Clin­ton cam­paign, ey­ing gen­eral elec­tion, turn its at­ten­tion to swing states

Demo­cratic groups also ramp­ing up ef­forts in Vir­ginia, Ohio, Florida

The Washington Post - - CAMPAIGN 2016 - BY ABBY PHILLIP AND SEAN SUL­LI­VAN [email protected]­post.com sean.sul­li­[email protected]­post.com

As Hil­lary Clin­ton in­creas­ingly turns her at­ten­tion to a gen­eral elec­tion against Don­ald Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz, her cam­paign and fel­low Democrats have be­gun in earnest to bol­ster staff and cam­paign or­ga­ni­za­tions in key bat­tle­ground states.

In Vir­ginia, Ohio and Florida — the three big­gest swing states in the last elec­tion — the Clin­ton cam­paign is team­ing up with state and na­tional Demo­cratic or­ga­ni­za­tions to build voter files, or­ga­nize thou­sands of vol­un­teers, reg­is­ter tens of thou­sands of vot­ers and raise the funds nec­es­sary to com­pete against a Repub­li­can op­po­nent.

And in the first con­crete sign that Clin­ton’s gen­eral-elec­tion ef­fort has gone be­yond plan­ning, the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee has be­gun trans­fer­ring money raised jointly with the Clin­ton cam­paign to state com­mit­tees to help fund the ef­fort, ac­cord­ing to Democrats with knowl­edge of the fi­nan­cial strat­egy.

In Ohio, the party has dou­bled the num­ber of staffers to 60, ac­cord­ing to state Demo­cratic Party chair­man David Pep­per, a num­ber that is ex­pected to grow con­sid­er­ably in the com­ing weeks and months.

In Vir­ginia, na­tional lead­ers are hold­ing weekly con­fer­ence calls with con­gres­sional cam­paigns to co­or­di­nate staff and vol­un­teers and avoid over­lap­ping ef­forts.

In Florida, Democrats have been reg­is­ter­ing vot­ers at a rate of 2,000 to 3,000 a month this year, slightly ex­ceed­ing the reg­is­tra­tion rate dur­ing the same pe­riod in 2008.

All told, the 2016 gen­eral-elec­tion ef­fort is ex­pected to meet or ex­ceed the more than 1,000 staffers de­ployed by Pres­i­dent Obama in those three states in 2012, cam­paign and party op­er­a­tives said.

“We’re go­ing to have a pretty good head start on the other guys,” said Scott Arce­neaux, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Florida Demo­cratic Party.

Repub­li­cans dis­puted that, ar­gu­ing that they are ahead by many mea­sures — and that na­tional Democrats are play­ing catch-up to a years-long ef­fort by the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee to build a state-by-state or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter two con­sec­u­tive pres­i­den­tial de­feats in 2008 and 2012.

But the GOP re­mains mired in a di­vi­sive pri­mary bat­tle that will drag on at least into June, if not through the party’s con­ven­tion in late July. That has stalled the abil­ity of party lead­ers to or­ga­nize in swing states in con­junc­tion with a pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee.

And the GOP’s work could be fur­ther hin­dered if the nom­i­na­tion is claimed by Trump, who is op­posed by many state Repub­li­can lead­ers and has ded­i­cated min­i­mal energy to lo­cal or­ga­niz­ing.

Repub­li­can op­er­a­tives in­sisted they have an or­ga­ni­za­tional ad­van­tage, how­ever. Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing what they call a “per­ma­nent ground game” fol­low­ing their de­feats in the past two pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, the na­tional and state par­ties have fo­cused in­tensely on build­ing an ap­pa­ra­tus to iden­tify, reg­is­ter and turn out vot­ers, sev­eral op­er­a­tives said.

In Florida, for in­stance, GOP reg­is­tra­tion has in­creased by 100,000 vot­ers this year — al­though much of that is at­trib­uted to pri­mary en­thu­si­asm and not the or­ga­ni­za­tional ef­forts of the party.

There and in North Carolina, Repub­li­can reg­is­tra­tion ex­ceeds that of Democrats, said RNC spokesman Ryan Ma­honey. All told, across seven bat­tle­ground states, party of­fi­cials have taken credit for reg­is­ter­ing more than 20,000 vot­ers.

“The RNC has never been more pre­pared for a gen­eral elec­tion,” Ma­honey said.

In ad­di­tion, in con­junc­tion with state par­ties, Repub­li­cans have in­stalled just over two dozen paid staffers in Ohio and Vir­ginia and 30 paid staffers in Florida.

Mean­while, dozens of Demo­cratic of­fi­cials said in in­ter­views that they are so con­fi­dent about the prospect of tak­ing on Trump or Cruz (R-Tex.) that they are pon­der­ing a dra­matic ex­pan­sion their am­bi­tions for 2016.

“We’re al­most pinch­ing our­selves, like, ‘Oh my God, is this re­ally hap­pen­ing?’ ” said Rep. Ger­ald E. Con­nolly (D-Va.), who rep­re­sents a Demo­crat-rich swath of the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs. “There is some prob­a­bil­ity of a com­pre­hen­sive Demo­cratic vic­tory and Repub­li­can de­feat.”

“Democrats have to start think­ing be­yond the nor­mal bound­aries here,” Con­nolly added.

In Florida in 2012, Obama’s cam­paign reg­is­tered more than 350,000 vot­ers — four times Obama’s vic­tory mar­gin over Mitt Rom­ney on elec­tion night, ac­cord­ing to Ash­ley Walker, who ran Obama’s re­elec­tion ef­forts in the state that year.

With Democrats al­ready on pace to ex­ceed that num­ber — and with the big­gest months of voter reg­is­tra­tion still ahead — Democrats are op­ti­mistic that, in the end, their ef­fort will swamp that of Repub­li­cans, de­spite the GOP’s en­thu­si­asm ad­van­tage dur­ing pri­mary sea­son. Said Walker: “This en­tire state is about the mar­gins: How much will Democrats lose Mar­ion County by? How much will we lose Du­val County? How much we win Mi­ami-Dade by.”

Repub­li­cans also said that Clin­ton’s weak fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ings, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the is­sue of trust, will give them an open­ing. Bob Sut­ton, chair­man of the Broward County GOP Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee in Florida, sug­gested that in par­tic­u­lar the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Clin­ton’s use of a per­sonal email server could pose prob­lems for her.

“If our fed­eral laws were en­forced, I would feel more con­fi­dent,” Sut­ton said. “That would def­i­nitely take Hil­lary out.”

Clin­ton is ex­pected to be­gin gen­eral-elec­tion-fo­cused travel in the com­ing days, in­clud­ing trips to Ohio, Michi­gan and Florida.

She has also be­gun us­ing funds raised through a joint fundrais­ing com­mit­tee as a mech­a­nism to be­gin co­or­di­nat­ing with state par­ties and down­bal­lot Demo­cratic cam­paigns to put in place co­or­di­nated field pro­grams.

The joint fundrais­ing com­mit­tee, called the Hil­lary Vic­tory Fund, raised $60 mil­lion through the end of March for the Clin­ton cam­paign, the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and 32 state party com­mit­tees.

Ac­cord­ing to Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­ports through the end of March, the fund has trans­ferred $5.8 mil­lion to the DNC since the start of the elec­tion cy­cle. In April, the joint com­mit­tee trans­ferred an ad­di­tional $2.5 mil­lion to the DNC, ac­cord­ing to Democrats with knowl­edge of the trans­ac­tion.

The na­tional com­mit­tee is also pre­par­ing to trans­fer funds to state par­ties in Ohio, Florida and Vir­ginia — $200,000 apiece — to fi­nance the salaries of field or­ga­niz­ers in those states.

The Democrats’ ef­forts will be par­tic­u­larly tar­geted at young vot­ers, African Amer­i­cans, Lati­nos and women. Trump’s com­ment af­ter his sweep of the five East Coast pri­maries Tues­day — that “if Hil­lary Clin­ton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 per­cent of the vote” — will only fuel those ef­forts.

Latino vot­ers in Florida will also be a top pri­or­ity. Ac­cord­ing to Clin­ton’s al­lies, the slate of Repub­li­can can­di­dates has given their camp un­prece­dented “am­mu­ni­tion.”

“I see peo­ple with sound trucks in West Tampa div­ing around with bull­horns say­ing, ‘Is this what you want?’ ” said Anna Cruz, a long­time Clin­ton ally who ran her 2008 Florida cam­paign. “You know, bar­ri­ers. We’ve been given so much by th­ese can­di­dates to mo­ti­vate His­panic vot­ers.”

Clin­ton will dis­patch Hous­ing and Ur­ban Devel­op­ment sec­re­tary and po­ten­tial vice-pres­i­den­tial pick Julián Cas­tro to Ohio’s Cuya­hoga County Demo­cratic Party din­ner in June, as a sign of the cam­paign’s com­mit­ment to lo­cal fundrais­ing and a sig­nal to the county’s small but grow­ing Latino com­mu­nity that their turnout could make a dif­fer­ence.

Out­side groups such as the pro-Clin­ton su­per PAC Pri­or­i­ties USA have al­ready com­mit­ted more than $125 mil­lion to bol­ster the case in bat­tle­ground states.

Bryan Wil­liams, who is chair­man of the Sum­mit County Repub­li­can Party in Ohio and sup­ports John Ka­sich, warned that if Trump is the nom­i­nee, he will need to make changes.

“I am not blind to the fact that Don­ald Trump is not fully strong with women,” he said, later adding, “He needs to cam­paign in a way that al­lows him to be more ap­peal­ing to fe­male vot­ers.”

Wil­liams said he is “less con­fi­dent” than he was at this point in 2012, but “not be­cause of the op­po­si­tion, be­cause I think we have a Balka­niza­tion of in­ter­ests and po­si­tions that is mak­ing it harder than ever to unify the party.”

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Hil­lary Clin­ton speaks in Philadel­phia on Tues­day. While Demo­cratic groups are con­fi­dent head­ing into the gen­eral elec­tion, the GOP is tout­ing what it says is a pow­er­ful, re­vamped ground game.

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