I wasn’t going to do any more retrospectives on the 2010 election, because I’m already on to the business of how we progressives move forward. But if there’s one thing I hate in politics, it’s people pointing the finger at everyone other than themselves when they lose. President Obama is catching hell from some of his base for capitulating to a barrage of reporters’ demanding that he take responsibility for the beating Democrats took on November 2nd, but at least he manned up. Alex Sink on the other hand, thinks she lost the Florida governor’s race because of … Barack Obama. Madame, please.
Ms. Sink, who lost the Florida governor’s race by 61,966, and a razor-thin 48.87 percent to 47.71 margin to near-felon Rick Scott, turned to the Ronald Reagan Library legacy folks at Politico to vent her spleen, and to point a finger at the White House for her troubles. So let’s dig into her argument, and splash a little truthiness on it.
First up, Sink’s summary judgment, in which we’re seeing the first draft of Florida’s Democratic political machinery’s attempt to alter history in order to evade responsibility for the colossal failure that took place on November 2nd.
In an interview with POLITICO, Sink said the administration mishandled the response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, doesn’t appreciate the political damage done by healthcare reform and argued that her GOP opponent’s strategy of tying her to the president did grave damage to her candidacy in the state’s conservative Panhandle.
“They got a huge wake-up call two days ago, but unfortunately they took a lot of Democrats down with them,” said Sink of the White House.
She added: “They just need to be better listeners and be better at reaching out to people who are on the ground to hear about the realities of their policies as well as politics.”
I see. Well lets start with the oil spill. Sink was indeed very aggressive in getting out in front of the issue this spring, and it showed in her poll numbers. Between May, when she likened the Gulf disaster to a “category 5 hurricane” — and September, a period during which Ms. Sink was relentlessly critical of the White House response, and of the attempts to compensate Panhandle business owners, her poll numbers rose sharply. As a result, Ms. Sink, who had trailed even Bill McCollum in pre-primary polls, went from polling consistently behind Bill McCollum before the primary, to consistently tying or beating Rick Scott in the polls in the general.
One good question to ask: what happened to Sink’s poll numbers in September? Because while Scott’s never rose sharply, Sink’s began to slide. Anything interesting happen that month? Well, Sink came out in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts … and Rick Scott started launching a blitzkrieg of ads tying Sink to alleged corruption in steering no-bid contracts to her former bank, and to allegedly mishandling the state pension fund, essentially dirtying her up, just like him. The ads were torched by Politifact, but it didn’t matter. By election day, in some voters’ minds, Sink was now as bad as Scott. (Sink hit back with some incredibly effective ads of her own, but Scott had at least made inroads with voters on the fence.)
And yet, two weeks before the election, Nate Silver gave Sink a 58 percent chance of winning the election. Of course by then, not only was the Gulf crisis a distant memory for most voters, a majority of Floridians had changed their minds and had gone from opposing offshore drilling in May, to a majority opposing a BAN on offshore oil drilling by August. In fact, by the time Rick Scott became the Republican nominee, the Gulf oil spill had dropped way down on the importance scale for voters, such that a Times/Herald/Bay News 9 poll that month found that the spill was the most important issue to just one in 10 Floridians, while the economy and jobs was the most important issue to two-thirds of the people in the state:
Most important issue
Economy / jobs
Government / politics / politicians
BP / Gulf oil spill
And not for nothing, but that same poll found that more people strongly approved of President Obama’s handling of the spill: 24 percent — than felt that way about Alex Sink’s handling of it: 10 percent. The only person whose approval on the spill was not under water, was Gov. Charlie Crist, who had a 46/24 approval rating on the handling of the spill, versus 39/44 for Obama, and 21/22 for the rather less well known, even though she was running for freaking governor, Alex Sink.
The Gulf oil spill was such a non-factor in this election, it didn’t even register in the exit polls as remotely of interest to the people who voted. Rather, it was the economy that most Florida voters, like most voters around the country, cared about. In the exit polls conducted for the AP, three out of four Florida voters cited the economy as their top concern. I’m not sure any cited the Gulf oil spill.
So Ms. Sink can certainly comfort herself with the notion that the Obama reaction to the oil spill was to blame for her becoming the second person in her immediate family to lose a governor’s race in Florida, but she can’t count on actual data to back her up.
So what about that terrible “Democrat” healthcare reform? Can we blame that for Alex’s troubles? Because we really, really need someone to blame!
To be sure, exit polls showed that four in 10 Floridians disapprove of healthcare reform. But it should also be noted that most Democrats understood for a long time that Ms. Sink did too.
Alex Sink was very much on record has having only tepid support for healthcare reform, and while Rick Scott certainly built his political career on both Medicare fraud and opposition to “Obamacare,” that issue did not drive the 2010 campaign. Sure, Rick Scott said some crazy stuff, like Alex Sink wants to cut Medicare, and Barack Obama was born of a shoeless commie ukulele peddler and the daughter of Josef Stalin in the jungles of Bora Bora (okay he didn’t say that…) but Scott was too smart to make healthcare reform the focus of his campaign. His people figured out that just as threatening to unleash the hounds of hell on Hispanics f’d things up for McCollum and would do the same for him, too much talk of healthcare only served to remind voters of his history with Medicare/Tricare fraud. So much so that even Scott’s voters were leery of him:
Scott had headed a health care company that was fined $1.7 billion for defrauding the government, and 46 percent of his voters had reservations about him; by contrast just 26 percent of Sink’s voters had reservations about her.
Scott stuck to a very specific script in the general election: “let’s get to work.” His focus was on his 666 — sorry, “777″ plan to create jobs (in part by slashing jobs in Tallahassee…) He talked some about healthcare, but much less so that about the issue voters most cared about: jobs. Repeal of healthcare reform may have been a factor in the A.G. race — though let’s get real, nobody really paid attention to that race, and the cabinet positions simply were part of the GOP turnout wave and thus really couldn’t have been won by Democrats, short of a Rick Scott running for all those positions — it wasn’t the decisive factor for Alex Sink. How do I know that? Back to the exit polls:
On Obama’s signature health care law, a majority want it either expanded (30 percent) or left as it is (19 percent). About 44 percent of voters said it should be repealed.
So, smarty-pants blogger, if it wasn’t the president’s handling of the Gulf oil spill, and it wasn’t “Obamacare,” could Alex Sink’s fortunes have been torched by Obama himself? I mean, Glenn Beck tells me he’s out to destroy the country, state by state…
Indeed, the president’s approval rating in Florida is under water — 45 percent to 54 percent, per the vaunted exit polls. And more voters — 34 percent — said they were voting to send a message of disapproval to the president than to show support — 24 percent. But was that enough to take Miss Alex down? Let’s examine the numbers.
For starters, the largest share of voters — 40 percent — said Obama was a non-factor in their vote this year. What mattered more was who turned out (and who didn’t.)
The 2010 electorate in Florida included 36 percent Democrats, 35 percent Republicans and an unusually high 29 percent independents. The actual voter roll breakdown in Florida is 42 percent Dems, 38 percent Republicans, 20 percent indies or unaffiliated voters.
Alex Sink did no better among Democrats (89 percent), than Scott did among Republicans (88 percent). And for all the crowing by her supporters that she could pull crossover votes, she only picked up 10 percent of Republicans, and 42 percent of Independents.
Meanwhile, this was the most conservative electorate to turn out in a long time. A full 39 percent of voters called themselves conservative this year, versus 42 percent who said they were moderates, and just 19 percent liberal. Sink lost conservatives overwhelmingly — 80 percent to 16 percent. But she only won moderates 60-37. Scott even got 15 percent of self-described liberals. That tells me that this was overwhelmingly a jobs and economic anxiety election, not an “I hate Barack Obama” votefest.
All of that is bad, but the fact that Democrats turned out at a full 6 percent below their vote share, while Republicans only lost 3 percent of their vote share, says something, and not something good. It’s also the most important thing that happened in this election, both nationwide (except in states with strong, competent Democratic Parties, like Colorado, California and Nevada, and even Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania, which came damned close to winning those Senate races) and in Florida.
In short: The Sink campaign and the Florida Democratic Party failed to get out their vote, and they can’t blame that on the White House.
For all the carping by Sink and her allies about the White House meddling in her campaign, not letting her keep enough distance from the president (as if she didn’t keep serious distance from the president — I mean the lady dashed out of the Fontainbleau Hotel so fast when the POTUS came down for a rally in August, you’d think she was being chased by creepy-ass Rick Scott! — the White House telegraphed from the beginning that Sink was their priority, whether or not she chose to appear with the president.
Sink kept such distance, her only appearance with Obama was by phone, in the closing days of the campaign, when she was down to panhandling for black votes on a conference call with him after foolishly dissing the African-American community — and taking that infamous cell phone text…
And yet, even on that final conference call with about 500 black opinion and faith leaders — a call in which I have it on good authority that the POTUS was given the same number of talking points for Kendrick Meek that he was for Sink, President Obama laid on the praise for Sink, reading all the talking points, while throwing in just one item about Meek.
Sink was priority one for the White House. Period. The DNC deployed more money to Florida (and Ohio) than any other state for one reason only — and Meek ain’t it. The DSCC spent exactly zero here. Dig? If the Sink campaign was unhappy with the quality of the advice they were getting from Washington, they should have pushed back or not taken it. Don’t blame the people out of state, especially when some of your key people (and here I’m specifically thinking of black voter outreach) were from out of state, too, and therefore didn’t know enough local operatives to actually help you.
It’s even arguable that Sink’s distancing of herself from the president helped keep Democratic turnout down, by turning off black and liberal voters who saw her as a typical blue dog — not worth altering their schedule to turn out and vote for. (Maybe she should ask Ron “extend the Bush tax cuts” Klein about that, now that he’s got lots of time on his hands… Bottom line: right before the election, Sink was ahead in the polls. Had more of the majority of Floridians who preferred her turned out, she would have won. Obama or no Obama.
Okay, so if it’s not Obama’s fault, whose fault is it, genius?
Simple. Alex Sink failed, and the state party failed, to get out enough Democratic votes to win. They f-d around and lost the early vote, failed to chase absentee ballots across the state, blew valuable DNC cash trying to drag Kendrick Meek out of third place so he’d take care of the black vote (so Alex Sink wouldn’t have to bother) … and failed in every conceivable way to elect the one person on the ballot who had a chance to beat the wave: Alex Sink.
The table below shows the final vote tallies for all the statewide candidates. Notice which candidate got the most — and the fewest — votes:
Votes received by GOP statewide winners, Democratic losers, Margin of Victory (MOV):
|Chief Financial Officer||2,965,948||2,014,463||57.3/38.9|
As you can see, Rick Scott was the BIGGEST underperformer on the ballot. He got nearly 300,000 fewer votes than the candidate for agricultural commissioner for Christ sakes, and he still beat Alex Sink (who got more votes than any other Democratic candidate), by the smallest margin of any candidate running.
Could any Democrat have won statewide in this “wave” environment? Why yes. Two could have: Alex Sink, and one, rather than two, alternatives to Marco Rubio:
In the three-way Senate race, Marco Rubio got 2,644,539 votes, and a 48.9 percent share, but Rubio actually LOST by 54,246 to the hybrid theoretical candidate called Crist-Meek, which pulled in a total of 2,698,785 votes, or 49.9 percent of the total (1,092,059 votes for Kendrick Meek (20.2%) and 1,606,726 for Charlie Crist (29.7%)…)
That means that unlike what even I expected, Rubio out-performed Rick Scott by 26,120 votes, and STILL lost the head-to-head race with “Anybody But Rubio” (ABR). Are you telling me that the people who voted for Charlie Crist, PLUS the people who voted for Kendrick Meek, couldn’t have elected Ms. Sink? That just doesn’t pass the laugh test.
With over 5.7 million ballots cast in this year’s election (51 percent turnout), there were 50,325 fewer votes cast for governor than for the U.S. Senate. And since the Senate race has been a foregone conclusion for awhile, Rubio never did get to 50 percent, and the governor’s race was the real nail-biter, that’s pretty stunning.
The statewide undervote between the ABR hybrid and Alex Sink was 2,698,785 (ABR) – 2,556,453 (Sink) or 142,332 votes. In Miami-Dade, Sink only out-performed the hybrid by 6,900 votes, meaning she barely leached into the GOP base. That means that either there were a lot of Charlie Crist voters who also preferred Scott — which given the profile of Crist voters strikes me as unlikely, or people simply undervoted the ballots they cast.
Why would there have been undervotes?
Let’s go back to the week when Sink’s team idiotically decided to skip the NAACP candidate forum in Miami. While I’ve got you stuck here, reading this ungodly long post, I’m going to tell you a story…
Thank god, finally some entertainment!
The 15-day period of early voting began in Florida on October 18th. That same evening, the Miami-Dade NAACP held its big candidate forum — something they do every cycle — at New Birth Cathedral of Faith International; only the most prominent, largest black Baptist church in South Florida. The pastor of that church, Bishop Victor Curry, is also president of the NAACP. He/they also own a radio station in Miami. So Curry has his forum (full disclosure, I co-moderated it, though I had nothing to do with putting it together and was not paid for participating.) Alex Sink doesn’t show up. Not only that — she doesn’t send her running mate, the rather imaginary Rod Smith. And she doesn’t send a surrogate.
You know who does show up? Jennifer Carroll — Rick Scott’s black running-mate, who has been crisscrossing the state in what can only be described as a shadow campaign. She was everywhere in the African-American and Caribbean community, touting not really Scott so much as the historic opportunity to put her in power Tallahassee, as the first black lieutenant governor. Carroll shows up, and is highly effective with a hostile audience. She left there with the respect of the people in that room.
Worse, the following day, Curry hosts his weekly show “Tuesday Talk,” and proceeds to blast Alex Sink for disrespecting the black community, and for breaking an agreement to show up (the campaign said she had a prior commitment, which turned out to be her AND her running-mate hanging out with about 200 die hard Democrats in north Florida, and so missing the forum and the 1,500 or so people there.)
The three hours Curry spent railing at Sink turned into a first week of early vote form hell for Democrats, after Curry’s call to leave the governor’s slot blank on the ballot rippled through the state, to black churches from Oviedo to Miami. I ran into infrequent voter secretaries and supervoters alike who said they were sick of the Democratic Party only showing up at our churches at GOTV time, and the disrespect black folk are shown the rest of the time, and who were going to heed their pastors’ calls to “leave it blank” for Sink. I had people who care deeply about elections, and who deeply distrust Rick Scott, say it would be good for Sink to lose, because maybe that would teach the Dems a lesson.
It was a full week before Sink had the opportunity to call in to Tuesday Talk and make amends — a week that included a Saturday AND a Sunday — typically the two biggest days for African-American early voting.
How many undervotes went into the system in that week? 10,000? 20,000? 50,325??? Keep in mind: Sink lost this election by a mere 60,000 votes. Not 600,000. 60,000, in part, because Democrats LOST the early vote to the GOP, by failing to get more Democrats to the polls.
Unforced errors like that, and textgate, and Sink’s failure for the first two thirds of her campaign to run as a woman (so much so that late in the game, some people still weren’t clear on that), or to capitalize on the pent-up Hillary Clinton support in the state, or to do retail campaigning for month after agonizing month in the early days of the campaign, even though liberal donors and supporters around the state were literally screaming for her presence; or to use Rod Smith (who allegedly exists, though I can’t verify it) or to pick a running mate with a strong point of difference from herself, or to wear some damned lipstick and stop coming across like the town librarian, or to get some TV and debate training, or in short, to do any number of things that could have gotten her those 62,000 votes, scar this campaign from beginning to end.
But nothing sucked in the Sink debacle like its pathetic joint get out the vote effort with the Florida Democratic Party. The coordinated campaign in 2010 was so sorry, you’d almost think it was run by Republican saboteurs.
Based on discussions I’ve had with numerous people inside the process, what I come away with is a picture of abject failure by the Sink campaign and the FDP.
They spurned offers of help with GOTV outreach to Hispanics (including from former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, who full disclosure, ran unsuccessfully in the Senate primary and is now on the Rick Scott advisory board…)
They spurned offers of help with absentee ballot chase in central Florida and the I4, where upwards of 50,000 absentee ballots ordered by Obama voters in 2010 were left un-chased.
They spurned offers from Yolly Roberson and others to help with Haitian-American voter outreach, perhaps out of pique because Roberson — LIKE HALF THE FRIGGIN WHITE HOUSE — preferred Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate.
They utterly failed to excite black voters, instead punting that responsibility to the hapless Meek campaign.
They failed to stand up to Team Meek and therefore let valuable DNC dollars get leeched into an ill-fated television campaign for Meek, when Sink could have used those dollars for direct mail, absentee ballot chase, and some friggin signs at polling places. (There were few, if any, to be seen, especially in majority black precincts up and down the state.)
They failed to deploy enough staff and GOTV teams in places like the I4, where Peter Schorsch told me he encountered exactly TWO FDP staffers on visits to 40 polling precincts in Hernando, Pasco, and Hillsborough counties on election day. Karen Thurman’s post-election email bragging about the party’s door-knocking effort (nicely dismembered by Peter here) would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
The Sink campaign left $2-4 million on the table by foregoing public financing, “out of principle,” despite apparent entreaties from senior political operatives and even the candidate’s husband, to take the money. (To understand how dumb that was, consider that Sink raised about $11.2 million and got 2.6 million votes. Assuming she spent it all, that breaks down to $4.30 a vote. At that rate, 62,000 votes would have cost the Sink campaign a mere $266,454. They would have gotten at least 10 times that from public financing.)
UPDATE: One more add. The Sink team chased phantom votes in north Florida and the Panhandle, spending way too much time there, and as I said earlier, eked out only a 6,900 vote margin over the ABR entity in crucial Miami-Dade. As such, Sink failed to translate her wide margins with black and Hispanic voters in Central and South Florida into enough votes to win. For such a smart woman, it was dumb for Sink to believe she could get northern Florida conservatives to cross over, while assuming the southern Florida base would take care of itself.
I could go on and on, but this post is already way too long. Suffice it to say that this was indeed a winnable election for Alex Sink, wave or no wave. She outperformed every Democrat on the ballot, and Rick Scott underperformed every Republican. She left scores of votes on the table. And she didn’t hang with President Obama enough to be taken down by his soft approval ratings.
Alex Sink failed.
Her campaign failed.
Karen Thurman and the Florida Democratic party failed.
Now own up to it, woman up, ladies, and stop blaming other people for your failures. You’re starting to sound like Sarah Palin.
Related: there is already a “fire Thurman” petition. And a website. More on that, and Peter Schorsch’s taking the front line on the effort, here. (Somebody’s got to do it, and yes, party people are already attacking him.)