Clinton faces trouble in Florida

Clinton faces trouble in Florida
© Getty Images

Democrats in Palm Beach County, Fla., were taken aback in recent weeks when they asked former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonCohen will not answer questions about ongoing probes involving Trump, GOP lawmakers say BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president Agency function is tied to how people feel about their job — that's bad news for USDA research MORE and then later Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonElise Stefanik seeks to tackle GOP’s women ‘crisis’ ahead of 2020 Russian pop star linked to Trump Tower meeting cancels US tour Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies MORE to be the keynote speaker for the annual Kennedy-Truman-Johnson dinner next month — and both Clintons declined.

The county, which ended up determining the fate of the 2000 election, is a must-win for any presidential hopeful. And when the dinner’s organizers found out Hillary Clinton would be in the South Florida a day earlier to attend a fundraiser, they were doubly perplexed.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s a little odd, to be honest,” said one Democrat familiar with the dinner. “Here’s a sold-out dinner with a friendly audience and she’s not taking advantage.

“And she needs Palm Beach County and more importantly, she needs Florida,” the Democrat said.  

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro ended up accepting the keynote speaking slot.

In recent weeks, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has gained momentum, Team Clinton has telegraphed that it is building a southern firewall to lock up the Democratic nomination. Florida would be a part of that must-win turf. But so far, she hasn’t spent much time there.

“Other than coming to the great state of Florida to raise money, we haven't seen too much of Hillary,” said Daniel Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. “She's not as present as certainly the Republican candidates have been. There hasn’t been enough face time.”

“Democrats here want to hear some discussion of the issues,” Smith added. “They want to be engaged.”

A Quinnipiac poll out last month reflected that sentiment, showing that Clinton lost a quarter of her Florida support in just nine weeks this summer. The same poll also showed that she would lose in a general election matchup to two local Republicans, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRussian oligarch, allies retain key ownership in company after sanctions lifted: report Senate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week Washington fears new threat from 'deepfake' videos MORE, who both reside in the state. She had previously been leading both men.

“Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers are like a leaky faucet,” Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University poll, wrote in his summation of the survey. “Drip…Drip…Drip.”

As the controversy surrounding Clinton’s private email account brewed all summer, the poll revealed that 32 percent of Florida voters said Clinton was honest and trustworthy, while 64 percent viewed her as dishonest.

Martin Sweet, a political scientist who follows Florida politics, put it this way: “People want to like her but I don’t think she’s been particularly likable,” he said, adding that her apologies “have come across as flat.”

And in a state like Florida, “Earned media only goes so far,” Smith said. “You really have to be able to get your message out. She doesn’t have any problem with name recognition, it’s mostly recasting her brand.”

Smith added that Democrats are going to struggle with getting Democrats to the polls now that President Obama isn’t on the ballot.

To be sure, it’s still relatively early in the process — Floridians don’t go to the polls until March — but Clinton does not yet have an organization set up in the state with paid staffers on the ground.

In the meantime, Craig Smith, a longtime Clinton adviser and Florida resident, has been informally speaking to lawmakers from the state and senior staff. He recently organized a conference call that included Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), several members of Congress and local party chairmen, according to sources familiar with the call. On the call, he said the campaign was about 60-90 days away from hiring staff in Florida.

At the same time, Clinton has been fielding advice from lawmakers in the state on the best way to capture particular voting blocs, including African-Americans.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) recently told Clinton during a face-to-face meeting that she needed to hire local African-Americans on the ground. “I think she understands that,” he told The Palm Beach Post.

Winning Florida in the primary may be easy but it will be much more difficult in the general election, political observers say. “It’ll be a numbers game,” Sweet said. “Democrats are so strong in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach but she’s going to need [DNC chairwoman and Rep.] Debbie Wasserman Schultz to pull out all the resources to get a massive turnout.”