Smith to Democrats: Enthusiastic turnout key for 2012 elections
By: Bill Cotterell
The re-election of President Obama and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson depends on Democrats mobilizing an enthusiastic turnout, the head of the state Democratic Party said Saturday.
Party chief Rod Smith said Gov. Rick Scott’s unpopularity is a big plus for Democrats. Smith told activists from four counties at the annual picnic of the Democratic Club of North Florida the GOP needs to unseat Nelson, the lone Democrat remaining in statewide office, in order to take complete control of Congress.
Republicans already control the U.S. House.
“They are going to go all out to seize the U.S. Senate because they know something deep in their hearts that they’re not telling you: They’re not going to beat Barack Obama for president of the United States,” Smith said.
He said rallying Puerto Ricans in Central Florida will help Obama and Nelson. But he said Democratic strongholds like the Tallahassee area and his own Alachua County need big turnouts to offset Republican strength elsewhere in the state.
“For Republicans, the map to the presidency has to go through Florida,” said Smith. “California, New York and Texas are not going to be in play, in my view, so Florida will be the major deciding electoral state in this election.”
More than 100 Democrats ate barbecue and listened to bluegrass music at Lee Vause Park. Some local candidates and officeholders gathered petition signatures and met voters from Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson and Gadsden Counties.
Smith, a former state senator who lost a bid for lieutenant governor last year, said only two Republicans have won the presidency without carrying Florida since 1896.
He said four Central Florida counties – Orange, Osceola, Polk and Seminole – have more Puerto Rican voters than Chicago or New York, and they tend to vote Democratic. He said the party rallied 70 percent of those voters for Obama in 2008 but only 28 percent voted last year, when the Democrats lost four Florida congressional seats, the governor’s race and all three Cabinet contests.
Leon and Gadsden Counties always go Democratic, but Smith said Tallahasseeans affected by Scott’s budget policies need to reach out to voters in nearby counties and increase turnout. He said making Scott an issue worked for Democrats elected mayor of Jacksonville and Tampa this year.
“We’ve done something very successfully: We’ve reminded everybody that if you don’t know which way to vote, remember this – we’ve got a Republican governor, he’s Rick Scott, if you want more of that, you vote for them,” said Smith. “The face of the Republican Party in Florida is Rick Scott and we know that right now about two-thirds of the people in this state have said, ‘Give me something else.'”
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Scott’s approval rating at 29 percent statewide.
Republican leaders scoffed at Smith’s partisan predictions. Leon County State Committeewoman Cynthia Henderson said the mayoral elections were swayed by local issues and politics in Tampa and Jacksonville and GOP Committeeman Jeff Howell called Smith’s prediction “absurd.”
“I don’t think the governor’s popularity now is going to have an impact on what’s going on at the time of the election,” said Henderson.
Howell said “Rod Smith is doing his job” in firing up his supporters. But he said Scott’s image will not help Obama and Nelson or hurt the GOP nominees.
“Obama won Florida by only 2 percent four years ago,” he said. “Floridians are concerned about the economy, unemployment and the ballooning federal deficit, and they don’t hold Rick Scott responsible for that.”
Leon County GOP Chairman Bradley Maxwell said Smith was trying to divert attention from Obama’s record by appealing to anger at Scott. He said the Democrats can’t win by saying “Obama might be bad, but look at this other guy.”
Leon County Commissioner Jane Sauls campaigned for re-election at the picnic, along state Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. Commissioner Akin Akinyemi and City Commissioner Gil Ziffer also addressed the gathering.
“We have to fight for our Democratic candidates,” said Sauls. “We can’t afford to lose any of our Democrats in any elections.”
Williams, wearing an Obama campaign T-shirt, urged party activists not to wait until the election year before contributing to candidates and volunteering in campaigns. He said Big Bend residents should contact friends all over the state to talk up the Democratic message.
“In 2012, we have a lot at stake,” said Williams, wearing an Obama campaign T-shirt. “If we don’t find that energy again that we found in 2008, we’re going to have a much different country for our children.”