Obama Looks To Make Fla. Inroads Florida has been increasingly tough territory for Democrats since Al Gore nearly won it in 2000. Few thought it would be winnable for Barack Obama, but the Democrat's campaign in the state is in high gear and looking to pull off an upset.
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Obama Looks To Make Fla. Inroads

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Obama Looks To Make Fla. Inroads

Obama Looks To Make Fla. Inroads

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Once again, in a presidential election, Florida is expected to be pivotal. Because the state violated party rules by holding an early primary this year, Barack Obama and the other Democrats stayed away for the primary season, and that gave John McCain an advantage. But in recent weeks, Obama has mounted a comeback in Florida with an approach that's unusual for a Democratic campaign in that state. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: It's unprecedented for a Democrat, a presidential campaign that's far better funded with more offices, paid staff and volunteers than Al Gore had here in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004. The Obama campaign has already opened at least 25 offices around the state, and it's opening more daily. Daniel Smith is the director of the Political Campaigning Program at the University of Florida.

Mr. DANIEL SMITH (Director, Political Campaigning Program at the University of Florida): These regional offices are in places that have been traditionally red state Florida, places like Ocala or Panama City or Sarasota, Fort Myers and Naples, places where Republicans have traditionally easily carried the balance of the votes. Obama obviously sees some possibilities to move folks who haven't come to the polls before, or perhaps independents.

ALLEN: It's the kind of thing Republicans had been doing for years in Florida, and the state Republican Party has helped the McCain campaign open a couple dozen offices across the state. But the Obama campaign has other resources in Florida that so far McCain hasn't been able to match. One is money. Since June, Obama has spent more than $5 million on campaign ads in Florida. McCain has spent zero. And the Obama campaign has something else - large numbers of committed volunteers.

Ms. JANE CHAPMAN (Volunteer, Obama Campaign): Hi.

ALLEN: Jane Chapman is an Obama volunteer in Boca Raton.

Ms. CHAPMAN: We're bringing people's attention to Barack Obama's energy policy.

ALLEN: That's great.

Ms. CHAPMAN: Have you received this?

ALLEN: Just about every day, there's an Obama event going on somewhere in South Florida. On this day, Chapman is one of dozens of volunteers across the state talking to motorists at gas stations. Chapman says she belongs to several Obama groups. They all coordinate and publicize their events on the campaign's social networking Web site.

For Chapman, political activism is something new. A few years ago, she started by making phone calls for MoveOn.org. But it was Barack Obama, she says, who really got her motivated.

Ms. CHAPMAN: The day he announced, I was so excited that I went on BarackObama.com, like they told us to, and I put in my ZIP code to join a local group and there wasn't one yet, 'cause it was the first day. So even though I had never done anything like this before, I started a local group. And we've got about 300 members now, and it's very exciting. It really is.

ALLEN: For several months, it was volunteers like Chapman who kept the Obama campaign alive in Florida while he stayed out, like he'd promised Iowa, New Hampshire and other traditional early states. That's still a problem for him. Volunteers and surrogates are surely helpful, but political analysts here say those volunteers won't be able to close the deal for Obama with Florida voters. That's up to the candidate. And in Florida, polls show Obama still has work to do to win over senior citizens and Jewish voters, groups that Democrats rely on.

In the meantime, John McCain has something working in his favor - a powerful and tested Florida Republican organization. Katie Gordon is with the state GOP.

Ms. KATIE GORDON (Press Secretary, Florida Republican Party): We're initiating the Republican grassroots machine that, you know, carried Florida for President Bush twice, for Governor Bush twice, for Charlie Crist. I mean, this is the Republican machine that's maintained majorities in the State House and the Senate and the Congressional delegation and three or four cabinet seats. So I think we're starting to see, you know, the team come back together for 2008.

ALLEN: The McCain campaign has also started organizing phone banks and doing voter outreach at naturalization ceremonies and gun shows. Both campaigns say this kind of voter mobilizing is the biggest boost they can get from volunteers. For the catch-up Obama campaign, that means finding them, inspiring them, and organizing them between now and November 4th. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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