Obama 'Months Ahead' Of Gore/Kerry In Organizing Florida

Sen. Barack Obama is set to open more than a dozen offices in Florida in the next two weeks alone, a commitment of resources that his campaign says will put him far ahead of the pace set by his Democratic predecessors, John Kerry and Al Gore.

Already with fully staffed offices in three major cities, the Illinois Democrat is formally opening additional headquarters in five other cities this week and eight others next week, bringing the total amount of Obama for America offices in the state to 16.

"We are building an unprecedented campaign for change in Florida," said Obama's Communications Director in the state, Mark Bubriski. "[We are] months ahead organizationally of Gore/Kerry."

The new locations will include Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Sarasota, and the ever-important (think, 2000) Miami-Dade. Next week the campaign will be adding centers in Ft. Myers, Tallahassee, Orlando, Miami-Dade (2nd), Homestead, Naples, Hollywood and Tampa (where they already have an office) to the list. The Illinois Democrat is currently operating out of Tampa, Gainesville and Ft. Lauderdale.

The offices, according to Bubriski, will be staffed, and do not include the varous volunteer offices that Obama will have at his disposal. None of the locations are existing Democratic party headquarters.

The move is a reflection of two variables marking the Obama campaign's machinations: the Senator has a tremendous amount of money with which to play and seems more than willing to pour it into competitive locales. Last week it was reported that Obama had opened his 24th office in the swing state of Virginia, a remarkable devotion of staff and resources to a traditional Republican state. He has 15 such locations in Wisconsin as well.

As for Florida, early conventional wisdom held that the Illinois Democrat would have a difficult time competing there; the main factors being his somewhat tepid support within Jewish communities, the stronger support for McCain among older voters, and the possibility that Democratic voters had been turned off by issues surrounding their state's primary. But a recent Quinnipiac poll had Obama with a 47-43 edge over John McCain. Moreover, the state may be not as GOP-leaning as previously believed. In the past two years, Florida Democrats picked up nine state house seats, a cabinet seat, two congressional seats, and reelected a U.S. senator by 20 points.

And with Bubriski saying that more offices and investments are to come - "we're also building birthday parties for Barack on Monday, Aug. 4, in every single county in the state" - it could be another tight race in the Sunshine State. All told, Democratic observers have predicted that the presumptive party nominee could open somewhere between 30 and 50 offices in the state, an unprecedented effort.

"In 2000," the St. Petersburg Time's reported, "Al Gore's campaign had only about a half-dozen paid staff workers in Florida, said political strategist Karl Koch of Tampa. In 2004, the Kerry campaign hired a few dozen staff workers here, but few had Florida experience and even fewer had been hired as early as July, political strategists and former Kerry staffers say."