Gee, maybe Joe Biden should have chosen a warm-weather state to kick off his weekend. While he plays defense in Minnesota, his party has begun to panic over turnout numbers in Florida. Democrats need to run up the score in Miami-Dade to have any hope of winning the state’s 29 Electoral College votes, and so far the Biden campaign’s turnout isn’t even keeping up with Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 effort:
Democrats are sounding the alarm about weak voter turnout rates in Florida’s biggest county, Miami-Dade, where a strong Republican showing is endangering Joe Biden’s chances in the nation’s biggest swing state.
No Democrat can win Florida without a huge turnout and big winning margins here to offset losses elsewhere in the state. But Democrats are turning out at lower rates than Republicans and at lower rates than at this point in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won by 29 percentage points here and still lost the state to Donald Trump.
CNN took notice of the problem this morning, too:
Allahpundit ran through the polling in Florida yesterday, most of which indicated that Biden was doing relatively well, despite worries over Latino voters. Turnout prospects looked good too. So what’s the problem? Turnout among specific Democratic target groups has fallen off significantly — and Democrats think they know why:
One particular area of concern is the relative share of ballots cast by young voters of color and less-reliable Democratic voters. Part of the problem, according to interviews with a dozen Democratic elected officials and operatives, is the Biden campaign‘s decision to discourage field staff from knocking on doors during the pandemic and its subsequent delay in greenlighting — and funding — a return to door-to-door canvassing.
“We did not get the kind of funding for different vendors who would do that type of work until late in the campaign,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, a party institution who represents Miami’s heavily Black congressional district.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — elections are won on the ground, not in the air. In a state with a twenty-point advantage to one party or the other, the ground game is largely irrelevant, except in down-ballot races. Presidents don’t win elections in those states, however. They win them in states where parties line up roughly evenly, and where organization matters. Barack Obama proved that positively in 2008 and in 2012; Mitt Romney proved it negatively in 2012, and Hillary Clinton did it again in 2016.
Polling and analytics only take campaigns so far. They have to ask voters to participate, and keep following up, with effective community-based efforts. The RNC and the Trump campaign has used that model throughout the campaign, tracking and targeting voters who might need extra encouragement to get to the polls and (hopefully) calculating their messages in the local context of each community. Telemarketing calls and advertising are not effective in GOTV, apparently not even in party strongholds like Miami-Dade is for the DNC.
This is why turnout numbers in early voting may be misleading. For one thing, we don’t know for sure how that vote will split. But it’s also likely that we’re seeing the most enthusiastic voters showing up now for Democrats, either in person or by mail. The lack of an effective GOTV effort may make this nothing more than the cannibalization of their whole election turnout — whereas the GOP has a big wave coming even beyond that on Election Day itself. And it has the organization to create it already in place.
Democrats have shifted to in-person contacts this week, Politico reports:
Geise acknowledged some of the turnout issues in Miami-Dade and said his group ramped up in the past week and had 100,000 conversations at people’s doors in the county, a third of all the face-to-face interactions they had in the entire state. He said Democrats will make a huge push this weekend to halt the Republican gains in early voting.
“We’ve got to stop the bleeding,” Geise said.
It’s far too late to launch an effective GOTV effort now, no matter how much money the Biden campaign pours into the effort. It takes months to build the kind of contacts and networks that will effectively motivate low-propensity voters to the polls. It takes weeks just to identify the people who can even make contact with those voters. One hundred thousand conversations is a good start for a week one year before an election, not for a handful of days prior to it.
Team Biden bet that an air war would win in a pandemic. So far, it looks like they’re going to lose, at least in Florida — and the fact that Biden showed up in Minnesota today hints that it’s failing even in safer states.