Trump campaign plans rapid Florida expansion

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Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) have agreed to a belated and high-speed expansion in the critical battleground state of Florida, according to a senior Trump official.

In a meeting Friday morning at the Bohemian Hotel Celebration in Orlando, Fla., senior Trump campaign officials and the RNC agreed to open 25 Florida field offices and install more than 200 paid staff on the ground in the state by Labor Day, said senior Trump political adviser and Florida chief strategist Karen Giorno.

That aggressive expansion — coming at a time of trouble for the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign, which is falling behind Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in both national and swing-state polls — means roughly doubling the current Trump and RNC field staff in Florida over the course of three weeks.

A budget goal for Florida was also agreed upon in the RNC meeting, Giorno said, but she would not provide the dollar figure.

Asked about the Friday conversation with the Trump campaign, the RNC would not confirm the specific figures agreed upon. 

Should Trump lose Florida — and recent polls show Clinton with a slim lead there — his path to the White House is virtually blocked off.

{mosads}So far, Trump has been running the most unconventional presidential campaign seen in Florida in the modern era.

He has one campaign office in Florida — the headquarters in Sarasota — and he hasn’t run a single general-election ad to date, instead relying on massive rallies to energize tens of thousands of supporters. 

But even though the Trump campaign doesn’t yet have traditional brick-and-mortar offices, the campaign has 67 county chairs that “actively produce Trump events and Trump activities weekly that contribute to voter registration drives,” Giorno told The Hill in an interview Saturday. 

The Republican Party has also been on the ground in Florida registering voters for 20 months and has been outpacing the Democrats in new voter registrations, according to the Florida secretary of state’s website. 

Both Trump and Clinton campaigned in Florida over the past week, though Trump attracted, as he always does, much larger crowds.

Clinton’s campaign has run a traditional operation in Florida from the outset, focusing intensely on the fundamentals of identifying and registering voters. 

Volunteers began building Clinton’s Florida infrastructure in April 2015, and the campaign has had paid staff installed in the state since the middle of last year.

In the months since, Clinton and her allies have dropped millions in advertising in Florida and built a vast staff and volunteer network there, though the campaign refuses to provide staff numbers. 

The Clinton campaign already has 14 Florida field offices and is working closely with Democratic mayors across the state to identify and register new voters, a senior Clinton official in Florida told The Hill on Saturday.

More offices will be opened in the coming weeks, the official added.

The Clinton campaign and its vast volunteer network have been operating for months outside of churches, community centers, supermarkets and beauty salons to register young voters, women and minorities, particularly among Florida’s fast-growing Hispanic neighborhoods. 

Clinton also holds a massive advertising advantage in the state.

Trump, who scored an overwhelming victory in Florida in his primary against home-state Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, has also faced criticism for spending nothing so far on ads. He says this is a deliberate strategy — he’s holding back and waiting.

But Trump’s delayed ad push — opening him up to be battered by a multimillion-dollar Clinton onslaught — is fraying some Republican nerves.

The combined advertising spending between the Trump campaign and his allies in Florida is in the low six figures.

Clinton and her allies, on the other hand, have spent more than $20 million already in Florida, according to NBC News.

The primary pro-Clinton super-PAC, Priorities USA, has spent roughly $11 million on TV in Florida and plans to continue spending heavily in the state, a source familiar with the super-PAC’s plans told The Hill.

Trump has little time to waste — Florida starts voting by mail in October.

The Trump campaign is planning to begin general-election advertising in Florida “very, very shortly; probably in the next week or week and a half,” according to a Trump official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

There are some frustrations about the lack of resources in Trump’s Florida operation. But Giorno believes the media is reading the race wrong and is judging Trump by traditional metrics, when journalists should have learned by now that they’re foolish to apply lessons of past presidential campaigns to an outsider like Trump.  

“It’s a unique campaign here,” she said. “In the Florida primary, members of the establishment fell away and the voters overwhelmingly, in record numbers, backed Donald Trump.”

A source familiar with the Trump campaign-RNC meeting said it went well and that it was a “traditional transitional meeting from a post-convention to, now, the general-election victory operation.” 

Friday’s meeting was billed by some in the media as an “emergency meeting” to save the relationship between Trump and the party.

Among the high-powered officials sitting around the table on Friday morning were RNC heavyweights including chief of staff Katie Walsh; 2016 political director Chris Carr; Florida state director Brian Barrett; and top Trump officials including Giorno and political director Jim Murphy. 

Giorno rejects the media’s characterization of the meeting as an “emergency” measure.

“When they say this is an emergency meeting, no,” she told The Hill.

“This was a meeting about how do we now pivot to the general election based on our uniqueness as a party and a campaign.”

The RNC has made it known that Chairman Reince Priebus has been furious with some of Trump’s recent antics — particularly his prolonged argument with the Muslim family of a fallen American soldier and his delayed endorsement of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in his primary.

But Priebus is determined to turn things around, and he made a show of unity on Friday, appearing with Trump at his two rallies in Pennsylvania.

Giorno scoffed at the notion circulated in some sections of the media that Priebus had delivered ultimatums to Trump about funding or signaled that the RNC would divert resources away from its presidential nominee.

Giorno is confident the Trump campaign — through its expanding ground presence, massive rallies and intense enthusiasm for the GOP nominee among his supporters — can overcome Clinton’s long-term organizational advantages in Florida. 

“We have a mixture of voters, which is why we’re going to win the election,” Giorno said.

“We have Democrats; we have independents; we have Republicans; we have first-time voters. 

“We have a movement and we have enthusiasm. They don’t.”

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Marco Rubio Paul Ryan

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