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GOP Presidential Candidates Court Florida Voters at Sunshine Summit

Republican presidential candidates are in Orlando to discuss their plans to win Florida next November. Photo: Flickr.
Republican presidential candidates are in Orlando to discuss their plans to win Florida next November. Photo: Flickr.

Candidates vying for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination are in Orlando today and tomorrow for the Republican Party of Florida’s Sunshine Summit. With Florida a key swing state in the race to the White House, the GOP is hoping to court voters away from blue to red. Candidates this weekend are expected to talk to voters about their ground game and national agenda.

Florida voters say income inequality, jobs, and the economy are hotbed issues for them:

“Inequality speaks to the middle class issue and the declining numbers of the middle class, and I’d like to see the candidates address that." - Brenda Alston 

“We’re the richest country in the world. We have the highest poverty. That doesn’t make sense. And it’s not a black or white issue. Just poor people who shouldn’t be poor.” - Jere Pile

“The recovery from the recession has been very slow and sluggish, and so matching talent with jobs that are being created is very important. How do you do that?’” - Laura Turner

Alston, Pile, and Turner all sat in on the Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus’s recent visit to Orlando. Priebus talked to a bipartisan group of voters about the Republican Party’s ground game. He and Republican strategists are calling the 2016 election a “do or die moment” for the party—and Florida, a make or break state.

In 2012, the party’s presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost Florida to President Barack Obama by a little more than 70,000 votes. The state went blue in 2008, as well.

Priebus says the way to turn the state red next go ‘round is courting young voters and blacks and Latinos. Florida’s Republican Party chairman Blaise Ingoglia says the way to do that is by really getting out into the community and getting folks registered.

"Over the years, we have, as a party, concentrated on raising a lot of money and stopped doing the fundamentals of walking and tackling the registering voters and getting those voters out to the polls," he said a phone interview. "What you’re going to see this weekend is a renewed effort by the Florida Party to maintain our prominence in state elections and now national elections by doing what we used to do well, which was a lot of grassroots campaigning."

Florida voters agree that the party will only succeed if it’s more inclusive.

But with a crowded field of declared GOP presidential candidates, they say the real issue to address is rhetoric. They have a clear idea of what they want candidates to stop talking about:

"Um, each other," says Turner.

"We don’t talk about what people look like. We don’t name call. Things like that, I think, are ineffective, unproductive. They don’t move us forward in terms of solutions," according to Alston.

Jere Pile says that is because the party lacks a cohesive national agenda, and although he is a longtime registered Republican, he is quick to say that he has voted for Democrats.

“I’d like to see the Republican Party quit worrying about personalities. Start stressing the issues of the country that face this country," he says.

State Republican Party chairmain Ingoglia says voters can expected more of a focus on policy closer to November.

Every Republican presidential candidate—with the exception of George Pataki—will speak at the Sunshine Summit today and tomorrow. It is unclear why Pataki will not be present for the event.