a possible candidate who has proven he can go toe-to-toe with whoever wins the GOP primary: Patrick Murphy. 

Let's start by looking at his electoral success.  In his two elections, Murphy has out-performed the top of the ticket both times.  In 2012, in his expensive battle with Allen West, he out-performed the President by 3 points, and this year he out-performed Governor Crist by approximately 10 points. Murphy's 20 point win in 2014 was even more impressive when you consider the gale force wind that Democrats faced during that cycle.   Particularly if the GOP nominates Jeff Atwater, who has proven his ability to win swing voters, having a candidate with the ability to win voters across the aisle will be key.  

Murphy's strength among swing voters means he will absolutely run stronger with whites than either Obama or Crist.  For Murphy, an electorate that is 67% white, 14% black (African American and Caribbean), 16% Hispanic and 2% other -- he is over 50% simply by getting 41% of whites and 55% of Hispanics, vote shares that are well within historic norms.  By comparison, Castor in 2004 won in the mid-40's among whites - and almost certainly would have won under a 2016 demographic model, and Nelson in 2012 ran 10 points higher than Obama among whites.  

In addition, Murphy’s fundraising abilities, raising a remarkable $11 million in his two races, as well as the talent of his experienced team that can and will put together a very credible operation quickly

Congressman Alan Grayson is rumored to also be considering a race, and some believe he is a better candidate.  I am not in this camp.  His 18 point shellacking in 2010 to Dan Webster should give Democrats real pause at his ability to compete with independents and swing Democrats and Republicans.  And frankly, I do not buy the argument that he can somehow drive turnout -- in Presidential cycles, Presidential candidates drive turnout.  His style may work with some base voters (though not this one), but I don't believe he can be a competitive statewide candidate.  He can probably stay in his Congressional seat as long as he wants, though if he runs for the Senate, my friend Senator Darren Soto will make an excellent Member of Congress. 

Along the same lines, Murphy gives progressives plenty to rally around. He’s pro-choice and has been a consistent champion for gay rights. He supports comprehensive immigration reform, has voted to increase the minimum wage, and has opposed GOP cuts to Medicare and Social Security. But at the same time, he’s been a moderate on taxes and economic issues, something important to winning in Florida; cutting taxes for the middle class and turning the economy around were the two central positive messages that helped us carry swing voters for Sen. Obama in 2008.

I’ll be honest, when I first met Patrick Murphy, he was very green. But in the six years since he entered the political scene, he’s matured into a seasoned pro, ably guided by Eric Johnson, who is one of the smartest on my side of the aisle. Murphy has been tested by two tough races, but yet he’s fresh enough to the game that he offers a new and compelling candidacy, and in my opinion, a real shot we have at taking back the seat.

Unless of course, Bob Graham wants to run. :-)



Early Primer on Florida 2016

Earlier this month, I took at look at where Florida fit in the pantheon of battleground states. This one is more of a primer on the state heading into 2016 in terms of the keys to past Democratic and Republican wins since 2000.

Like the last piece, this examines the data by aggregating data, in this case, county level data from the two wins by President Bush (2000 and 2004) and the two wins by President Obama (2008 and 2012) to look at how voting patterns differed between Bush wins and the Obama wins, and to take a look at a few regions where we can look for 2016 clues over the next 18 months.

From a top level, the data sets are pretty similar.  The Bush wins were by an average of 190.000 votes, while the Obama wins were by roughly 155,000. Both Bush and Obama won an average of 50.7% of the vote in their wins.   

For the sake of this exercise -- namely because I am writing it, this piece will be written from the standpoint of the difference between the Democratic wins and losses.  I'll also offer my thoughts on a few counties to watch for 2016.


From a media market standpoint, the keys to a Democratic win can be seen in three media markets:  Miami Dade, Tampa, and Orlando.  In the two Bush wins, in these three markets, the Democratic nominee won by a margin of just under 193,000 votes.  In the two Obama wins, the margin of victory was an average of 468,000 votes. 

In the other seven markets combined, the Republican margin of victory was an average of 284,000 in their wins, and 296,000 in their losses.  

However, it isn't as simple as focusing on three media markets, and ignoring the rest.  

In the two Obama wins, the President Obama received an average of 50.7% of the vote.  In the two Bush wins, the Democratic nominee won an average of 47.9%, a difference of 3.2%.  

From a factor of vote share, President Obama received a higher share of the vote in seven of the state's ten media markets.  The improvement in vote share looked like this:

Miami:           +4.4% (from 58.6 to 63.0%)

Orlando:        +3.9% (from 46.0 to 49.9%)

Jacksonville: +3.8% (from 36.5 to 40.3%)

Pensacola:    +3.7% (from 28.4 to 32.1%)

Fort Myers:   +2.9% (from 38.6 to 41.5%)

Tampa:         +2.8% (from 47.9 to 50.7%)

Gainesville:   +1.7% (from 51.6 to 53.3)

There is a lot of data that should make Democrats feel good about the state in 2016, but its not all rosy. 

At this point, I could make an argument for either party to carry the state.   For this exercise, its I'll look at just two elections: 2000 and 2012.  In addition to serving as an effective range, both were very close: 2012 was inside of a percentage point, and the 2000 election where, well, we can argue over who actually won.  

If the state was constant, these two elections should have very similar county level outcomes - and if you just look at counties won and lost, they do. But when you analyze the county level margins, it becomes clear that nothing is constant

Good News if you are a Democrat:  

Two words:  Orange and Dade.  In just a few years, Orange County has gone from a swing county to a place where Democrats can run up the score.  It is hard to believe that in 2004, George Bush only lost to John Kerry by 500 votes in a county that delivered 85,000+ vote margins for President Obama in two consecutive elections.  Add in Dade County which President Obama carried in 2012 by 170,000 more votes than Al Gore in 2000, and there is a dynamic base trending your way. Other counties, such as Hillsborough, look more blue than purple as well. This is all being driven by demographics.  The state is getting more diverse every four years, and this diversity is driving these growing urban margins, and there is no reason to believe the 2016 electorate won't be even more diverse than the 2012 -- even if voting is down among African and Caribbean Americans.  And to this point, Democrats are right that if the GOP doesn't solve its diversity problem, they will continue to have a math problem in Florida Presidentials. 

Good News if you are a Republican:

The 2012 election saw the GOP gain generally across the state compared to 2008. The GOP improved their margins in 57 of Florida's 67 counties, and in 7 of the 10 where Democrats ran stronger than 2008, the Democrat's picked up a total of less than 1,000 votes compared to their 08 margins. In fact if you compare 2000 to 2012, the GOP improved its margins in 53 of 67 counties. The GOP gains are most clear in Florida's suburban/exurban counties in SW Florida, on the I-4 corridor, and particularly around Jacksonville -- and are frequently more than offsetting Dem gains in urban areas.  For example, President Obama carried Hillsborough -- a county which makes up 6.5% of the statewide vote, by roughly 36,000 votes, whereas Gore lost it by 11,000 -- a net gain of 47,000 votes for Democrats.  Yet in just the three counties that touch Duval: Clay, Nassau and St. Johns -- which make up only 2.9% of the statewide vote, Romney carried them by almost 51,000 votes more than Bush did in 2000.  To this point, the GOP is right that if the Dems can't claw back some of its traditional support among working and middle class whites, all the diversity in the world may not matter.

So this me to this.  Where are the counties to start watching:

Hillsborough:  Want to know who will win Florida?  Go to Hillsborough County. Except for 1992, this county has gotten it right in every election since 1924, which as readers of this blog will remember, is also the last time Republicans won the White House without winning Florida. The average Bush margin of victory: 21,000 votes, while President Obama carried the county twice by virtually identical margins and percentages (36K votes/8%).  And lest Democrats get too excited about some of the demographic trends, in winning Hillsborough in 2014, Crist still did not get to 50 percent.  A Republican might be able to win Florida's 29 even losing Hillsborough by a few votes, but it is hard to see a path for a Democrat without winning here.

Miami Dade:  While I would like to think that guys like me helped break the code in Dade in the two Obama wins, the reality is every Democratic nominee for President since Gore has done better than the last, and every Democratic nominee for Governor since McBride has done better than the last. Personally, I believe a lot of what is happening here is largely the inertia of demographics.  The real question for both Republicans and Democrats:  What is the upper limit for Democrats?  If Obama won 61% of the vote in 2012 after winning 57% in 2008, could the Democrat get to 64% in 2016?   If so, the margin grows to 245,000 votes, 35,000 more votes than 2012.

Duval: In terms of stark differences, few places jump out like Duval County. In the two Bush wins, the GOP margin of victory was an average of 53,000 votes.  In the two Obama wins, that margin dropped to an average of 11,000 votes.  Looking at it another way, the GOP won the county by 17-18% in their wins, and by roughly 3% in their losses. Why is this important for Democrats?  The Democratic path to victory means running up the score in a few counties, where the Republican path means winning several counties by 30-50K votes.  Take away a few of those places, and their math gets hard.  On the flip side, a flag for Democrats.  Allowing Duval to return to Bush level margins would on its own, virtually wipe out any demographic improvements in Dade.  

Metro Orlando: It is easy to think about what is happening politically in Central Florida as an Orlando phenomenon, but the demographic shifts that have occurred in the region really spread out over the three county metro Orlando area (Seminole, Orange and Osceola).  The difference from the Bush wins to the Obama wins has been stunning: In the two Bush wins, he carried the three county area by an average of 22,000 votes.  In the two Obama wins, the President carried them by a margin of roughly 100,000 votes -- a nearly 122,000 vote margin improvement for the Democrats.  But my Democratic friends shouldn't get too confident, all of the regional growth happened between the 2004 and 2008 elections, and in 2014, Orange and Osceola were two of the lowest turnout counties in the state.  In other words, maintaining the Presidential margins means maintaining the Obama coalition turnout.

Volusia:  Count me in the camp that believes strongly that my party's long term success requires clawing back some of our losses among working whites and rebuilding our broader coalition.  From my perspective, no place demonstrates our struggles there quite as clearly as Volusia County.  Mitt Romney carried Volusia in 2012, becoming the first Republican since President George HW Bush in 1988 to win the county, and this should be an alarm bell for Democrats.  In Governor's races, at least going back to 1966, Volusia County has always gotten it right, and Scott carried the county in both 2010 and 2014. Republicans have won the county in three consecutive statewide elections.  If Democrats are going to make inroads again with working white voters, its going to have to show up in the results of places like Volusia County

As the cycle evolves, I'll dig a little deeper into the media markets, but as always, hope you enjoyed the piece and I always appreciate the feedback. 

I'd also remind folks that at this point in the 2008 cycle, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Gulianni were battling it out for Florida's 27 votes -- and as late as the spring of 08, McCain led by 15 points over Obama.  There is a lot of silly season between now and when the voting starts, but one thing I am sure of, Florida will once again be the biggest battleground prize.

If you have thoughts or questions, I can be reached at steven DOT schale AT



So Just How Close is Florida? The 2016 Version

Four years ago, I wrote a piece looking at how Florida stacked up to the other battleground states, a piece I wrote that one largely in response to a bunch of reporter calls questioning Florida's swing state status.  At least we are past that debate.  This piece is largely an update to that one, looking at how the 2012 results either have or have not shaken up Florida's place in the pantheon of competitive Presidential states.

I am going to write this in two parts, with this one taking at look at how Florida stacks up compared to the rest of the country.  The next one will take a look at how Florida itself performs, what has evolved, and what has not. 

For this effort, I am going to compare Florida to the rest of the country two different ways:  From 1992 through 2012, choosing 1992 because that year signifies Florida's entrance into the national ranks of battleground states, and then from 2000 to 2012, since the national map we operate under today has largely been frozen in place since 2000.

Before I get started, when doing this research, I looked up a bunch of old national election results to test a hunch -- a hunch that if we go back to the Reagan days, that the country had pretty much split 50:50.  Well, that hunch was pretty darn close.

I actually went back to 1976, adding up the election results from 1976-2012. Moving back to 1976 didn't change the topline numbers much, but it did give it a very cool benchmark: just over 1 billion ballots cast in Presidential elections over that span -- ten elections that split 5 Democratic and 5 Republican.

Here's how it looks -- All votes counted for President, 1976-2012: 

Republicans: 498,073,887 (47.8%)

Democrats:  493,452,066 (47.4%)

Total Ballots: 1,041,089,910 (GOP advantage: 4,621,821)

That's just hard to get your head around.

Back to the point of this piece. Looking at the same comparative, nationally, in the six elections from 1992 to 2012, just under 689 million ballots were cast for President. with Democrats holding an advanage of about 26 million ballots over that time (roughly 49-46%). 

Nationally, state outcomes broke down like this:

Republicans 6-0:  13 states

Republicans 5-1: 5 states

Republicans 4-2: 7 states (AR, KY, LA, MO, TN, VA, WV) 

Even 3-3:  2 states (Colorado, Florida)

Democrats 4-2:  2 states (Ohio, Nevada)

Democrats 5-1: 3 states

Democrats 6-0: 19 states

For the sake of this exercise, looking at which state is most competitive over time, I'll narrow this piece to those eleven states that either split 3-3 or were carried by each of the two political parties at least twice. 

Immediately, we know that six of these states are not likely competitive at the Presidential level at this point: Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri (more on this later), Tennessee and West Virginia, which leaves us with five states:  Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Nevada.  The 2011 edition included Missouri, and I debated keeping it here, but given its performance in 2012 for Democrats, its status as a top tier Presidential bellwether is in question, though in fairness - due to its strength for President Clinton in the 90s, had it been kept in, it would have finished third in this chart.

The 12 readers of this blog may well remember when I did this same analysis in 2011 that Colorado edged out Florida as the closest state between 1992 and 2008. 

Does that still hold true?

5.  Nevada.  Since 1992, just under 4.4 million votes were cast for President.  Republicans carried the state twice (2000 and 2004), with Democrats winning the state four times (92, 96, 08, 12).  Driven by President Obama's large 2008 margin, Democrats won 48.6% of all the votes cast, to 44.9% by the GOP, a 3.7% Dem margin.  It is the least competitive of these five, just as it was going into 2012.

4. Ohio.  Since 1992, over 31 million votes were cast, with the Dems holding a 47.7 to 46.0 advantage. Just like Nevada, the GOP won it in 2000 and 04, with the Democrats winning the other four. 

3.  Virginia.  Virginia is new to this list, with the Dems carrying the last two elections after losing the previous four (and many more than that).  Just under 18.5 million ballots were cast over the last six Presidentials, with Republicans holding a 48.6 to 47.2 (1.4%) advantage, placing it in the middle of these rankings. 

2. Colorado.  The closeset state going into 2012, it is the closest no longer. Each party has won the state three times in the last six (Dems 92, 08, 12; GOP 96, 00, 04), with the Democrats winning 154,000 more of the state's just under 12 million ballots over that time, giving them a 47.4 to 46.1% advantage.

1.  Florida.  No state in the union has been closer over the last six Presidentials, with Democrats winning the state in 1996, 2008 and 2012, and the GOP the other three (I will continue to dispute one of them!).  Over those six elections, a total of just over 41 million ballots have been cast, with the Democrats holding a 130,664 vote advantage (47.8-47.5).  To put it another way, under state law, we'd be in a mandatory recount of 41 million votes. 

Now in fairness, the country is different today than it was in 1992.  Many southern states which were in play for President Clinton have over the last few cycles have moved into a predictably Republican position. 

So how does this realignment change the electoral map?

Nationwide, it breaks down like this. Out of a total of just under 489 million ballots, Democrats have won 50.3% of all votes cast, with the GOP carrying 47.9%, or a Dem margin of just over 12 million ballots. In terms of states, the scoreboard looks like this:

GOP 4-0:  22 states

GOP 3-1: 2 states (Indiana, North Carolina)

Split 2-2:  5 states (Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia)

Dem 3-1: 3 states (Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico)

Dem 4-0:  19 states

As a result, our five top battlegrounds remain unchanged.  Not surprisingly, all five went with the national winner each cycle. And they rank like this, with the percentage margin for the leading party among all ballots cast in the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 elections:

5. Nevada (Dem +4.3)

4. Colorado (Dem +1.2)

3. Virginia (GOP +0.73)

2. Ohio (Dem +0.67)

1. Florida (GOP +0.23)

In the case of Florida, 30,458,980 ballots were cast---ugh 2000 ---were counted, with Republicans winning 15,086,978 votes to the Democrats 15,015,920, a difference of just 71,058 votes.  At this margin, we would be in both a mandatory recount of all ballots, as well as a mandatory hand count of all over and under votes. I think most of us remember what that looked like.

So in the immortal words of Tim Russert, it remains, "Florida, Florida, Florida." 

Granted, there are other states which are competitive and becoming moreso.  There are "blue" states that potentially get more competitive over time (Michigan, Wisconsin, etc), just as there are "red" states, like Georgia and Arizona, that could enter the conversation.  But speculating those isn't the point of this work -- the goal here is to look at the places we know are competitive, because at least in recent history, they have remained that way.

Later this week, I will publish a second piece that looks at what makes Florida as close as it is -- and what has and hasn't changed over time.  And for the sake of making the work of our outside press friends a little easier, I'll take a stab at the counties they should start getting familiar with as they look for clues to how the state might go in 2016.

And remember this one fact, no Republican has gone to the White House since Calvin Coolidge without carrying Florida.  The state's central position on the road to the White House remains the state's great revenge for all of the fun the rest of the country gets from reading about Florida Man! 




Anyone want to join me for a trip to Pakistan?

The morning after the election, tired and a little dejected, I stood with five Indians and four Pakistanis inside the Tampa International Airport, seeing them back off to Washington, DC. When I signed up for this, I didn't know what to expect. What I didn't expect was what two of them said to me: "you have changed my entire view of your country."

I didn't know how to react. So I cried.

I've started and trashed this piece four or five times. Chalk some of it to post election exhaustion -- for the better part of 18 months, I've been engaged in what became the most competitive Congressional and the most competitive Governor's race in the country. Mostly, like my trip to Asia last winter, I walked away from this experience more unsure of the world than ever before -- but in a good way. I write to process information, and this is one I haven't been able to fully process. Even as I finish this, I find it hard to put to words.

As my friends know, last December, I spent nearly three weeks in Southeast Asia as part of a delegation of Americans visiting the Philippines and Malaysia. That experience was nothing short of life changing. You can find my writings from that trip on this site.

As a result of that trip, the organization that arranged my Asia delegation, the American Council of Young Political Leaders, asked if I would host a group of foreigners in Florida to observe the US elections. Despite it being a fairly hectic time, saying yes was the least I could do in appreciation for the opportunity the organization gave me -- plus in reality, the last 72 hours of an election for a guy like me is mostly about conference calls and riding out the anxiety in an office. Conference calls in a van with 9 strangers was a welcome relief from sitting in an office.

When I said yes to hosting, I reached out to my host in Malaysia, the treasure to world humanity known as Jack Lim. Besides some very good advice, Jack said that he got far more out of hosting than the delegates got from their trips.

I was assigned a delegation from Pakistan and India, to arrive on Halloween and stay through the Wednesday after the election. The goal of the trip, from my perspective, was twofold: give them an introduction to American-style elections, as well as give them a chance to experience some ole fashion US culture, and interact with everyday Tampa area residents.

The agenda was packed, from attending a Tampa Bay Lightning game, to church at a historically African American parish, an Orlando rally with President Clinton, dinner with local Indian and Pakistani Americans, and even a lunch in downtown Lakeland with former Senator and ACYPL alum Paula Dockery. They got a good taste of Florida.

The Indian delegation was made up entirely of young elected officials. They came from far reaching corners of the country. The Pakistani delegation was comprised of leaders working around government. At first, the two country delegations were polite to eachother, but largely separate, as the tensions between the two nations are well documented. The two groups kept to themselves, riding in separate busses, sitting at separate tables, and generally keeping to themselves. Over time, walls came down, and everyone grew close. That's the goal of these trips - expand cultural understanding and build bridges that become lifelong relationships.

The Indian delegation was a ton of fun. All young electeds, all heading off to do great things in their country, and all who will be lifelong friends. I can't wait to visit them in their country soon -- and I will talk them in a separate post.

But in this post, I will focus on the Pakistani piece of the puzzle.

So how do we think of Pakistan?

Failed state. Extremists. Terrorists. Fanatical. Unsafe. Unstable. Backwards. Radical. Untrustworthy.

For me, the only human perspective I had previously of Pakistan was through a fellow from graduate school at FSU. He was thoughtful, moderate, bright and bullish on his country. He suggested I visit. That seemed a bit crazy, plus maybe he was the exception. He didn't fit the frame. All I know is I had a lot of questions.

Again, unlike the Indian delegation, the Pakistani delegation was entirely made up of people outside of elected office. Asif is a journalist who covers their Parliament and the Pakistani Defense Department (how's that for a beat), Saubana works for an anti-corruption agency, Adnan is deeply involved in the energy industry and Nisar works for an NGO that encourages civic engagement and fair elections.

On the second night of the trip, inside a luxury box at a Tampa Bay Lightning game, we started talking. First it was me: why is there religious extremism, why should we trust your government, and why the hatred of the west....then it was them: drone strikes, the sense that the invastion of Iraq was rooted in religion, and their view that the US only wants to use Pakistan, not help it. It wasn't until the last two minutes that I even knew the score of the game.

The conversation continued -- in the minivan we drove around Tampa and Orlando, outside of a primarily African American church on Sunday morning, and even over absurdly spicy Indian food late the eve of the election. And what became apparent - most of our mutual preconceived notions of the other's country were based in narratives rooted in just parts of the truth. And just like my friend from college, I found them each to be thoughftul, moderate, and driven to create a different future for their nation. We frequently didn't agree, but that was ok.

Around the third day, one of the delegates said to me "you just need to come see for yourself." My response: "is it safe for a guy like me" was met with pretty quick disdain. As a late friend of mine once told me after spending a significant amount of time in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, that their culture treats invited guests like family -- which extends to their security-- and that he always felt comfortable with friends there. After realizing the error of my response, I said "of course." They would have never said "come" if they felt it was unsafe, anymore than they'd put their own brother at risk.

Don't get me wrong, Pakistan has a long ways to go. There are places that are ungoverned, where extremism thrives and where threats to America clearly exist. Corruption is far too prevalent. Infrastructure is crumbling (they kept commenting on the quality of our roads). The government there frequently is a total disservice to it's citizens.

Each of the delegates had a job that challenges the existing power structure, meaning their decision to work in the arena has a different kind of risk than my decision to do so here. When I do something people don't like, I get to deal with the peanut gallery. When my friend Asif writes a story that pushes a boundary, his potential consequences are far severe than some snarky remarks in the comments section of a website. There they have real threats, threats a government often can't protect them from. I'd like to think I would have the courage to do what they think is normal, but I don't know that I do.

But for all of the country's severe and very real problems -- and frankly, for all of the suspicion of the US that admittedly exists within broad strokes of the Pakistani population, I know I am guilty of viewing the nation of people there through an unfair lens. The truth is, the people I met live just like we do: trying to keep a job, pay bills, give their kids a better life, while improving their community. The terrorism that struck the historic Wagah border crossing during their trip here offended them as much as it did the rest of humanity. It's easy to forget that in the frame that we view that part of the world. We are very much in this together.

I was totally unprepared to be embraced completely as family by four strangers from a country that we know almost nothing about, each of whom put down their earlier notions of America to spend time here, and approached their time in this country with open minds and open ears. Just like my Malaysian friend Jack told me would happen, I know for a fact their impact on me was far more profound than any impact I had on them.

So yes, I will absolutely be taking them up on their invitation. In fact, I can't wait. I'd go tomorrow if I could (as I've since learned, getting a Pakistan visa is a several month proposition - so it won't be tomorrow!). And I will ask them to come here to visit again.

And to my Indian friends - I will be writing about -- and coming to visit you too!


I need a drink

To: Fellow Hacks
From: Steve
Re: Is it over yet?
Date: Do you really not know?


After final absentees, Dems cut the GOP lead to 97k votes or just over 3%. It was 13% at the start of early voting, 12.2% at this point in 2010.

The total gap is down 180k since this point in 2010. And if you somehow missed the other 37 memos, Governor Scott won by 61k votes, or roughly 1%.

I believe the final registration margin will be roughly 2 points, and I believe my guy will win. And if I'm wrong, I have to buy Kirk Pepper dinner. There are worse things.

But today is Election Day, so more crunching is pointless. Just vote people

Mostly I wanted to take a minute to say thanks.

To Gwen & Charlie, Carole & Steve, Bob & Adele - Thank you for your friendship and your confidence.

To Omar - As my stepdad would say, you done good. I am proud of you.

To Julia - No one ran a better Congressional. No one in America.

To Frank, Jim, Anzo, Jeff, Scott, Corey, Kanner, Dylan, Kevin & Jessica - What a year. Not sure how we made it.

To Dan- It was fun to go to battle again with you.

To Fred, Gary, Troy, Neal, Wayne, Todd & Zander - love you guys. I won't miss the conference calls.

To Billy - I added it up, you owe me dinner.

To: Mac & Travis - Thanks for being friendly skeptics, emphasis on the first word. Lunch soon. On Mac.

To Mike - I've been on both sides of the battle with you. I've learned that I'd rather be on your team.

To Ben- I need a run.

To: Darrick - I appreciate your frequent calls of prayer, even if you are for the other guy. You are a good man.

To Nikole, thank you for enduring another one, and to Colleen, thank you for letting me use your house like a dorm.

To Tim: I'm billing you for my carpal tunnel surgery.

And to the bipartisan brothers of @kienascar - We all know one thing: Kevin is on the clock.

And to the TV stations: Don't spend it all in one place.


Monday Florida Gov race

To: Both interested and disinterested parties

From: Steve Schale

Date: Nov 3, 2014

Re: Looking Forward to Car Ads

I will add more to this as the day goes forward.


Souls to the Polls was very good for the Democrats, who cut some 25,000 votes off the GOP advantage in one day.

The margin now stands at just under 100k votes, or 3.3%. In 2010, the GOP advantage was 12.3% or 272k votes.

The GOP has lost 172K votes from their 2010 advantage. As a refresher, Governor Scott won in 2010 by 61k votes or 1%.

If Election Day just does as it did in 2010, the GOP registration margin will be less than 2%. And as we know, Democratic turnout has consistently outpaced GOP predictions of another 2010 performance.


The electorate will be more diverse.

Black turnout is nearly 12%, a full point higher than 2010. Just this change alone would cut Scott's 61k margin in 2010 to roughly 10k votes.

Democrats hold a roughly 80k margin among the voters who did not vote in 2010. In addition, some 40 percent of NPA voters did not vote in 2010. In other words, non-midterm voters did not vote in 2010.

Women continue to outpace men by 54:46.

In conclusion

I'll write one more tomorrow after the final numbers, but thanks to all for your feedback. I've enjoyed many a friendly debate with journalists and fellow R&D hacks.

We all want this to be over. But in the end, we are one state, the greatest state in the greatest country. I truly believe my guy will win, albeit narrowly. But regardless of who wins, I hope we can all commit to coming together. The issues facing Florida are too big for division. And because there really should be more honor among thieves.

So go vote Florida. It's now on you.


Sunday Nov 2 Gov race Update

To: Those rooting for my guy, those covering my guy and those who aren't rooting for my guy, but still say nice things about my memos.

From: Steve

Re: I need to find real work or sleep


After the last Saturday of early voting, Dems have cut the GOP advantage to 4.2% down from 4.9% yesterday and 12.7% on the equivalent day in 2010.

The GOP advantage is down to 125k in raw votes, compared to 275k in 2010. As a refresher, Scott won by 61,500 votes, or just over a point.

Voting has now just under 3 million, and personally, I think we are headed for an election where at least 6 million people vote, which is higher than I initially thought.


Black turnout (African American and Caribbean) is well over double what if was in 2010. Black voters now make up 11.3 percent of all voters, which exceeds the total share four years ago, and some two percent higher than this point four years ago.

Also, and this is important with the gender gap: 55 percent of voters at this point are women.

12 counties continue voting today.

Bradford, Broward, Charlotte, Duuuuuuval, Hillsborough, Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Seminole, St Lucie & Suwannee.

Final note:

I apologize for missing a day. Yesterday I spent the day hosting a group of political leaders from India & Pakistan who are in Florida with the American Council of Young Political Leaders to observe the elections. Last year I was honored to travel to SE Asia on a similar trip, and besides these memos, please take a minute to read some of the notes from that trip on my website.

And one more, if you are for my guy, get out there and hustle. Bang on doors, call voters, and pester your friends to go vote. It's a stunningly beautiful weekend, plus with Scott spending an almost comical $13.2 million in TV ads this last week, canvassing will save you from wanting to throw the TV out the window.

And if you aren't for my guy, stay inside and watch some TV! Someone should watch all those ads!


Friday Gov Race Update

I apologize for the delay in this update. Between some travel today and welcoming a foreign contingent to Tampa from the American Council of Young Political Leaders, I have not had time at my computer. Unlike my memo writing compatriots on the other side, I am a mere volunteer without a press staff of 2700 to help with these. I also mistakenly figured a reprieve from the memos would be welcome, but based on emails and texts, back by popular demand...

The Halloween edition of The Memo:


Democrats won the day by a margin of roughly 5,000 votes. This dropped the GOP advantage to 133,000, or just about 5.2%. Yesterday it was just 138,000 and 5.9%.

On the same day of the campaign in 2010, the margin was 265,000 or 14.5%. Again for reference, Scott won by 61,500 votes in 2010, or just over 1% in an electorate that was +5% GOP. I believe we will be under that 5% edge before the first vote is cast on Election Day.

It is worth noting that yesterday, the total number of pre-election day ballots surpassed the total number voted before Election Day in 2010. This was reached three days earlier in the cycle. Going into Election Day, the GOP had an advantage of 11.9% or 271,000 votes.

Couple of highlights:

Nearly twice as many Black voters (African American and Caribbean American Floridians) have cast a ballot compared to this point in 2010. As a result, Black voters make up 2% more of the electorate at this point compared to 2010. In total, in 2010, Black voters made up 11% of all voters.

Democrats continue to show the biggest gains in areas where we need to do well: Osceola, Dade, Palm Beach and Broward Counties are the four counties with the largest shifts towards the Democrats compared to the last Governor's race.

Counties in the I-4 corridor make up all but one of the rest of the top 11: Hernando, Orange, Sarasota, Pasco, Manatee and Seminole. St. Lucie, in the Palm Beach media market is the other. These are all places where for a Democrat to win statewide, we need to either expand our 2010 margins or narrow the GOP advantages.

In addition, NPA voters have grown from 14% at this point in 2010 to 17.4% today. If this holds up, the percentage of the electorate made up of by partisans will be lower in 2010, and given the GOP traditional advantage, this is a good change for Governor Crist.

But most importantly, this election is almost over. 40 year old me should have listened to 38 year old me, who tried to say that I was too old for this stuff. All that being said, its been a honor to be in the middle of this with both Governor Crist and Gwen Graham, though mostly I am looking forward to rest.

Until tomorrow's memo, Hope everyone has a Happy Halloween.