Bi­den’s reg­is­tra­tion ad­van­tage in Florida falls to 135K

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - LOCAL & STATE - BY DAVID SMI­LEY AND MARTIN VASSOLO dsmi­ley@mi­ami­her­ald.com mvas­solo@mi­ami­her­ald.com

Head­ing into the Nov. 3 elec­tion, Florida Repub­li­cans are as close to par­ity with Democrats among reg­is­tered vot­ers as they’ve been in half a cen­tury or more.

The Florida Di­vi­sion of Elec­tions on Thurs­day posted the fi­nal num­bers for 2020 voter reg­is­tra­tion in the na­tion’s big­gest bat­tle­ground state. Repub­li­cans now head into Elec­tion Day with 5,169,012 vot­ers and Democrats with 5,303,254 — a dif­fer­ence of just 134,242. The dead­line to reg­is­ter was Oct. 6.

Those fig­ures are good news for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who beat 2016 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton by 112,000 votes de­spite his party hav­ing 327,438 fewer reg­is­tered vot­ers than Democrats. This fall, Trump heads into an­other close bat­tle — this time against for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den — with that num­ber slashed by more than half.

“Today’s voter reg­is­tra­tion num­bers are proof of Florida’s en­thu­si­asm for

Pres­i­dent Trump and Repub­li­cans,” said Emma Vaughn, a Trump Vic­tory spokes­woman in Florida, where Repub­li­cans con­tin­ued to knock on doors and talk to vot­ers this sum­mer de­spite the pan­demic. “Democrats just can’t com­pete with that type of pas­sion and Trump Vic­tory’s su­pe­rior ground game and in­fra­struc­ture.”

Repub­li­can Party of Florida Chair­man Joe Gruters said the party was able to nar­row the gap de­spite voter reg­is­tra­tion ef­forts from prom­i­nent Democrats, like for­mer New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and for­mer Tal­la­has­see Mayor An­drew Gil­lum, who last year pledged to reg­is­ter or “reen­gage” 1 mil­lion vot­ers.

“Fac­ing all that ad­ver­sity and all those head­winds, the Florida Repub­li­can Party was able to pre­vail,” Gruters said. “Not only pre­vail — we were able to crush the Democrats.”

Democrats spent 2019 talk­ing up plans to reg­is­ter scores of vot­ers to build back to­ward the 658,000 reg­is­tered voter ad­van­tage that helped Barack Obama win Florida and be­come

pres­i­dent in 2008. Those plans were largely oblit­er­ated by the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, which forced both par­ties and pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns to pull their field staff and vol­un­teers off the ground for months.

The Trump cam­paign re­turned to tra­di­tional field work far ear­lier than Democrats, which the GOP partly says con­trib­uted to its fi­nal num­bers, de­scribed by Repub­li­cans as a his­toric achieve­ment. A late surge in reg­is­tra­tion ap­pears to have helped as well, given that state data showed Repub­li­cans trail­ing Democrats by 183,000 vot­ers head­ing into Septem­ber.

The state also reg­u­larly re­moves in­ac­tive and in­el­i­gi­ble vot­ers from the rolls, some­thing Democrats say dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fects their party. An­other com­pli­ca­tion for the left: Florida’s re­stric­tive im­ple­men­ta­tion of a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment in­tended to re­store vot­ing rights to ex-felons, which has left hun­dreds of thou­sands of po­ten­tial vot­ers — many of them mi­nor­ity vot­ers ex­pected to largely fa­vor Democrats — un­able to par­tic­i­pate in the Novem­ber elec­tion.

But re­gard­less of the rea­sons, Repub­li­cans may be closer than they’ve ever been to par­ity with Democrats. The Florida Di­vi­sion of Elec­tions web­site, which lists par­ti­san voter reg­is­tra­tion only as far back as 1972, shows Repub­li­cans pre­vi­ously com­ing no closer than 263,000 vot­ers of the Demo­cratic Party in 2018 and, prior to that, 276,000 in 2006.

“I don’t think you’ll meet any Demo­crat out there who’ll say this reg­is­tra­tion num­ber is a good thing,” said Scott Kosanovich, a Demo­cratic strate­gist who led Bloomberg’s short-lived pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in Florida.

But Kosanovich said there are pos­i­tive signs that Democrats won’t look back in re­gret af­ter the elec­tion when it comes to voter turnout, an area where Repub­li­cans have out­per­formed Democrats in re­cent, nar­row vic­to­ries.

Democrats have rushed to vote by mail early this year, cast­ing 1,043,514 vote-by-mail bal­lots as of Thurs­day morn­ing. Repub­li­cans had sent in 623,395 mail bal­lots. Those num­bers are in part a re­flec­tion of Democrats’ change in strat­egy dur­ing the early days of the pan­demic, when they were still in­vest­ing in reg­is­ter­ing vot­ers — es­pe­cially those who have been less likely to vote at all — to cast bal­lots by mail.

Kevin Cate, a Florida Demo­cratic op­er­a­tive and vet­eran me­dia con­sul­tant, said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day that “be­fore 2020, Democrats had to look at the voter reg­is­tra­tion gap as our holy grail.” Now, he said, Democrats have a mas­sive early vote ad­van­tage and still have more reg­is­tered vot­ers than Repub­li­cans amid polling that shows Bi­den ahead of Trump in Florida.

“The re­al­ity is Democrats have amassed an over­whelm­ing vote by mail ad­van­tage, and turned out in his­toric num­bers for the pri­mary elec­tion in Au­gust,” said Jackie McGuin­ness, a spokes­woman for Bi­den’s cam­paign in Florida. “Democrats are lead­ing in the met­rics that will de­ter­mine this elec­tion and re­turn­ing their bal­lots at a higher rate than Repub­li­cans — and we aren’t let­ting up.”

Vet­eran Demo­cratic strate­gist Steve Schale, who led Obama’s 2008 Florida cam­paign, also noted on Twit­ter that much of the Repub­li­can Party’s gains have been with white vot­ers, who re­main a ma­jor­ity vot­ing bloc in Florida but are shrink­ing ev­ery year in size as the state’s mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tion grows. Black and His­panic vot­ers, mean­while, are reg­is­ter­ing with­out party af­fil­i­a­tion — the fastest grow­ing vot­ing bloc in re­cent years — but still tend to vote Demo­cratic.

“There have def­i­nitely been Repub­li­can gains,” Schale, the CEO of the pro-Bi­den Unite the Coun­try Su­per PAC, said in an in­ter­view. “At the same time, what we do know is that the state is get­ting more di­verse. My party does bet­ter with vot­ers of color.”

Repub­li­cans say they be­lieve Democrats are largely just tran­si­tion­ing in-per­son vot­ers to ones that vote by mail, and aren’t in­creas­ing Bi­den’s base in any ma­te­rial way. With early vot­ing cen­ters set to open Mon­day, the GOP is pre­par­ing for Repub­li­can vot­ers to more or less match Democrats, vote for vote, ahead of a likely Repub­li­can-heavy Elec­tion Day turnout.

In a pod­cast pub­lished this week by po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant and for­mer Tampa Bay Times re­porter Adam Smith, poll­ster and GOP con­sul­tant Ryan Tyson said the elec­tion re­minds him of Barack Obama’s 2012 re­elec­tion cam­paign — when Repub­li­cans spent gobs of money on TV and Democrats hus­tled on the ground and reg­is­tered vot­ers.

Obama won that elec­tion thanks in part to Democrats hav­ing 536,000 more reg­is­tered vot­ers than Repub­li­cans that year. Now, Tyson said that lead for Democrats is as small as it’s ever been.

“That’s his­tor­i­cally close,” he said of the 134,000-voter gap.

MARICE COHN BAND Mi­ami Her­ald file

Myra Wexler, aka ‘Yo Momma,’ was in her stu­dio/gallery with a life-size poster of her­self in this 2012 photo.

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