The debates in Miami are over, and the Democratic Party is just beginning the process of selecting a nominee to challenge Donald Trump — but it’s not too soon to mobilize and engage voters for the 2020 presidential election.
The Washington D.C.-based For Our Future organization says they’ll have the largest canvassing operation in seven battleground states next year – in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Nevada and Florida.
The group, supported by Big Labor, intends to turn Florida blue in 2020 – a tough task given that the Trump campaign is putting all its chips in winning Florida next year. That’s why Trump held his official re-election rally in Orlando last week.
The group discussed strategy with state and national political reporters on Thursday, at the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus.
For Our Future plans to partner with dozens of local and statewide groups, including Mi Familia Vota, Progress Florida and the Florida Consumer Action Network.
That’s because a primary goal of expanding the electorate can only happen by working with local groups already doing activist work in their communities, says Justin Myers, who heads For Our Future.
Working with a program called “Feedback,” For Our Future says that the first question canvassers ask when they knock on a voter’s door is: What’s the most important issue for you. That helps break down information by demographic group and region, and tailor messaging.
For example, the top priority of voters in Tampa last year was more school funding (Hillsborough County voters ultimately approved a half-cent sales tax for the school district last fall).
In Orlando, the top issue was the minimum wage. In West Palm Beach, it was gun violence prevention.
“By learning the issues, we’re able to connect the issue with candidates when we go back to voters a second or third time,” said Myers.
“We don’t want to talk about hyper-national issues. We want to talk about hyperlocal issues.”
Jenn Whitcomb is field director with For Our Future. She said the group placed offices in typical Democratic strongholds, but also in traditional Republican counties such as Marion, Polk and Manatee in 2018.
The group also is working with Alianza For Progress, a Central Florida operation that works to engage the burgeoning Puerto Rican community in the political process.
Marcos Vilar, the group’s executive director, cited the remarkable growth of Puerto Rican Democratic elected officials within the past decade.
Despite For Our Future’s work in the 2018 election, Florida Democrats came up short in the two major races – governor and U.S. Senate.
Myers called then-Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s victory over Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson the “perfect storm.”
Myers cited Scott’s formidable financial war chest, media coverage of Scott traveling the state after Hurricanes Irma and Michael, and the questionable ballot design in Broward County, where more than 24,000 voters failed to choose any candidate in the U.S. Senate race.
“He played the hurricanes masterfully,” Marcos Vilar said about Scott, who also made multiple trips to Puerto Rico, devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Officials were less specific in describing why Democrat Andrew Gillum lost to Republican Ron DeSantis in the Florida governor’s race.
Myers says that For Our Future’s message will not be all about Trump.
“That’s not how you turn people out. That’s not going to be how you will turn out a disillusioned voter who doesn’t believe in government,” he said.
“We’re going to continue to talk about issues that matter to people, and that’s what we think will motivate turnout.”