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Obama Hopes to Reverse Party Fortunes in Vote-Rich Fla.
"That's the ugly story," said a Florida Republican strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to provide a candid assessment of the state. "He spent more than $8 million in Florida and McCain never went up and he lost ground."
Obama also has put an enormous organization in place. He has 50 offices in the state and more than 100,000 active volunteers, according to campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro. The Obama campaign will not provide the number of paid staffers in the state, but a Democratic strategist familiar with the operation said there are at least 300, perhaps as many as 350.
Obama's team believes that the only way to win Florida in November is by producing an electorate that is far more Democratic than that in past races. They are targeting 600,000 African Americans who are registered to vote but who do not regularly turn out on Election Day.
Obama's team also sees considerable potential in a pool of potential voters -- younger Floridians, Hispanics, African Americans and newly arrived suburban voters -- who are not registered. Democrats have gained more new voters this year in Florida than Republicans, although not by the margins they have seen in some other states.
Judging from two Obama rallies in Florida on Saturday -- the first at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach and the second in Jacksonville, the African American community in Florida is enormously enthusiastic about the senator's candidacy. But the campaign's job will be to translate that into a significant outpouring of voters Nov. 4.
There are three keys to the state. First, Obama must produce the kind of huge margins in South Florida that have been the key to Democratic success in the past. Second, he must avoid a poorer-than-normal showing for Democrats in conservative northern Florida. Finally, he must win the battle for voters across the Interstate 4 corridor in central Florida.
"If he wins the Tampa market, he probably wins the state," Beattie said.
But a Democratic strategist said he remained worried because Republicans were beginning to come home to McCain. "Obama should be doing better on the I-4 than he currently is in the public polling. He's not doing worse among Bubba than we thought," the strategist said, referring to white, working-class Southerners. "The problem is he should be doing better with change voters on the I-4."
There are other obstacles. Whether he can ultimately win white voters in adequate numbers in northern Florida is still in question. Along Florida's west coast, he will try to woo retirees from states such as Michigan and Ohio, the same kind of voters who rejected him in overwhelming numbers in those states in the primaries against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). In South Florida, he will have to overcome some resistance in the Jewish community.
At a pair of fundraisers in Miami on Friday, Obama made a special plea to his supporters to help turn out their communities in what he called "the wonderful tapestry that is South Florida."
He urged Cuban Americans to go into Little Havana and tell voters there: "I know that you may have voted Republican in the past, but this time we need a change, and Barack Obama is my guy. He believes in liberty for the Cuban people. He wants to try to pursue it in new ways in the 21st century."
He asked Jewish voters to go into their communities, as well. "You've got to say, 'Listen, let me explain to you: This guy has always been a friend of Israel. Don't believe those nasty e-mails [saying the opposite]. He will never sacrifice Israel's security.' "
The battle over the next six weeks will pit Obama's ground game against a McCain campaign that will finally be airing television commercials and tapping into the strength of a state Republican Party and Republican National Committee that have proved so effective in recent Florida votes.
Republicans see themselves holding the state in November, but not without a fight.