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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
What helped make election 2012 Obama's year for re-election?
Joe Saunders
Everyone knew it was going to be close. Everyone knew it was going to be a long night. But in the end, about 11:15 p.m., Barack Obama was re-elected to as the 44th president of the United States. Florida avoided the limelight again, with all eyes turned to the Buckeye State, so when Ohio was called, so went the nation. What were the factors that made the difference? Florida Voices asked political activists, observers and commentators from the Sunshine State: What turned the presidential election of 2012?
Daniel A. Smith
Professor, Political Science, University of Florida

After dozens of campaign events, millions spent on TV ads by both sides and their surrogates, and mailboxes stuffed to the gills with negative hit pieces, the race between President Obama and Governor Romney went down to the wire before Obama won his second term as the 44th president of the United States.

Why? Here are some reasons the presidential race tightened over the past several weeks and key to the president's win:

Despite a dreadful debate performance in Denver and a substantial enthusiasm gap, Organizing for America was able to gin up support from Democratic party faithful in the Sunshine State, including the President's core supporters from his 2008 victory. The Obama ground game is second to none and it surpassed its 2008 infrastructure and staffing in Florida. GOTV matters.

Governor Romney's “47%” gaff, while downplayed by many pundits nationwide, also struck a cord with the average Floridian, who is dependent on governmental assistance one way or another.

Meanwhile, however, the changes in 2011 to Florida's electoral code contained in House Bill 1355 dampened voter registration drives of civic organizations like the League of Women Voters. It also truncated the early-voting period and increased the likelihood a voter would have to cast a provisional ballot at the polls.

As intended, the restrictions on voting enacted by the Republican Legislature and then swiftly signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott unquestionably hampered President Obama's re-election chances in Florida.

When the dust settled, the big question in Florida – and maybe other states where voting laws were tightened – was whether President Obama's ground game and effort to expand the playing field and bring in new voters was enough to overcome the barriers to voting implemented by Governor Scott and the Republican Legislature.

Now we know the answer; in Florida and around the country.


Rachel Sutz Pienta, Ph.D.
Chairwoman, Wakulla Democratic Executive Committee; Board of Directors, Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida

Last night I sat in Tallahassee watching election returns slowly report from around the state, while visions of 2000 kept me on edge for hours as Florida precinct results began to take shape. Slowly, the president’s national margin of victory in the Electoral College grew wide enough to call in his favor.

This morning, throughout Florida and across America, Republicans are wondering how it all went so wrong for them.

Allow me to lay it out for the state’s Republicans. The obstructionist Republican-led Congress left many Americans weary of gridlock and sympathetic to President Obama’s determination. In Florida, Romney was unable to overcome negative associations with Rick Scott, the unpopular Republican governor.

Americans sifted through the spin and sorted out the facts from the noise to grasp the true measure of President Obama’s accomplishments. The addition of new jobs, the slow but steady growth of the economy, and the incremental reduction of the deficit all told a story of a man determined to turn the tide after eight years of financial freefall.

The electorate knows President Obama’s global approval rating is an indicator that we are on the right track with foreign policy.

President Obama’s steady demeanor and rock solid presence in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy reassured a nervous nation that we are in good hands with this man in the White House. In Florida, images of storm devastation resonated across party lines.

Voters want to keep the benefits that will help all Americans enjoy the full implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act. Florida voters would vote against the constitutional ballot amendment that would have undermined the intent and implementation of Obamacare in the Sunshine State.

Everyone said President Obama had the ground game to beat all ground games. This was certainly the case in Florida. The sheer volume of staff and volunteers spread out across the Sunshine State alone all but guaranteed Florida’s 29 electoral college votes for President Obama.

Both sides had money. There was star power. The media-hyped enthusiasm gap dissolved during the final days leading up to Nov. 6. Voters swarmed the polls, standing in lines for hours, snarling traffic and otherwise wreaking havoc at early vote locations.

In the final days of the campaign, the phone calls were constant. The final push from the Obama campaign featured exciting surrogate calls that elicited expressions of delight on social media. High profile concerts with Obama supporters Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, and Stevie Wonder helped to bring the enthusiasm to a fever pitch.

Through it all, the “Great Explainer”, the Big Dog himself – Bill Clinton – was a campaign road warrior for the Obama operation.

During a Tallahassee campaign staff, former President Clinton expanded on points expressed during his acclaimed Charlotte national convention speech. Citing the work of Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff, a conservative Republican, he made the case for the economic progress made by President Obama.

Referring to the book, co-written by Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, “This Time It's Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly,” Clinton asserted that Obama was halfway through a turnaround projected to take eight to 10 years.

The impact of a late October surprise in the form of candidate Romney’s misfire on the Chrysler jeep ads only helped to build the burgeoning Obama momentum. From the release of the job numbers, the master stroke of solid post-Sandy response, and the fall out from Romney’s miscalculation on the Jeep ads, all the signs began to point toward an Obama victory.

We also cast our eyes to the horizon and look ahead to 2016. In Florida, Democrats first face the 2014 battle to win back the Governor’s Mansion. The increased visibility and increased role of Romney surrogates like Marco Rubio and Adam Putnam will certainly have an impact on Florida’s political landscape over the next few years.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz will surely pass the reins at the Democratic National Committee to someone else. Her role and influence on the 2014 gubernatorial race is yet undetermined. Wild card Charlie Crist has everyone in Florida guessing his next move.

Where does that leave Democrats, progressive Democrats in particular, for the next few years? After we focus our attentions on the pending reorganization of the Florida Democratic Party and the gubernatorial primary season, we all look forward to a potential successor to keep the White House in Democratic hands in 2016.

Seth McKee
Associate Professor of Political Science, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.

As I write this, bleary eyed in an Orlando hotel room, at a little past 4 a.m., I can’t help but remark on how this 2012 election may in fact be more historic and consequential than 2008.

At this moment, in the Sunshine State, I see that Obama/Biden have 49.85 percent of the vote and Romney/Ryan have 49.29 percent. Wow, are you kidding me? Fortunately, the race has already been called nationally, and Florida’s cliffhanger isn’t electorally relevant. Nonetheless, I said in a previous column that no one could be sure who would win the state and the latest results certainly reinforce this prediction. I knew those Mason-Dixon polls touted by The Tampa Bay Times were deeply flawed and yet I expected Romney to win by the slimmest of margins.

But getting back to why I consider this election more historic and consequential than 2008. Four years ago, we knew in mid September, thanks to a massive financial collapse on a Republican incumbent president’s watch, that Barack Obama would be the next occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And we remarked on the coalition that brought him into office: women, the young (under 30), African-Americans, Latinos, the lower class, and the highly educated.

Then 2010 happened and we thought that Obama’s coalition might simply be a flash in the pan, a special moment in time where a confluence of favorable developments ushered in our first African-American president.

But with Obama’s re-election, it must be said that despite some slippage in his coalition, it held and brought him a second term. This election is remarkable because, despite the second worst economic downturn in American history, demography overcame an inhospitable climate for an incumbent president.

In other words, in the most trying of times, where so many voters would naturally take a retrospective assessment of America’s economic health and opt for a new doctor, Obama still prevailed. The ground game was indeed impressive, and turnout is deservedly one of the main story lines of this election. But

most important, the longstanding discussion of the new reality of presidential politics is here and will be with us indefinitely.

That new reality is the power of Obama’s heavily minority-based coalition. The minority electorate is only expanding and it is exercising the right to vote at unprecedented levels. The Republican strategy of suppressing the vote proved a failure and this failure is serious.

Don’t believe GOP operatives when they say their party was really close this time and therefore just needs to tweak some things. In such an unforgiving political climate for an incumbent president, he still grinded out a victory.

The GOP must realize that if the party continues to ignore the policy demands of the large and

growing minority electorate, then it will indeed resign itself into a national minority party.

Ed Dean
Political Radio Show Host

In the end, Mitt Romney couldn't make the difference clear.

Despite the recounts, whatever the final Florida presidential number, President Barack Obama prevailed in the Sunshine State. Even though the Democrats outnumber the Republicans by almost 500,000, this will revive the Florida Democratic Party, the Monday-morning quarterbacking will not be on how Obama narrowly won or lost Florida, but trying to answer the question of how Romney blew a five-point lead leading up to Election Day.

For days to come, the debate will center on the Republican Party.

Moderates will blame the Tea Party and the Tea Party will blame the moderates.

Mitt Romney lost because he did not show enough contrast to Barack Obama. Health care was a very unpopular issue in Florida. Yet Romney had no credibility to debate the issue against Obama because of Romneycare. The stimulus package, another unpopular issue, was almost never talked about here in Florida.

In days to come, political pundits on both sides will debate the reasons Romney lost Florida.

Some will say Romney and the Republicans moved too far to the right. Others will debate that Romney wasn’t conservative enough. And where were the independents? Over the last 15 months, over a 100,000 Democrats have left the Democratic Party in Florida. Yet they didn’t go over to the Florida Republican side; instead, they registered NPA, Non Party Affiliation.

Once the final tallies are finished it will either show the independents didn’t come out and support Romney, which was predicted, or they didn’t show up at all.

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