Archive for August, 2008

Denver Diary, Pt 6 The Speech
August 29, 2008

  By the end of the evening, the media mob was screaming “Yes we can!”  No, the Fourth Estate was not going blatantly in the tank for Obama.  We were merely egging on a bus driver who was gamely trying to get us out of a stadium parking lot jammed with placard-bearing delegates after the final convention session.

  The evening ended in fireworks and delegate delirium over another well-crafted and well-delivered speech by the candidate, preceded by hours of stuff few will remember.  

  Wait—a few lines stuck with me.  Al Gore described what he said was John McCain’s allegiance to Bush Administration policies, and then said “I believe in recycling, but this is ridiculous.”

  Invesco Field, its 75,000 seats only a quarter-full when the proceeding began in the warm Denver sun at 3 PM MDT, was jammed by the time Obama took the stage about 7 hours later.

  The program in between had mixed-bag musical entertainment—Stevie Wonder, Will.i.am and John Legend, Sheryl Crow (who had the foresight to write her signature Obama rally song “A Change Would Do You Good” 10 years before his campaign began).

  The musician who personified the Obama campaign’s “bridge the gap” message was Michael McDonald, who channeled Ray Charles, singing “America the Beautiful.”  It was terrific.

  Also bridging the divide between race/culture/party were Susan Eisenhower (granddaughter of Ike) and a caucasian General- I didn’t catch his name- who told the crowd he grew up speaking Swahili because his parents were missionaries in Africa.  I envisioned Obama convention planners shouting “Eureka!” when they read his bio.

  But all this was filler, when you come right down to it.  This was a one-speech night, really (quick—who was the speaker right before Obama?  The answer’s Dick Durbin, Illinois’ other Senator—remember any of his lines?).

  I talked with Florida’s ex-Gov. and ex-Sen. Bob Graham about the last outdoor acceptance speech, JFK’s in LA in 1960.  He was an aide to VP nominee Lyndon Johnson, at the time.

 It was the speech in which Kennedy coined the phrase “The New Frontier” to describe his agenda as President. But when I asked Graham what he remembered of the speech, he replied: “I can’t tell you what he said or even who I was with, except my wife.  I just remember the energy in that stadium.”

  There was plenty of energy in Invesco Field as Obama entered through those fake Doric columns.  Flash bulbs galore. 

  What followed was his second-best convention speech.  Nothing to match that 2004 speech that propelled an Illinois State Senator into the realm of Presidential possibility.  Remember? “We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states.”

  That speech was 18-minutes of soaring rhetoric.  This one was 45 minutes long and, as a candidate accused of being more sizzle than substance, Obama had to include some brass tacks this time.

  Still, there were good lines—“America, now is not the time for small plans” (New Frontier, anyone?)

  On McCain’s opposition to more US military resources in Afghanistan: “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell—but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.”

  On the economy: “I don’t believe Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans.  I just think he doesn’t know.”

  Of course, that’s pretty much what Republicans will say about Obama when they begin their convention next week—that he’s too inexperienced to really know and grasp the problems facing the country.

  Indeed, the smoke from the fireworks was still wafting across Invesco Field when my Blackberry buzzed (11:08 PM, to be precise) with a message from Florida GOP Chair Jim Greer, which read in part: “Now that Barack Obama’s self-proclaimed celebration is over, it’s time to take a long, hard look at his record. Obama claims experience doesn’t matter, judgment does, yet he clearly lacks both.”

  Just a preview of coming convention attractions from St. Paul.

  

  

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Denver Diary, Pt. 5 Stagecraft
August 28, 2008

  You can’t spell DeMille without DEM (or DeM, anyway). Whatever you think of the Democrats, their candidates and platform, give ‘em credit for showmanship. The convention’s building, the way a good melodrama should. 

  Night 1 had a single real headliner—Michelle Obama, who had a compelling life story to tell, and was there to convince people that she and her husband are pretty regular folks.

  Night 2 had Hillary, dispelling doubts about whether she really though Obama was up to the job, and whether she’d really campaign hard for his election.  

  Night 2 was also leavened by the immensely entertaining Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer. The bouncy rotund guv also showed up at the FL delegation breakfast the next morning, still sporting a bolo tie, still getting laughs… and cheers when he predicted an Obama victory in his usually-red home state in November.  (Schweitzer was the red-state Dem who delivered, in his convention speech.  The much-ballyhooed Mark Warner of Virginia was stiff and not very memorable).

  Night 3—tonight—was where the sheer stagecraft of the enterprise impressed.

  The roll call turned dramatic as Obama neared his “magic number” of 2210 delegates. New Mexico deferred to Illinois. Usually, the votes of the nominee’s home state put him over the top.  But Chicago mayor Richard Daley immediately deferred to New York (well, not quite immediately—he had to mumble some hooey about a cross-town World Series between Cubs and White Sox first).

  Well, no surprise who eventually took the mike at the NY delegation.  Hillary Clinton’s call for unanimity drew a big roar.  This roll-call two-step, timed to play out on the network news, back east.

   Bill Clinton got a 3-minute ovation when he took the stage, a couple of hours later.  Whatever his reservations about Barack Obama during the primary season, Clinton defended him deftly, comparing Obama to himself during his first Presidential run in 1992.

   Republicans, recalled Clinton, said he was too young and inexperienced to be President. “Sound familiar?”, the ex-Pres asked, to laughter.  He said it didn’t work in ’92 and wouldn’t work this year because he and Obama were on “the side of history” (would it be quibbling to suggest, if Ross Perot had’nt run in ’92, “history” might have switched sides?)

   A third high point came an hour after Clinton left the stage, and Joe Biden’s appearance was where the sheer volume of stagecraft struck me.

  The crowd began by waving red standards inscribed simply “Biden”.  By the time the VP nominee launched into a call-and-response with the audience (“That’s not change, that’s more of the same”, went the refrain), the crowd was waving red signs that read “McCain- the Same”.  Moments later, when Biden was lauding Obama’s positions, the hall was filled with blue signs reading  “Obama- Change We Need”.  By the end of Biden’s remarks, new blue signs had been distributed—“Obama-Biden”. 

   That’s thousands of copies of 4 different signs, distributed in the course of a half-hour speech.  Over the top?  Probably, but logistically impressive.

  Oddly, the two most awkward major moments of this convention both involved the soon-to-be-nominee.  Monday night’s appearance by satellite was stilted.   Michelle turned her little girls toward a video screen, saying she had a surprise for them.  There was Barack—no surprise at all— in a modern-day magic mirror. The scene was stilted, slightly spooky, and not helped by the fact that Obama told the kids he was in St. Louis when letters on the screen beneath him clearly said “Kansas City”.

  Tonight, Jill Biden came onstage after Joe’s speech, mike in hand, and again promised a  non-surprising surprise.  Sen. Obama emerged to compliment all the major speakers at the convention and their families, and tell the crowd he’d see them at the stadium (which he called “Mile High Stadium”, rather than the corporate-sponsored moniker “Invesco Stadium”).  I half-expected the candidate to admonish the crowd to “drive safely and don’t forget to tip your waitress”.

  But clearly, this convention is building toward his appearance Thursday night.  75,000 people, musical heavy-hitters warming the crowd up (John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder among them), all with the backdrop of history—MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech of 45 years ago, to the day.

   They’re counting on Obama to wrap it all up, playing to his strength. Will the convention wizards augment acceptance-speech oratory with more stagecraft (that would seem to open the night up to a “just show biz” line of criticism), or let the words and the candidate carry the night. 

  The GOP stagers are already hard at work, in the Twin Cities and here in Denver, where the logo for their press conferences bore the legend “A Mile High, An Inch Deep”

 

Denver Diary, Pt 4 Hillary Scores
August 27, 2008

Last Thursday, I watched Hillary Clinton urge a couple of hundred seniors at the Kings Point development in Tamarac to vote for Barack Obama.

Tonight, I watched her do it again, in front of thousands at the Pepsi Center and millions tuned in on TV. 

What a difference.  Not just in the setting.  In Hillary.

In Tamarac, she said all the expected stuff– lauded Obama, panned McCain.  But it lacked passion.

Wilma Silver had noticed, and it worried her.  Silver, an Obama delegate, says many of her neighbors at the Palm-Aire development are still mad that Clinton lost, and slow to warm to Obama.  “That’s what they’re saying.  They’re going to vote for McCain because they wanted Hillary so badly.”

Ms. Silver worried, unless Hillary gave it her all in her convention speech, those neighbors, many of them elderly and Jewish, might be beyond persuasion by the Obama campaign.

I called her on her cell moments after Senator Clinton walked off the stage, while the hall was still rocking.  About the only word I could make out clearly was “Fantasic!”  A long-time Clintonista who says she’s warming to Obama– former State Rep. Elaine Bloom– offered another enthusiastic one-word review: “Spectacular.”

OK, they’re partisans, and delegates have been known to spin reporters.  But the energy Clinton brought to her rhetorical task wasn’t hard to see.  Maybe it was the lights, cameras, and action in the convention hall.  Maybe it was the knowledge that her viability as a Presidential candidate in the future (2012, if Obama loses) would be badly damaged if Obama Democrats found her effort tepid.  Maybe, said one long-time Hillary fan, it was simply well-placed teleprompters that allowed her to put a little more emotion behind her message.

Whatever the motivation, she was hot right out of the gate, with vivid declarations of support for Obama, aimed squarely at her disappointed devotees.  “You haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last 8 years, to suffer through more failed leadership.  No way. No how. No McCain.”

It brought a roar, and the crowd stayed loud throughout the speech.  In fact, toward the end, she began stepping on her own applause, reading even through standing ovations.  Her speech might have run another five minutes longer, if she hadn’t.

Republicans, of course, have already employed videotape of Hillary in their attack ads against Obama, to wit :”I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House.  And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.”

This speech should put to rest any question of who Clinton prefers.   Now those looking for signs of discord between the Clintons and the Obama camp will parse Bill Clinton’s speech on Wednesday night.

Denver Diaz Follow Up
August 26, 2008

Aides to Mayor Manny Diaz have similar, but conflicting stories about why he didn’t speak last night as scheduled (see previous post).  The aide travelling with the Mayor, Helena Poleo, says the Mayor was sick, feeling so poorly he was hustled off the to a first-aid tent.  Asked about why hizzoner was limping, she blamed a recurring ankle injury. 

An aide back in Miami, Kelly Penton, told me Diaz felt so poorly he did, in fact, take a fall, and was whisked by wheelchair to a first-aid tent.  By the time he felt well enough to be up and around, his speaking slot had passed by.

Penton doesn’t know what caused Diaz to feel badly in the first place– altitude, she speculated.

Meanwhile, the gossip columnist at the web site politico.com reported on an unnamed speaker “who got ‘sick’ and had to bail…prior to the incident, this official was seen at a dinner party with an open bar — ahem. “He is known to have a few liquid refreshments,” tattles one source. Maybe the altitude got to him?”

So I had to ask– had the Mayor had any cocktails last night?  Penton says she can’t imagine it, that her boss is too focussed on his public-speaking to jeopardize his big shot on the national stage.  Poleo says he was busy with Conference of Mayors events, not socializing.

Still, the story that Diaz over-indulged is making the rounds back in Miami… one former city employee telling me, he got a phone call about it from Denver last night.

The Mayor’s re-scheduled for 7PM EDT tomorrow night.

Denver Diary, Pt 3– Politigames?
August 26, 2008

Some memorable Monday night scenes for the prime-time TV audience– Michelle Obama telling America why she loves her husband and country… a surprisingly robust-looking Ted Kennedy, vowing to be back in the Senate next January when he says Barack Obama will be sworn in.

But some behind-the-scenes maneuvers provided intrigue for Florida watchers.  For instance– why was Miami Mayor Manny Diaz bumped?

Diaz aides said he’d be on at 5, Denver time (7PM back home), right after a “young delegate” from North Dakota, a retired Rear Admiral, and a teachers’ union president.  They all spoke,  but no Mayor Manny.

Aides said they weren’t sure why he was sliding down the program, but still thought he’d be on soon, speaking as President of the US Conference of Mayors about the urban agenda.  It wasn’t until 7 PM Denver time that they sent out a terse e-mail, saying his speech to the convention was delayed until Wednesday at 5.

Payback for Diaz’ refusal to endorse Barack Obama, thus far?  He’d backed Hillary Clinton in the primary, and said months ago he didn’t think Republicans had anything to offer suffering cities like his.

It seems unlikely anyone in the Obama campaign wants to offend Diaz.  Most Democrats believe that, while Diaz will attend next week’s GOP convention, he’ll probably wind up endorsing Obama.  “Just playing hard to get”, laughed State Rep Luis Garcia.  Ex-State Rep Elaine Bloom figures an October Diaz endorsement will mean more, anyway.

Still, the “scheduling conflict” that party officials blamed for the postponement of Diaz’s speech is unconvincing.  We were on the floor, awaiting his appearance.  We listened to song after song– “Respect”, “Celebration”– several minutes of Motown moments.  We watched delegates dance.  It felt like, if anything, convention organizers had extra time to fill.

Another south Florida political drama playing out in Denver is the race for Congress in District 21.  Incumbent Lincoln Diaz-Balart is here, providing convention critiques for the Republican National Committee, sitting in a TV studio a half-mile from the Pepsi Center, tearing into the Obama-Biden ticket in satellite interviews with reporters and anchor around the country.

The challenger, ex-Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez, is here as a super-delegate, ready to nominate Obama-Biden.  His campaign’s emailing taunting press releases, challenging Diaz-Balart to a debate in Denver, saying the Congressman has yet to accept any of 5 invitations to debate, back home.

Each candidate hopes his opponent will be hurt by association with his party’s national ticket.  Diaz-Balart portrays Barack Obama as a liberal, out of touch with ordinary Americans, and says Martinez is in lock “out-of-step”.  I did ask Martinez if there was anything in the party platform or in any of Obama’s speeches with which he disagreed.  “Not yet”, he replied.

He calls Diaz-Balart a Bush rubber stamp, and everyone at this convention delights in calling the GOP standard-bearer “John McSame”.

Denver Diary–Pt 2– FL Votes Restored
August 25, 2008

About the first thing this convention will do Monday evening is give Florida back 106 delegate votes… ending the state’s half-vote status.

The Credentials Committee’s vote to remove the half-vote punishment was unanimous and received a standing ovation.  “We’ve suffered enough”, pleaded former State Party chair Scott Maddox just before the vote was taken, “under not only one Bush, but two.”

Maddox also got a laugh with this line– “We all know that John McCain picked his running-mate long ago– George W. Bush.”  Not exactly on a par with Leno or Letterman, but Maddox had an easy audience of partisans.

And, clearly, FL Democrats think that “McSame”  line of campaign rhetoric is their best hope of healing the divisions caused by the delegate snafu.  Clinton delegate Michael Lockwood told me some of his Hillary-backer friends insist they’ll vote McCain in November.  Even Lockwood feels the Obama campaign dissed Sen. Clinton by not even going through the motions of vetting her as a possible VP. 

But Lockwood figures most Hillary-ites will come around– “They will see the policy differences and we just can’t afford 4 more years of same policies.”

Congressman Kendrick Meek– one of Senator Clinton’s most-outspoken Florida boosters– figures it about the same.  Meek will vote for Obama on the first ballot on Wednesday night, in the interest of party unity.

“We said we’d be with her ’til the end”, Meek told me, adding– “the Tuesday of the last primary was the end.”

But Michael Lockwood says he’ll cast a symbolic first-vote ballot for Senator Clinton: “I intend to vote for her because I believe I should represent the will of the people of Florida”.  Clinton won 105 of Florida’s delegates in the January primary, compared to Obama’s 67.

It’s actually not clear that pledged delegates selected according to primary results can switch their votes, even if they want to.  Even state party chair Karen Thurman said she wasn’t sure.  (Meek can vote for Obama because he’s a super-delegate).

John McCain’s latest ad (it began running today) is squarely aimed at disaffected Hillary voters, claiming she was passed over for the VP spot because she “spoke the truth about his plans”.   A series of clips of her saying negative things about Obama during the primary season follows.

Michael Lockwood says he’ll be happy to support Hillary on the first ballot, and then join in the chorus of “Kumbaya”– “We can vote by acclamation, tip our hat to him, and get behind the nominee.”

We’ll see how that works for Hillary voters less vested in party unity.  

 

 

Denver Diary Pt. 1
August 23, 2008

Just getting my feet on the ground at the convention site– the Pepsi Center in Denver.  Pretty typical first day of convention set-up– complete chaos, as news crews from around the country try to get their equipment through security and into workspaces.  Long lines, some short tempers. 

Our NBC workspace is in a corner of the arena parking lot… a few minutes’ walk from the convention floor, under normal circumstances. 

But the rule at conventions is– figure out how long something should take, then multiply by 10.  (Getting into the convention compound took nearly two hours). We’ll see how long that few minutes’ walk to the convention floor will take once the delegates are in the house and security is in full force.

The delegates are trickling in.  Florida’s 211 delegates are split among three different hotels– the Red Lion, the Embassy suites, and the The Timbers.  I’ve seen the first two– both modest spots, just off I-70.  Maybe the downscale digs are punishment for Florida’s moving its primary up on the calendar, violating party rules in the process.

The original punishment for that, of course, was the total elimination of Florida’s delegates.  Then, in May, the Democrats Rules & Bylaws Committee restored half the Sunshine State’s delegate clout.  Tomorrow, FL may be made whole, as the Obama campaign tries to put the delegate flap in the rear view mirror.

The party’s credentials committee meets at 11 AM MDT Sunday.  The candidate has said he wants Florida to get back all its votes, and the credentials committee’s likely to comply tomorrow.  Whether our state’s voters hold the whole delegate mess against the Democratic ticket in November is open to question.  My hunch is that most voters will care a lot more about the issues, and will have heard so much campaign back-and-forth by then, that the controversy over Fla’s delegates won’t matter much.

Besides, at this point, the Republicans have cut FL’s delegate strength in half as well, as punishment for a too-early primary.  That sanction may be reversed when the GOP gathers in convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul next week.

A Tacky Attack
August 21, 2008

My vote for sleaziest political ad of this season (so far)– the attack spot being paid for by a group called “People for a Better Florida Fund”.

Tonight, it aired just before our 7 o’clock news, just after an ad promoting State Rep. Eleanor Sobel’s candidacy for State Senate.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the attack ad blasted Sobel’s two opponents in the Senate race in District 31 (south Broward), former State Reps. Tim Ryan and Ken Gottlieb.

“They claim to be Democrats”, intones the narrator, “but Ryan and Gottlieb have taken tens of thousands in campaign money from Bush backers and Republican special interests.”

Wow!  Can there be bigger treachery in a Democratic primary?  Problem is, the ad’s paid for by a lot of special interest money that tends to go Republican, funneled through the “People for a Better Florida Fund”. 

Electioneering funds with who-could-argue-with-that names always pique my interest.  So, who’s behind the “PFBFF”?  Well, it’s “FLAMPAC”.

Yes, the Florida Medical Political Action Committee, the PAC of the Florida Medical Association, has donated about a third of the $1.094 million that “People for a Better Florida Fund” has collected in the last 3 years.

Who else gets FLAMPAC’s money?  The Florida Republican Party– $415,000, this year alone.

Among other donors to the “People for a Better Florida”– yet another vaguely-named electioneering group called “Floridians for Conservative Values”.  Principal contributors to that group– Florida’s big sugar companies:  Florida Crystals has put in $180,000, while US Sugar is in for $110,000.

So Republican-leaning special interests, hiding behind innocuous-sounding PAC names, are buying ads attacking two Democrats for being closet Republicans.  Ain’t politics grand?

Now, it’s true Gottlieb and Ryan have taken some money from Bush pals and Republicans. Gottlieb got $500 from Blosser & Sayfie, a law/lobying firm whose principals are Bush long-time Bush confidantes. Ryan received $500 from Bergeron Development, headed by long-time Republican fund-raiser Ron  Bergeron.  I didn’t find anything that rose to the “tens of thousands” the attack ad alleges.

In fact, lobbyists and obvious special-interest donors have given to all three campaigns.  But, looking at Sobel’s campaign-finance filings, what leaps out at me is the amount of money the health-care sector has given her.  HMOS, doctors, drug companies…it’s an impressive list (check it yourself at http://election.dos.state.fl.us/cgi-bin/TreFin.exe).

Her ads (the ones her campaign paid for, not the PAC attack) say she’ll work to make “health care affordable”.  Her web site offers no clues as to her approach on that, but I can’t imagine her championing any solutions that might create discomfort for health-care providers.

Conventions, Coverage and Cash
August 14, 2008

   I’ll head to Denver in a week, to cover the Democratic convention from a South Florida perspective.  But the week after, I almost certainly won’t be in Minnesota when the Republicans meet to nominate John McCain.

   Why?  Money.  It’s a tough call, and one that news managers here at NBC 6 did not take lightly. 

   The original plan was to attend both conventions.  Then we priced it all out.  The cost of a work space, computer line, and video feed from NBC was about $12,000 per convention.  That’s before one considers air fare for myself and a photog, hotel costs, and those $100 meals we eat on the road (that’s a major joke– given coverage deadlines, we’re lucky to grab something hot and greasy from a drive-through lane).

   With TV ad revenues in a major slump, it was decided the station couldn’t afford to send a crew to both conventions.  We picked Denver.

   That’s bound to be controversial, bringing up charges of media favoritism, fascination with “celebrity”, etc.  The simple fact is– the nomination of a mixed-race candidate by a major party is an historic occasion.  That is why we’re headed for Denver but not (unless Charlie Crist is tabbed to be McCain’s running mate) to St. Paul.

   I suspect other media outlets may make that tough choice– everybody’s hurting budgetarily, newspapers perhaps even more than TV.  A friend who works for the San Jose Mercury-News told me he was going to cover the D’s but not the R’s, though he recently updated me– the paper’s figured out a way to be in St. Paul “on the cheap”, so it will send someone.  Finding a cheap way to cover a convention isn’t easy for TV– you have to have that work space and expensive video linkup.

   According to D & R convention spokespeople, the two parties expect roughly the same number of journalists/technicians at their respective conventions– about 15,000.  And the Democrats told me only one other english-language station from south Florida was credentialled to provide coverage in Denver.

   When the Republicans meet, we will have on-the-scene reporting from Steve Handelsman, the excellent Washington-based correspondent for NBC stations.  And, in an effort to provide local context, I’ll be working the late shift.  Armed with delegates’ cell-phone numbers, I’ll work south Florida angles, and trying to coax people to various NBC cameras set up in and around the convention hall. 

   Not perfect.  Some may argue we should travel to neither if we can’t travel to both.  We will work hard to ensure that dollars and distance don’t skew our convention coverage.

FL a Real Battleground? Newsweek’s Take
August 14, 2008

Newsweek’s Andrew Romano:

…recent reports on Obama’s Florida spending–which easily overwhelms John McCain’s–suggest that the Sunshine State remains, at least at this point, the Democratic nominee’s top pickoff target for 2008, much as it was for John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000. Going forward, however, the question is whether Obama’s massive investment will help him win the 27 electoral votes that both of his predecessors lost–or whether his money would be better spent elsewhere.

Here’s the math. Since the start of the general-election season, Obama has dropped $6.51 million–a full 18 percent of his overall ad spending, and by the largest chunk of change allotted to any one state–to broadcast 10,000 commercials on Florida television. McCain’s total disbursement? $0, zero ads. Meanwhile, Chicago has sent more than 200 full-time staffers and signed up at least 150,000 online volunteers to man the state’s 35 field offices–the most of any battleground. McCain’s local staff is a quarter of the size, and much of it is shared with the state party. Obama’s goal, says deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand, is to register the 630,000 eligible Hispanics, 593,000 African-Americans and 236,000 18- to 24-year-olds not yet on the rolls. With 236,000 new Democrats racked up since January–compared to 126,000 new Republicans–they’re well on their way. “We need to expand the electorate,” Hildebrand recently told the St. Peterburg Times, “because we know the election is going to be so close.”

If Obama can win Florida on Nov. 4–which George W. Bush carried by five points in 2004–he’s almost guaranteed to win the White House. But that’s a big “if.” The state has been trending red in recent years, and McCain–an older, moderate-seeming Vietnam vet–is uniquely suited to appeal to the state’s three million seniors and 1.75 military veterans. Also worth noting: Dems may have outregistered Republicans by more than 60,000 votes in 2004, but the state’s well-oiled GOP machine turned out 75 percent of its new supporters that year to John Kerry & Co.’s 66 percent; McCain, who has quietly opened a not-insignificant 25 field offices in Florida–more than twice as many as the next closest state–will benefit from the same GOTV operation.

Which is why the whizzes at FiveThirtyEight.com, who use a complex statistical model of recent polling, past results and demographic data to predict Election Day outcomes, currently give the Republican nominee a 73 percent chance of winning. It may also be why Obama still lags behind his Republican rival in RealClear Politics’ average of the four most recent surveys–despite his aggressive post-primary spending and McCain’s relative invisibility. True, Obama has managed to narrow the gap to a slender 1.2 percent. But that’s nearly identical to the polling in mid-June–which suggests that Obama’s improved performance (he trailed McCain by 15 points in Florida as recently as April) has less to do with his advertising onslaught than with the Democratic Party waiting until after Hillary Clinton had exited stage left to coalesce around its nominee. Given the size and scope of his investment, I suspect that the Illinois senator is seeking something more satisfying than a close second. As Republican strategist John Sowinski of Orlando told the Wall Street Journal this morning, “they are coming in early when it’s cheaper to be on TV, and they are determining if it will be worth it to push things in Florida later on.” If Obama can’t move the needle more by the time McCain ramps up his Sunshine State spending–which will likely start around Labor Day–I suspect that Chicago will direct at least some of its dinero elsewhere (as Plouffe initially suggested he’d do).

Apparently, Ohio is lovely in the autumn…