Republican Governor Candidates Pitch Big Tents in Florida and Illinois

RIck Scott and Bruce Rauner are spending millions of dollars to attract the type of voters that Republicans didn’t get in 2012—and will need in 2016.

DAVIE, FL - MARCH 28: Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks to the media as he attends the ribbon cutting for the opening of a I-595 Express Project on March 28, 2014 in Davie, Florida. The Governor finds himself dogged by questions about recent resignations by one of his top fundraisers, Mike Fernandez, as well as Gonzalo Sanabria, a longtime Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board member, who is reported to have resigned Thursday from his post to protest the disparaging and disrespectful treatment of Mike Fernandez, the former co-finance chairman of Gov. Rick Scotts campaign.' (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
National Journal
Karyn Bruggeman
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Karyn Bruggeman
Aug. 27, 2014, 1 a.m.

Com­ing out of the 2012 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, Re­pub­lic­ans knew their party needed to im­prove re­la­tion­ships with minor­ity voters if it had any hopes of win­ning the White House again. But the 2014 elec­tion land­scape of­fers few test­ing grounds for the GOP to start work­ing to­ward that goal, which will grow in im­port­ance in the 2016 pres­id­en­tial race.

Two not­able ex­cep­tions, though, are the gubernat­ori­al races in Flor­ida and Illinois. Polling shows tight cam­paigns in both states, and Re­pub­lic­ans Rick Scott and Bruce Rau­ner are cast­ing wide nets, let­ting every voter know they are seek­ing their sup­port.

Flor­ida Gov. Scott is run­ning one of the most ag­gress­ive ef­forts ever seen by a state-level can­did­ate to cap­ture the His­pan­ic vote in the Sun­shine State, and in Illinois, first-time can­did­ate Rau­ner is at­tempt­ing to un­seat Demo­crat­ic Gov. Pat Quinn while sim­ul­tan­eously try­ing to dis­band con­ven­tion­al wis­dom that says the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an vote in Chica­go is a fore­gone Demo­crat­ic con­clu­sion.

Scott’s deputy cam­paign man­ager, Tim Saler, said the cam­paign’s His­pan­ic com­mu­nic­a­tions strategy has “been built in­to what we’ve been do­ing from day one.” Scott and al­lied polit­ic­al com­mit­tees have aired six Span­ish-lan­guage TV ads, and they star­ted in April, earli­er than ever be­fore. The cam­paign even launched a ra­dio ad in Creole this sum­mer to reach mem­bers of the state’s small Haitian-Amer­ic­an pop­u­la­tion.

The cam­paign em­ploys two press staff ded­ic­ated to Span­ish me­dia and three Span­ish-speak­ing re­gion­al field staffers. It es­tim­ates staff and vo­lun­teers have made roughly 100,000 per­son-to-per­son con­tacts with His­pan­ic voters in Span­ish. Their mes­sage is largely the same as those geared to­ward Eng­lish speak­ers. It fo­cuses on Scott’s re­cord on jobs and the eco­nomy.

The cam­paign of Re­pub­lic­an-turned-Demo­crat former Gov. Charlie Crist, by con­trast, tal­lies about 550,000 total voter con­tacts, in­clud­ing those made to Span­ish-speak­ing voters, and he has yet to go on the air with Span­ish-lan­guage TV or ra­dio ads.

One reas­on Scott got off to such an early start com­mu­nic­at­ing with His­pan­ic voters this year: He won’t have Sen. Marco Ru­bio on the bal­lot this time. The two ran on the same tick­et in 2010, which may have helped Scott even though he ran be­hind Ru­bio among His­pan­ics, ac­cord­ing to exit polls.

Still, Scott won Flor­ida’s His­pan­ic vote in 2010, and if he does it again, Re­pub­lic­ans would wel­come the turn­around from 2012, when Mitt Rom­ney lost this demo­graph­ic by a stun­ning 21 per­cent­age points. Former Ru­bio field dir­ect­or An­thony Bustamante at­trib­utes Rom­ney’s poor per­form­ance to his “fail­ure to ar­tic­u­late a mes­sage, a plan and a vis­ion.”

“If you don’t ar­tic­u­late your vis­ion, someone else is go­ing to do it for you,” Bustamante said. “Scott got on TV early to ex­plain what he’s done, and that’s really helped him.”

Demo­crats say that ul­ti­mately His­pan­ics will still side with their policies des­pite Scott’s work to reach them. Both cam­paigns nom­in­ated His­pan­ic run­ning mates, but Demo­crat­ic LG nom­in­ee An­nette Tad­deo says policy prom­ises will mat­ter more. “Its ex­tremely im­port­ant and nice to have two of us, but at the same time, you can look the part but you’ve still got to have the right policies to­ward His­pan­ics,” Tad­deo said.

While Scott woos His­pan­ic voters in Flor­ida, wealthy equity in­vestor Rau­ner is seek­ing Afric­an-Amer­ic­an votes in Illinois. The ef­fort is as per­son­al as it is polit­ic­al. The Chica­go-area nat­ive and his wife, Di­ana, es­tim­ate their net worth to be some­where in the “hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars,” and they have in­ves­ted in edu­ca­tion-re­form ini­ti­at­ives in poor neigh­bor­hoods in the city for dec­ades. “Even though he’s a first-time can­did­ate, his in­vest­ment and con­cern for the com­munit­ies on the west and south sides of Chica­go has been demon­strated for a very long time,” said Rau­ner com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or Mike Schrimpf.

Rau­ner ran two TV ads earli­er this year tar­get­ing Afric­an-Amer­ic­an voters, who made up 19 per­cent of all Illinois voters in 2010. He makes reg­u­lar ap­pear­ances at loc­al parades, at­tends Afric­an-Amer­ic­an church ser­vices on Sundays, and may be the first-ever Re­pub­lic­an to open up a cam­paign of­fice on 79th Street, in the heart of Chica­go’s South Side.

Loc­al Demo­crats, who aren’t used to see­ing Re­pub­lic­ans com­pete for black votes, have re­acted furi­ously.

In an in­ter­view with WLS-TV in March, Cook County Pres­id­ent Toni Preck­winkle skep­tic­ally re­ferred to Rau­ner’s over­tures as “all smoke and mir­rors. When Rau­ner pledged $1 mil­lion to a South Side Com­munity Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on in Ju­ly, Sec­ret­ary of State Jesse White, who is Afric­an-Amer­ic­an, ac­cused Rau­ner of try­ing to buy black votes.

Tom Bowen, the former polit­ic­al dir­ect­or for Chica­go May­or Rahm Emanuel, thinks Rau­ner’s an­ti­tax mes­sage could res­on­ate with tax-sens­it­ive minor­ity voters. But he was skep­tic­al about Rau­ner’s ef­forts to turn a Demo­crat­ic voter group slightly less Demo­crat­ic.

“If you could try to get the ra­tio of Afric­an-Amer­ic­an votes to go from 90-10 to 85-15, or tar­get the ra­tio of wo­men to go from 50-50 to 60-40, it’s bet­ter to spend your time” tar­get­ing fe­male voters, Bowen said.

Bowen noted that past Illinois statewide con­tests have been won or lost based on the votes of sub­urb­an wo­men. And Bowen said Rau­ner’s vari­ous ef­forts to reach His­pan­ic voters, a less re­li­able Demo­crat­ic bloc, through ra­dio and TV have caused more worry for Illinois Demo­crats.

The real takeaway from Scott’s and Rau­ner’s ef­forts may simply be that if you want to branch out, money mat­ters.

Rau­ner has already poured nearly $10 mil­lion of his per­son­al for­tune in­to his race, and Scott, who isn’t self-fund­ing like he did in 2010, has pledged to raise and spend $100 mil­lion. The sums put both men on track to place their races among the most ex­pens­ive ever run at the state level. Can­did­ates with scarcer re­sources can’t af­ford to spend time try­ing to ex­pand their base in tight elec­tions.

“Rau­ner has re­sources, so he’s go­ing to use them,” Bowen said. “When you have re­sources to spend, their strategy is do a little bit of everything.”

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