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Democrats worry about Clinton's Florida operation

via @adamsmithtimes

It’s time for Hillary Clinton to start worrying about her Florida campaign.

Despite roughly 500 full time campaign staffers spread across Florida to help Clinton win forever close Florida, party leaders and activists across the state are fretting about the campaign’s ground game. Even Clinton campaign staffers in other states are quietly buzzing about the Florida campaign struggling to meet its goals for voter registration and other outreach benchmarks.

“There needs to be more of a presence,” said Ken Welch, a Democratic County Commissioner in Pinellas County. “I haven’t seen it yet in the places where I would expect to -- churches, even Little League games. You absolutely saw that four years ago with the Obama campaign.”

“The adjectives I would use are underwhelming and stressful,” Monica Russo, presidennt of the SEIU Florida service workers union said of the campaign’s voter outreach effort.

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, has already let leaders of Brooklyn-based Clinton campaign have it for not focusing enough on grass roots organizing -- “If you spend $20-million on television, and you don’t move the needle then you need to recalibrate” -- and is confident they got the message.

“I had a conversation with a kid in Brooklyn, and I said, ‘Well how is it you’re in a position to know more about turnout than I do?’ He told me he had a Masters in political science,” Hastings recounted. “I said, ‘Well, I have won more elections than you spent time in school to get your Masters.'"

Florida polls show a dead-even race, and the Clinton campaign insists it is well positioned. 

“I have zero concern,” said Marlon Marshall, Clinton’s director of state campaigns, dismissing talk among Democratic operatives that the campaign has had to dramatically scale backs its goals for voter registration.

“Our team is doing a great job. As the person who knows our marks, we’re hitting our marks. If you look at the (voter) file comparing today to 2012 there’s actually 134 more African-Americans on the file and 364,000 more Hispanic voters,” Marshall said. “We’re actually ahead of where I thought we would be right now.”

But other Democrats point to the  national campaign recently dispatching a senior organizer from the Clinton campaign in Virginia to help improve Florida’s effort. Some of the raw numbers are hardly encouraging for Clinton.

Barack Obama, campaigning with an enthusiastic Democratic base behind him and a campaign infrastructure built over 15 months, won Florida by less than 75,000 votes in 2012 when the state had 536,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. Clinton by all accounts has a less enthusiastic base behind her, started building her campaign much later, and faces an electorate where the Democratic voter registration advantage has shrunk to 274,000.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times