ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Hundreds of Florida Democrats have gathered at Walt Disney World Resort, to discuss strategy ahead of the 2020 election year. Several notable politicians were in attendance, including former Tallahassee mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. Gillum calls Florida pivotal in the upcoming general election.
“I think the president has constituency here, but I think we’ve got more. What we have to do is get out there and organize that constituency and turn them out,” he said.
Florida Democrats need to register a half million more voters before the 2020 presidential election if they hope for the Sunshine State's 29 electoral votes go to their candidate, an elections expert told party leaders.
Florida Democrats need to have 5.5 million registered voters by November 2020 if they want to turn the state blue for the presidential election, said Mike Coleman, precinct development director for the Palm Beach County Democratic Party.
Florida currently has a little less than 5 million Democrats, about 4.7 million Republicans and 3.6 million voters with no party affiliation. Last year, Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat and the governor's race by thin margins.
Even though Republicans' numbers are smaller, they do a better job of turning out their voters. They got more than 80 percent of their registered voters to cast ballots compared to a little less than 75 percent for Democrats in 2016, Coleman said.
Coleman said Democrats should have a goal of registering 200,000 new voters by the presidential preference primary in March, and he emphasized the importance of getting Democratic voters to cast ballots by mail since voters who do so have an extremely high turnout.
"We cannot afford to lose," Coleman told a roomful of Democratic activists at state party's summer conference at Walt Disney World in Orlando. "Every new vote is a step toward our 29 electoral votes."
Democrats need to focus registration efforts in formerly red counties that are turning blue, such as Seminole County in an Orlando suburb, and the 1.4 million felons who have the chance of restoring their voting rights thanks to a constitutional amendment that passed last year. The activists reminded each other that President Trump was to make his reelection announcement in Orlando in a week and a half.
Some activists worried that new candidates weren't getting proper training in the nuts and bolts of running a campaign, such as developing fundraising lists.
"If you don't do it early, they don't get off the ground," said Mario Piscatella, a state committeeman from St. Johns County.
Other activists said the state party needs to develop a clear message to attract voters with no party affiliation, otherwise known as "NPAs."
"We need something simple where an NPA says, 'Yeah, sign me up!" said Elizabeth Tetreault, an activist from Miami.
Gillum has made it a goal of registering 1 million voters through a political action group named after his 2018 campaign slogan, Bring it Home. He told supporters Friday that the group had already raised $800,000 for that effort and that the group had distributed $500,000 to the Democratic Party. Supporters chanted, "Flip Florida Blue!" The idea is to register and re-engage one million voters in Florida.
“If were even marginally successful in this effort, say we don’t hit the million mark, if we get 250,000 into the process here in the state of Florida, that would be pivotal on what happens to Florida electoral vote, our state legislature, we could potentially flip the senate,” said Gillum.
Later, talking to reporters, Gillum said news that federal investigators were demanding information from his campaign and political committee wasn't detracting from fundraising for the voter registration efforts.
"I don't underestimate that it is a distraction without a doubt," Gillum said. "But I told our people we ran an open and honest campaign and I stand by the work we did there."
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