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Marco Rubio presidential campaign owes $1.5M in debt

Marco Rubio might be running for re-election, but his presidential campaign is still more than $1 million in the red.

Campaign finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission show Rubio’s presidential campaign had more than $1.5 million in debt as of Sept. 30. The sum includes the costs of telemarketing services, media production, and legal fees.

According to campaign finance records, the presidential campaign owed $570,657 for telemarketing; $315,000 for media production; $167,000 for legal fees; $350,000 for strategic consulting; and $130,000 for web services.

It may seem like a lot, but the campaign has continued to whittle down its outstanding debt each reporting period. Records show the presidential campaign had more than $1.9 million in debt at the end of March.

Rubio ended his presidential bid in March, after he came in second to Donald Trump in Florida’s presidential preference primary. He announced he was running for re-election in June, just days before the qualifying deadline.

It’s not unusual for presidential campaigns to carry debt well after the race is over. In May, the Wall Street Journal reported former presidential hopefuls owed more than $5.4 million.

Paying down the debt could take years. According to the Wall Street Journal, Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic nominee, didn’t pay off debt for her 2008 presidential campaign until 2012.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is still trying to pay down the debt from his 2012 presidential bid. According to the most recent campaign filing, Gingrich still owed $4.6 million for his 2012 campaign.

Rubio isn’t the only 2016 hopeful whose campaign is still carrying some debt.

Campaign finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission show Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign owed $368,063 through Aug. 31; while Bernie Sanders, a 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful, owed $472,011 at the end of August.

Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign owed $250,000, down from $452,065 at the end of February. Bush ended his presidential bid after the South Carolina primary. Meanwhile, Chris Christie’s campaign still owes $170,505; while Rand Paul’s presidential campaign owes $301,107.

 

Gold cards and red hats: A Trumpian approach to fundraising

Donald Trump is underwriting his presidential bid by selling the Donald Trump lifestyle — and campaign finance records show it is working.

For the low price of $25, you can snag a Trump Gold Card emblazoned with your name or join a campaign “Board of Directors” that comes with a personalized certificate. For $30, grab one of Trump’s signature red hats — billed as “the most popular product in America.” Supporters can elevate themselves to “big league” by ponying up $184 for a signed, “now out of print” copy of Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal.”

There’s a catch to some of these merchandising claims. There is no evidence the board of directors exists. “The Art of the Deal” is still in print, available for $9.34 in paperback. And the new campaign edition of the book is signed by an autopen, not Trump, as noted in the solicitation’s fine print.

Regardless, the appeals have paid off.

Through the end of July, people giving $200 or less made up about half of his campaign funds, according to fundraising reports through July. For Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, those small gifts accounted for about 19 percent.

The two candidates each claim over 2 million donors, but Trump has been fundraising in earnest for only about three months, compared to Clinton’s 17-month operation. Both are expected to report the details of their August fundraising to federal regulators on Tuesday.

“His brand appeals to quite a number of people,” said John Thompson, digital fundraising director for Ted Cruz‘s Republican presidential campaign. “It’s smart for him to use it for fundraising. The celebrity factor builds a natural donor community on its own, without him having to do too much.”

Hyperbolic campaign marketing is a natural fit for Trump, who has puffed up the value of what he sold throughout his business career. At times, Trump has offered golf memberships or Trump University seminars at a “discount” from an imaginary, inflated price; and he has declared condo projects close to selling out when in reality they were struggling.

“You want to say it in the most positive way possible,” Trump once told attorneys who asked him whether he had ever lied about his properties to sell them. “I’m no different from a politician running for office.”

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that his campaign has adopted that same approach, outspending Clinton on campaign merchandise while running a brisk retail operation that helps him raise the money for, among other things, crucial get-out-the-vote efforts and advertising to spread his message.

Trump’s appeals for smaller contributions are reminiscent of Bernie Sanders, whose signature line in the Democratic primary this year was that his campaign was paid for by $27 donations.

Sanders’ digital fundraiser, Michael Whitney, questioned whether Trump’s small donor haul would continue since it does not appear the campaign has done much to get email addresses that could be turned into fresh batches of new potential donors.

“This feels more like a battering ram than a well-thought-out digital program,” Whitney said.

One of Trump’s most frequent fundraising offers has been a “gold card” that identifies the holder as an Executive Member for a “one-time induction fee.”

“In the past, I have asked supporters for a one-time induction fee of $100. But because of your outstanding generosity to date, I am only asking you to make a $35 contribution,” the email asks.

The Associated Press found no evidence of an online solicitation in which the card was sold for the undiscounted price of $100.

The gold card offer is reminiscent of a Trump Visa card that became available in 2004. In a press release for it, Trump pitched it as “the best deal” and warned declining it “could get you fired.”

Trump also seeks to make would-be donors feel like part of the campaign. Several emails have sought “campaign advice,” asked for help with debate preparation and even offered people the chance to join a campaign “board of directors.”

There’s no evidence such a board exists, and the campaign did not respond to questions about it.

But the gold card and executive board membership gimmicks are getting results, said Tom Sather, senior director of research at the email data solutions firm Return Path. The firm measures emails much the way Nielsen measures television viewership, by extrapolating from a large panel of study participants.

Emails from the Trump campaign and Trump joint committees with the Republican Party have an average open rate of 11 percent, Sather said. The 10 gold card-related emails had a far higher open rate of 18 percent, and executive board emails had an open rate of 19 percent, he said.

“These kinds of offers intrigue people and make them feel exclusive and special,” he said.

Ever the marketer, Trump has also dominated the campaign swag front.

In April, May and June, Trump spent about $3 million on merchandise that’s then sold to donors, an AP review of campaign finance reports found. Clinton’s operation spent about $2 million in the same time period.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Ted Cruz endorses Dan Bongino in CD 19

Dan Bongino snagged a big endorsement Monday, just one day before the Republican primary.

Sen. Ted Cruz announced Monday he was backing Bongino in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. In a statement, the Texas Republican and one-time presidential hopeful said there was “no doubt” in his mind that Bongino would defend the Constitution.

“Dan spent his life in public service, first as a police officer, and then as an agent in the United States Secret Service,” said Cruz in a statement on Facebook. “There’s no doubt in my mind that in our nation’s capital Dan would be a relentless advocate for and defender of our Constitution — just as he has been his entire life.”

The endorsement comes one day before the primary. Bongino faces Chauncey Goss and Francis Rooney in the Republican primary. The winner will face Democrat Robert Neeld in November.

Donald Trump campaign doubles spending, not ground game

Donald Trump‘s campaign expenses more than doubled last month, even as the Republican presidential nominee held his payroll to about 70 employees, aired zero television advertisements and undertook no significant operational build out across the country.

Instead, about half of the campaign’s $18.5 million in spending was vacuumed up by Giles-Parscale, a web design and marketing firm new to national politics, Federal Election Commission filings show. It’s a crossover vendor from Trump’s real estate organization.

The campaign paid Giles-Parscale $8.4 million in July, about twice what the San Antonio firm had collected from it over the course of the preceding year. Brad Parscale, the president, is the campaign’s director of digital marketing.

The big expense came as Trump put a new emphasis on online fundraising, after paying for his primary run mostly out of his own pocket.

Millions more went to air travel. The campaign paid about $2 million for private jets other than Trump’s own TAG Air, which also collected $500,000.

Some of Trump’s consultants are also mysteriously well-paid.

Chess Bedsole, the campaign’s Alabama state director, was paid $64,000 last month for field consulting. His last campaign payment was for $15,000 in December.

Yet the campaign’s payroll remained thin, and there did not appear to be much new in the way of office leases across the country, including in critical battleground states such as Ohio.

Trump has relied heavily on the Republican National Committee for conventional campaign infrastructure. And he’s boasted of holding the line on his campaign spending. But he’s running critically low on time to build an operation that can compete with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

In addition to being ahead of Trump in polls in key states, Clinton has maintained a staff of about 700 for months, opened up offices across the country and already spent $67 million on general election ads. Trump put out his first ads days ago, spending $5 million to air them in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Her campaign spent $38 million in July, about double his spending.

Clinton can afford to spend more than Trump, the July campaign finance reports show. Her campaign raised $52 million while his brought in $37 million for the month, including a $2 million contribution from Trump himself.

The candidates also raise money for their parties, enabling them to ask for contributions far higher than the $2,700-per-donor limit to the campaigns. Overall in July, Clinton raised $90 million for her campaign and Democratic partners, while Trump raised $80 million for the campaign and Republican groups.

Trump did bring aboard some new campaign consultants in July.

He paid $100,000 to Cambridge Analytica, a deep-dive data firm that did business with GOP opponent Ted Cruz. Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, who contributed $2 million to a pro-Trump super political action committee in July, is an investor in Cambridge.

The Trump filings also show some old ties.

Two weeks after the ouster of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign cut his firm, Green Monster Consulting, another $20,000 check. That’s about the same amount it had paid him each month while he was running the campaign.

At the time of the latest payment, Lewandowski was already on the payroll of CNN, where he is a political contributor.

The campaign also paid Trump Organization employee Meredith McIver, who has worked as a Trump ghostwriter over the years. She took credit — and then blame — for writing Melania Trump‘s speech at the Republican National Convention that included similar lines from Michelle Obama‘s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

The campaign valued McIver’s time, accounted for as payroll from the Trump Organization, at $356.01.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Marco Rubio to campaign with Mike Pence, while keeping distance from Donald Trump

Marco Rubio is agreeing to appear with Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence, even as the Florida senator and former presidential candidate keeps his distance from Donald Trump.

ABC News reports that, after several phone conversations, Pence and Rubio could begin campaigning in Florida within the next few weeks. After ending his presidential bid, Rubio is currently seeking re-election to the U.S. Senate.

A statement from the Rubio campaign says that although “Marco has tremendous respect and admiration for Gov. Pence,” no joint events are “scheduled at this time.”

Rubio’s agreement with Pence is seen as the latest move by Republicans to attempt to improve relations with the party’s presidential nominee. Pence recently met with both John McCain and Jeb Bush privately, and had contacted former presidential candidates John Kasich and Ted Cruz.

During the Republican primary, Trump and Rubio clashed on several occasions, most notably when Trump called the senator “Little Marco” and Rubio responding by mocking the New York billionaire’s “small hands.”

However, after solidly losing the Florida primary to Trump, Rubio said he would continue to back the Republican nominee, but later saying he doubted Trump could be trusted with the nuclear codes. Rubio refused to back down from his earlier comments, saying Trump was a “con man.”

“I’ve stood by everything I ever said in my campaign,” Rubio told the Miami Herald.

If re-elected to the Senate, Rubio said he could help keep Trump in check.

Rubio also told reporters he would not be making personal appearances with Trump.

“Not that I’m looking to undermine him,” Rubio said in an interview with CNN in June. “But I think the differences between us on key issues are so significant that I don’t plan …. I’ve got to run my own race.”

According to the latest NBC/WSJ/Marist poll, Democrat Hillary Clinton leads Trump in Florida 44 to 39 percent.

Donald Trump, former campaign aide settle confidentiality dispute

Donald Trump has settled a $10 million legal dispute with a former political consultant he had accused of violating a nondisclosure agreement. Terms of the settlement, which included a counter lawsuit against Trump, were confidential.

The decision brings to a close the latest move by the GOP presidential nominee to aggressively enforce terms of confidentiality agreements he requires nearly every employee to sign.

Trump had sought $10 million in damages from Sam Nunberg after accusing the former aide of leaking information to reporters after Nunberg was fired. In response, Nunberg filed a lawsuit in New York state court, accusing Trump of trying to silence him because he chose to support Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the GOP primary.

The details of the settlement were not disclosed in court papers, and attorneys on either side declined to provide further details.

“All I can say it that it was amicably resolved, the whole dispute,” said Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization.

Nunberg’s attorney, Andrew Miltenberg, issued a similar statement in an email to The Associated Press. Nunberg did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Hillary Clinton campaign reports 34.2 percent tax rate

Hillary Clinton‘s campaign says the Democratic nominee and her husband paid a federal tax rate of 34.2 percent and donated 9.8 percent of their income to charity last year.

The Clintons are releasing their 2015 filings on Friday. Her campaign is also releasing returns from running mate Tim Kaine and his wife.

The campaign says the Kaines have donated 7.5 percent of their income to charity over the last decade. They paid an effective tax rate of 25.6 percent in 2015.

Clinton is trying to undercut the trustworthiness of rival Donald Trump. He has refused to disclose any returns, breaking tradition with all recent presidential candidates.

Trump says he won’t release them until Internal Revenue Service completes audits of his returns.

The Clintons have disclosed returns for every year since 1977.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Donald Trump’s trap: GOP nominee can’t let go of perceived slights

For Donald Trump, it’s become a familiar pattern. The Republican nominee can’t let go of a perceived slight, no matter the potential damage to his presidential campaign or political reputation.

Trump spent the days after winning the Republican nomination criticizing a U.S. district court judge’s Mexican heritage. The morning after accepting the Republican nomination at the party’s convention, Trump re-litigated months-old grievances with primary rival Ted Cruz. Now, he’s sparring with an American Muslim family whose son was killed in Iraq.

Republican leaders have urged Trump to drop his attacks on Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who appeared at last week’s Democratic convention and harshly criticized the GOP nominee. It’s not just the optics of picking a fight with a military family that has GOP officials eager for Trump to move on, but the timing of his attacks: Election Day is just three months away.

Those who have worked with Trump say that in private meetings, he can often appear amenable to putting a controversy aside. But the businessman can quickly be drawn back in by an interview, especially if he believes he’s already answered the question, or if he grows irritated by commentary on cable television.

“It’s just who he is,” said Stuart Jolly, a former campaign staffer and current political director for the pro-Trump Great America PAC.

Others who have worked with Trump say the only way to ensure he moves on is to wait for him to tire of an issue or get drawn into another matter. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who has advised Trump, said the candidate’s inability to back away from a political land mine “makes him vulnerable.”

“His whole experience up until running for office was in a very combative New York media market,” Gingrich said. “He’s been doing it now for over 30 years. It’s a very deeply held habit.”

Khizr Kahn delivered an emotional address at last week’s Democratic convention, with his wife standing by his side. The Pakistan-born Khan told the story of his son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart after his death in 2004.

Khan said that if Trump were president and enacted his proposed temporary ban on foreign Muslims coming to the U.S., a position Trump has backed away from in recent weeks, his son would have never been allowed into the country. He also questioned whether Trump had ever read the Constitution.

Trump responded by implying Ghazala Khan’s religion preventing her from speaking at the convention, though she later said talking publicly about her late son was still too difficult. On Monday, Trump tweeted that he was being “viciously attacked” by Khizr Khan.

Trump’s unwillingness to let the matter subside sparked outrage Monday from a chorus of Republicans.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war, said Trump did not have “unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.” Rep. Mike Coffman, a vulnerable Republican in a competitive Colorado district, said he was “deeply offended when Donald Trump fails to honor the sacrifices of all of our brave soldiers who were lost in that war.” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said the Khans “deserve to be heard and respected.”

“My advice to Donald Trump has been and will continue to be to focus on jobs and national security and stop responding to every criticism whether it’s from a grieving family or Hillary Clinton,” Blunt said in a statement.

However, none of the Republican lawmakers pulled back their support of Trump’s White House campaign.

In his first rally after a weekend of controversy, Trump spoke at length and took several questions at an event Monday in Columbus, Ohio — never once mentioning the Khans.

But when asked about Khizr Khan on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity,” Trump responded, “I guess it’s part of my life.”

“His son died 12 years ago,” Trump added. “If I were president, his son wouldn’t have died, because I wouldn’t have been in the war, if I was president back then.”

Trump backers attending the Ohio rally dismissed the issue, underscoring how the businessman was able to survive numerous such firestorms in the GOP primaries.

“I think the Democrats laid a trap for him,” said Tom McClanahan, a 54-year-old from Johnston, Ohio. “I think they knew what they were doing when they asked that family to speak at the convention. They knew he’d respond.”

Dale Brown, a maintenance supervisor from Grove City, Ohio, whose son is in the Navy, said Democrats were blowing Trump’s comments out of proportion and had “politicized this by asking that family to speak.”

But the real test for Trump isn’t the opinion of the loyal supporters who attend his rallies. It’s the broader general election audience, a far more diverse group still weighing Trump’s readiness for the White House.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Hillary Clinton aide says Bernie Sanders backers to come around

The Latest on the Democratic National Convention and 2016 presidential campaign. (all times EDT):

7:10 p.m.

A Hillary Clinton campaign adviser says he’s not worried about winning over Bernie Sanders’ supporters.

“Most of them are going to come around.”

That’s what John Podesta thinks.

Podesta says he knows there are some in the Sanders camp who are still “emotional” and wish Clinton didn’t win more votes than the Vermont senator in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But Podesta says most of Sanders’ supporters are looking at the election as a choice between Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Podesta spoke after some Sanders delegates at the party’s convention wore neon yellow shirts to protest Clinton’s nomination.

6:50 p.m.

Some Bernie Sanders supporters are wearing glow-in-the-dark shirts on the final night of Democrats convention in Philadelphia.

They say it’s a way to remind presidential nominee Hillary Clinton that she hasn’t brought them all on board yet.

For Clinton, the silent protest probably is preferable to the heckling and booing from that marked the early days of the convention.

Sanders delegate Davena Norris says her bright shirt is meant to send a message that more needs to be done to curb the influence of money in politics.

6:45 p.m.

Donald Trump is campaigning in Iowa and largely avoiding the topic that earned him lots of criticism this week.

Only a day ago Trump encouraged Russia to find and make public missing emails deleted by his Democratic presidential opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s comments raised the question of whether he was condoning foreign government hacking of U.S. computers and the public release of information stolen from political adversaries.

Trump was condemned by Clinton and even some of his fellow Republicans. Running mate Mike Pence warned of “serious consequences” if Russia interfered in the election.

Trump has since insisted he was being sarcastic.

At the Iowa rally, he did say he wanted better relations with Russia and joked that writing letters was more secure than “putting something on a computer.”

5:40 p.m.

Donald Trump says “a lot of lies are being told” about him in the speeches at the Democratic National Convention this week.

The Republican presidential nominee is joking about it during a campaign rally in Davenport, Iowa.

“Boy, I’m getting hit” by Democrats – he says. “I guess they have to do their thing.”

Trump is criticizing Democrats for not talking about terrorism or laying out a plan to aid the economy.

4:25 p.m.

Die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters from Oregon’s delegation say they’re demanding a nationally televised apology at the Democratic National Convention before Hillary Clinton takes the stage Thursday night to accept the presidential nomination.

The matter involves leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee that indicated party officials were biased against the Vermont senator.

The DNC has apologized and the party’s leader, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is resigning her post.

But Melissa Pancurak tells The Associated Press that those steps don’t go far enough. She says the Oregon delegates are part of a coalition of Sanders supporters working to get their demand to appropriate DNC officials before Clinton’s speech.

4:20 p.m.

Donald Trump’s stand on abortion has been inconsistent, but his running says Trump would be a “pro-life president.”

Mike Pence is campaigning in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and he makes clear he opposes abortion. And the Indiana governor tells a town hall rally, “I don’t apologize for it.”

Pence drew the ire of abortion rights advocates in March after he signed a law banning abortions that were being sought because of fetal genetic defects. That law has since been blocked pending the outcome of a court challenge.

Pence says Trump would appoint conservatives to the Supreme Court who would send the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling to the “ash heap of history.”

4 p.m.

“Disrespectful.”

That’s what Elijah Cummings thinks of liberal supporters of Bernie Sanders who chanted an anti-trade slogan during the Maryland congressman’s speech at the Democratic National Convention.

But Cummings says he’s not upset about it because he’s a veteran of civil rights protests and understands the passion that drove the mostly young delegates to shout over his speech Monday.

Cummings says in an interview that most of those who were shouting probably didn’t know he worked with Sanders to draft the Democratic platform and he’s “never voted for a trade bill in 20 years in Congress.”

He says more than 100 people have apologized to him for the outbursts.

2:37 p.m.

President Barack Obama‘s mention of “fascists” and “homegrown demagogues” in his convention speech wasn’t aimed at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

That’s what White House press secretary Josh Earnest is telling reporters the day after Obama argued for Democrat Hillary Clinton’s election over Trump.

Obama said “anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.”

Obama had criticized Trump several times before arriving at that particular line in the speech, including saying that American power “doesn’t come from a self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way.”

Trump said in his acceptance speech at last week’s GOP convention that “I alone can fix” a political system he says is rigged.

2:19 p.m.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is giving Hillary Clinton credit for her work on behalf of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Giuliani was asked at a Republican Party briefing Thursday in Philadelphia whether he took issue with the Democratic convention speakers who’d been praising Clinton. Giuliani said she was “enormously supportive and helpful.” Clinton was a U.S. senator from New York at the time.

He says Clinton “has a right to tell people that she worked hard on behalf of the 9/11 families.” He adds that, “She did.”

But Giuliani adds that “on all other aspects she fails the test.” Clinton and Democrats, he says, have “not done anything to prevent another attack.”

1:50 p.m.

This time, Bill Clinton will be the adoring spouse, rapt and smiling when the cameras cut away from the candidate in the spotlight.

He’ll be the He in the VIP box watching as She accepts the presidential nomination at the Democratic convention on Thursday.

It’s one small step in the role reversal Americans will need to get used to if Hillary Clinton wins the White House in November.

Already, satires and spoofs are circulating, taking note of Bill’s fashion choices, accessories and hair style. How about that fetching pantsuit! And that nice head of hair! Whose shoes is he wearing?

After all, that’s what political wives have come to expect.

Bill Clinton, utterly comfortable in his own skin, seems to be just fine with trading places with his wife, the former first lady.

10:28 a.m.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says the CIA should give Donald Trump “fake intelligence briefings” because he can’t be trusted.

The Nevada lawmaker tells reporters in Philadelphia that “they shouldn’t give him anything that means anything because you can’t trust him.”

Reid was responding to Trump’s call for Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.

He says he’s sure the agency is aware of his suggestion.

He also says Trump may have violated the Logan Act that bars unauthorized U.S. citizens from negotiating with foreign governments.

9:56 a.m.

The North Carolina Republican Party has removed a tweet criticizing Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine for wearing a pin honoring his son’s military service.

The tweet posted during Kaine’s Democratic National Convention speech Wednesday night said Kaine “wears a Honduras flag pin on his jacket but no American flag. Shameful.”

The pin in question has a single blue star against a white background outlined in red. It’s the same design as the Service Flag, which is reserved for families who have members serving in the military during wartime. The flag of Honduras has five stars against a blue and white striped background. Kaine’s son is a Marine set to be deployed to Europe.

The party hasn’t responded to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Joe Henderson: DNC Day 3 — organization is everything

Florida Democrats have long since undertaken the groundwork to deliver the Sunshine State to Hillary Clinton in November. In fact, you could say that began in 2008 and continued four years later when Barack Obama carried Florida in both of his presidential campaigns.

The local operatives, so critical in big elections, who turned out the vote for Obama have stayed busy trying to do the same for Clinton.

“They never left,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “Some of the players might be different now, but the model is still the same.”

That organization stands in stark contrast now to Republican nominee Donald Trump, who appears to have little visible infrastructure in place here.

Clinton has a major head start on him and that could the difference in what shapes up as a closely contested contest.

The work of turning out the vote will take on a new urgency after the balloons drop at the end of Clinton’s acceptance speech Thursday night. Buckhorn, who has solidly been in the Clinton camp, figures to be an important part of all that.

“Organization is everything,” Buckhorn said. “In Florida presidential races it’s all about the turnout and not so much about TV or radio (ads). Building connections matter. Field organization matters. Gathering data is important. It becomes a combination of analytics and data mining. Marry the two of those and you’ve got something.”

Clinton is popular among Florida Democrats.

In 2008, she received 49 percent of the primary vote to 32 percent for Obama, who by that point was well on his way to winning the nomination. In the March primary this year, Clinton nearly doubled up Bernie Sanders 64 percent to 33 percent.

But Trump received 1.079 million votes in the GOP state primary, nearly as many as Clinton’s 1.1 million.

Even given Trump’s renowned penchant for outrageous and, as Democrats charged after his suggestion that Russia hack more of Hillary’s emails, treasonous behavior, polls show a tight contest between the two for Florida’s 29 electoral votes.

“You never underestimate anybody,” Buckhorn said. “The proof is in the bodies. Organizing means putting those bodies on the road, making those phone calls, knocking the doors. I haven’t seen any evidence of the Trump people doing that (in Florida).”

WEDNESDAY TAKEAWAYS: That was a show of force Wednesday night by the star-packed Democratic lineup.

President Barack Obama, as expected, set Clinton up perfectly to be the right person to accept the baton of leadership from him. I thought former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, took Trump apart on The Donald’s own playing field in the world of business.

But for the star of the night, give me Vice President Joe Biden. Who else but Biden could call Trump’s claims “a bunch of malarkey” and turn it into a rallying cry. The hashtag “malarkey” quickly started trending on Twitter and prompting many clever memes – the best of which was a signature red Trump ball cap with the word “Malarkey” emblazed instead of his “Make America Great Again” slogan.

Sitting through vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s speech was like sitting through a warmup band you don’t really want to hear before the main show begins. I’ll give a tepid thumbs-up to his mocking “Believe Me” impersonation of Trump, but he should have stopped it after one or two times.

I mean, it wasn’t THAT funny.

So it’s all there for Hillary now to see if she can convince the undecided Americans that she is best for the job. Stick to the end for the balloon drop. Balloon drops are cool.

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