Throughout 2009, one of the most common speeches Alex Sink gave to Democratic audiences was the tale of her husband's campaign. Without skipping a beat, without hearing her own logical failures, she then told us exactly how she was going to lose the 2010 campaign.
I'll recount the tale and provide some data after the fold...
Throughout 2009, I probably heard Alex Sink speak 15 or 20 times. Many of those appearances were at Democratic events or audiences comprised entirely of Democrats. At many of those events, her speech was the same...she talked about how back in 2002 her husband ran against Jeb Bush, a brutal experience in which they came up a bit short. She spoke of how just after the election they spent days and nights analyzing the data, from election returns to polls to discussions with staff and supporters. At the end of it they were certain of one conclusion, Bill McBride lost the election by failing to motivate liberals in south Florida.
She said those words, I was shocked the first time I heard it, I was amazed to hear a candidate make such an honest statement that demonstrated a clear understanding of campaigning. That first time, I was thinking, "wow, we might just get a great campaign in Florida after all!" It didn't take long to burst that bubble. She talked a bit about the failure to energize activists and motivate volunteers and how they just didn't get the support they expected out of some of the strongest Democratic precincts. Then she told us how she would do it better, do it right.
"We are going to focus on the I-4 corridor, that's where this campaign will be won."
I was stunned, I looked around the room to see if anyone else was shocked or confused, but everyone was just mesmerized and drinking every last drop she was selling. I asked a friend nearby if she had said that and he motioned to 'shh' he was trying to listen to her great wisdom.
Right then, right there, her campaign surrendered the greatest strength they could have and gave away at least the hundred thousand votes she needed to win, if not 200,000 or more. They needed to energy the base in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, they needed to engage and involve the minority communities and progressive groups that organize so well in those communities. Historical projections show she managed to under perform even Jim Davis's lousy campaign in Broward and Palm Beach, by about 50,000 votes each.
But that isn't the only math to consider, you need to ponder how different the energy of the campaign would have been if she had engaged and energized those progressives in those strong D counties early on...how many more volunteers would they have had? How would early polling have tilted with that force behind her? Would that more confidently progressive Sink for Governor campaign have benefited more from the RPOF Scandals? Jim Greer and the Credit Cards? Ray Sansom? Taj Mahal? Would that campaign have been capable of selling the Democratic message that was so poorly disseminated from the National level? Would she have been able to use the legislature's mismanagement of stimulus funding against them - preventing Floridians from getting jobs because they are trying to steer the money in to their own pet projects...how different would that have made the outcomes across Florida?
At the end of the day, nearly exactly as many people turned out as should be expected, my projections were off by just .26% statewide, out of 5.3 Million votes. The problem being that Republicans over performed in nearly all of their "base" counties, infused with energy and activated by engaging campaigns with consistent, solid, passionate messages, while Democrats in the most progressive counties under performed significantly.
But as Alex Sink herself said, her campaign would be focused on the I-4 corridor. To those not familiar with Florida Geography, I-4 runs from Daytona on the southern edge of north east Florida across the state through Orlando (center of the state) to Tampa, mid state on the Gulf coast. The big cities being Orlando and Tampa/St.Pete. Orlando is in mostly Orange county, Tampa is Hillsborough County and St Petersburg is Pinellas County.
The Sink & OFA/FDP Coordinated campaign focused heavily on those communities with staff, media buys and appearances dialed up to 11. Orlando paid off fairly well, with Orange County delivering roughly 20,000 more votes than historical projections while Sink exceeded the historical performance goal at 54%. Hillsborough and Pinellas didn't fare so well, combined for roughly 20,000 less votes than historical projections, and Hillsborough coming well under the performance goal, and even under 50% at 49.95%. This is essentially Alex Sink's home county, it her HQ for the campaign and should have been where the score got run up to offset losses in rural north Florida. It is where she promised to focus the campaign's resources and they held true to it. It just wasn't a winning strategy. Pure Conventional Un-wisdom.
You can see the turnout Florida Governors racenumbers of the Florida Governors race in more detail here.