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Democrats see complacency and 'crap' as barriers to repeat of Obama Florida win

Updated at 4:45 p.m. ET/CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Challenging delegates to an interstate rivalry at the Florida delegation's breakfast on Tuesday in Charlotte, Sen. Mark Warner, D- Va., said, “The other side can’t bring it home without Florida or Virginia. Here is our challenge: Who will be the state that puts Barack Obama over the top?”

The delegates shouted “Florida,” of course.

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But from the Panhandle to the Keys, Democrats face the difficult task of helping Obama repeat his 2008 victory in Florida. For starters, Obama’s 2008 Florida margin was narrow -- Obama beat Republican John McCain by 236,000 votes out of a total of 8.4 million total votes cast -- so there’s little room for error or for the apparent complacency that some Democrats feel.

Florida delegate Van Mansker, a retired human resources director for the home improvement firm Lowe’s, who lives in Pensacola, Fla. said he has been working at the Escambia County Democratic headquarters manning the phones and “helping to explain to people why they need to turn out and vote.”

John Brecher / NBC News

Florida delegate Van E. Mansker at the Florida delegation's breakfast event in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona won Escambia County with 59 percent of the vote in 2008; four years earlier, George W. Bush won the county with 65 percent. The goal for Democrats in the GOP environment of the Panhandle and Escambia County is to simply reduce the margin of Obama’s loss there.

Another delegate from Pensacola, Samuel Horton, said one factor that makes this year different from 2008 is “there’s so much hatred in our community toward the president. We come from the Panhandle of Florida and there’s a lot of people up there who just hate him, which I just don’t understand.”

John Brecher / NBC News

Florida delegate Van E. Samuel A. Horton at the Florida delegation's breakfast event in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He added, “The biggest majority of Democrats are just like everybody else -- they’re just not paying attention.” It’s the job of Democratic activists “to get them motivated, get them to understand that they can’t sit this out – they have to complete the job,” Horton said.

“What’s really different this year is that people have a tendency to think, ‘Well, he’s president, so it’s OK.’ Well, no, you got to do the other half and vote this time -- because if you don’t, he won’t be able to finish his achievements,” the Pensacola Democrats said.

In addition to African-Americans and Latinos, a key demographic in Florida is Jewish voters.

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David Harris, the president of the National Jewish Democratic Council, warned the Florida delegation Tuesday that “a ten percent drop in the Jewish vote in Florida is 98,000 votes. (The margin in) Bush versus Gore (in 2000) was less than a thousand votes.”

Republicans, he said, “are trying to scare Jews that he (Obama) is anti-Israel. It’s total crap.”

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Florida ranks first among the states in the volume of TV ad spending by the Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns as well as by allied outside groups. Altogether they have spent $110 million on TV advertising in Florida, according to NBC News ad-tracking data, with each side having spent about $55 million so far.

Obama will also kick off a two-day Florida bus tour on Sept. 8, bringing his economic message to key voters in Seminole, Kissimmee, Melbourne, and West Palm Beach.

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Mentioning the Republicans’ television buys in the state, Harris said, “You in south Florida, you’re going to see this crap on TV all the time. I’m sorry about that. The only way we’re going to fight it is with a grassroots volunteer campaign and with these wonderful people in this room getting the truth out about President Obama. We’ve got to nothing to run from on his position on Israel ... . We don’t want to wake up the day after the election and say ‘the Jewish community fell for this in Florida.’ ”

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On Tuesday, seeking to peel off Jewish support from Obama, Republicans pounced on an omission from the Democratic Party party platform, a statement that was in the platform four years ago: that Jerusalem "is and will remain the capital of Israel." On Wednesday, NBC News confirmed that language was to be reinstated.

NJDC's Harris said in a written statement: "Jewish Democrats know full well that Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. We -- like President George W. Bush before and leaders of both parties for decades -- also know that the final status of Jerusalem will have to be formally decided by the parties."

Delegate Jack Wolff, a semi-retired lawyer from Plant City, Fla., said he thinks Obama “is working hard to see that Israel, as our best ally in the Middle East, survives.” He added, “A majority of my Jewish friends are strong followers and advocates of President Obama.”

John Brecher / NBC News

Delegates Beryle Buchman and Jack Wolff at the Florida delegation's breakfast event in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

Wolff said that he and his wife, delegate Beryle Buchman, a retired public school English teacher, are working to register voters “and seeing that they vote by mail if they can, because that way they won’t have any problems at the polls.”

Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith said that a central part of the Florida Democratic strategy this year is to “focus, focus, focus on mail ballots,” since voting by mail avoids any problem with in-person voting, especially for older people who might have transportation trouble in getting to their voting precinct.

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Smith started his delegation’s breakfast Tuesday by giving personal testimony to how the Affordable Care Act signed by Obama is affecting people’s lives, telling delegates that his 25-year-old son has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Under the ACA, his son is still covered by his father’s policy.

“I have been shocked and amazed to realize that the richest country in the world cannot survive without universal, affordable, available health care,” he said, “Every Democratic president since Harry Truman has recognized that and every Republican presidential candidate has opposed it.”

And he added, “if there’s one reason we ought to win this election, and there are so many, it ought to be, first and foremost, we need to take the message out there: affordable health care will affect your life ... .Take that message to the neighborhoods and we’ll win this.”