About 1,000 Democratic activists talk up the party's chances at the annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser.
By ADAM C. SMITH
Published June 13, 2004
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - In Lake County, Democratic chairman Robert Italia says dozens of people show up for routine meetings with little notice, determined to get to work campaigning.
In Broward County, party activist Pat Della Valle has never seen anything like it: People are phoning constantly to ask what they can do to help John Kerry win Florida.
In Pinellas, acting party chairwoman Geri Chapman says even Republicans regularly call the party wanting to help unseat President Bush.
As more than 1,000 Democratic activists gathered in Broward County for their annual fundraising dinner, the buzz was about a party energized as never before. The question less than five months before Election Day is whether that fervor will be effectively tapped and organized to take on an unprecedented Republican grass roots effort that has been under way for months.
"We're not ready yet, but we have the energy and motivation," said Linda McMullen, a Democratic state committeewoman from Pasco County.
That eagerness to get ready is partly why the state party extended its annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser into a three day event, rather than just a dinner. The weekend included get-out-the-vote training and door-to-door canvassing in addition to dancing at South Beach on Friday night and a Saturday dinner headlined by North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
"This is a newly energized Democratic party, and this weekend is going to further fire up our troops as we jump full bore into the election season," said state party chairman Scott Maddox, who estimated the party raised more than $400,000.
Edwards, a former presidential candidate and contender for Kerry's running mate, also raised $150,000 for the Kerry campaign in Bonita Springs, and joined Sen. Bill Nelson, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa and others at a beachfront rally in Hollywood.
Citing Kerry's 20-year career in the U.S. Senate, work as a prosecutor and service in Vietnam, Edwards said Kerry would be an "extraordinary" president whose life has been devoted to serving his country. "We have this president who best I can tell disappeared during a period of his National Guard service, nobody can figure out where he was. And we have a vice president who avoided military service four or five times in the '60s criticizing John Kerry for the medals he won in Vietnam," Edwards said. Polls suggest a dead heat for Florida's 27 electoral votes, and the effort to turn out Florida voters was on display well beyond Broward County Saturday.
About 450 volunteers fanned out in five cities, including Tampa, canvassing and registering voters.
Meanwhile, Bush supporters kicked off an 11-day blitz of door-to-door politicking and phone calling as part of a national program aimed at fine tuning its ground organization. The campaign expects 10,000 Florida volunteers will make hundreds of thousands of phone calls and knock on tens of thousands of doors as part of an intricately planned voter mobilization effort.
"They're getting beat at their own game," Bush-Cheney spokesman Reed Dickens said of the Democrats. He said the centralizing Bush-Cheney operation will prove far more efficient than the various Democratic efforts under way.
Democratic activists and elected officials over the Jefferson-Jackson weekend talked often of trying to peel Republican votes from Bush. In conversations and speeches, many spoke of the need to reach out well beyond ardent Democrats.
"We have to make sure that every independent and Republican feels very comfortable with John Kerry," said U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, chairman of Kerry's Florida campaign.
Florida also has a heavily contested race looming to succeed Bob Graham in the U.S. Senate, but talk of the presidential race dominated the weekend. Vying for the Democratic Senate nomination are former state education commissioner Betty Castor of Tampa, U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch of Tampa and Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas.
Castor's campaign had the most visibility, with supporters donning T-shirts and stickers. Penelas stopped by only briefly because he was tied up with his annual mayor's ball fundraiser for the United Way.