FL a Real Battleground? Newsweek’s Take

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…

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