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Due to a pledge not to campaign in Florida — as punishment for Florida holding an early primary on Jan. 29, 2008 — Sen. Barack Obama had been a no-show in the Sunshine State since last fall.
Obama tried to make up for lost time with his first big campaign swing through Florida in mid May. On May 22, the day Obama drew a crowd of 15,000 for a speech in Tampa, St. Petersburg Times political editor Adam C. Smith asked Obama in a private interview if the no-campaign pledge might have consequences with Florida voters.
"Do you see why some Floridians would be offended by that? Raising money but not willing to talk about issues?" Smith asked.
Said Obama: "I think we came down here one time, I think for a day, after that rule was passed, because we already had a series of things that were scheduled. But we weren't actively fundraising here."
That might come as news to some of the folks who attended a $1,000-per-person fundraiser Obama attended at the home of Tim and Donna Main in St. Petersburg on Sept. 30, or to the 200-plus guests who donated $1,000 apiece to hear Obama make a brief speech at the home of David and Lisa Grain in Sarasota on Nov. 5.
According to press accounts, on Sept. 30, 2007, Obama appeared at private fundraisers at homes in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Miami.
On Nov. 5, Obama stopped in for a fundraiser at the bayfront home of a supporter in Bird Key, Sarasota. According to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, more than 200 guests paid at least $1,000 each or committed to raise as much as $10,000 for Obama's campaign.
And Michelle Obama attended three fundraisers at private homes in Florida — in Tampa, Sarasota and Coral Gables — on Dec. 13 and 14.
Miami lawyer Kirk Wagar, Obama's Florida finance director, downplayed those fundraising efforts. The late September fundraisers were planned in August before the pledge and Obama was simply following through on a commitment, he said.
And the November fundraiser was a quick stop-off on Obama's return from a campaign trip to Puerto Rico. Obama is on such a whirlwind campaign tour, he probably just forgot about that other brief fundraiser in November, Wagar said.
And Wagar doesn't count the visits to Florida by Michelle Obama.
"He'd have been specifically talking about himself," Wagar said.
Frank Sanchez, a top Obama fundraiser and adviser in Tampa, said Obama's statement is "pretty accurate."
"Three visits in nine months, from a fundraising perspective, is pretty dismal," Sanchez said. "He came down here twice, and Michelle came down once. That's fundraising? Not in my book."
Even without Obama making visits, the campaign's money-raising machine chugged along quite nicely. One night earlier this year, the Obama campaign had fundraising events at 100 different house parties around the state.
In all, the campaign raised more than $9-million for Obama in Florida by the end of March, Wagar said, with about $5.5-million coming from donations of $200 or more.
They'd have raised a lot more, Sanchez said, if Obama had not signed the pledge against campaigning in Florida. "Nothing compares to when we have the candidate or their spouse," Sanchez said.
Assuming that Obama was talking about the three Sept. 30 fundraising parties when he referred to the campaign's one visit to Florida, that still leaves out the Nov. 5 fundraiser in Sarasota. No, that's doesn't amount to a whole lot, and some may consider it nitpicking to say otherwise.
But the fact is that after signing the "no campaigning" pledge, Obama came to Florida twice — a month apart — and held four private fundraising events. We call that active fundraising. And while Obama's Florida finance director doesn't think Michelle Obama's visit counts when Obama says "we" have only been to Florida one time, we think it does. We rate Obama's statement False.
Tampa Tribune, "Obama Vows To 'Do What's Right,'" by William March and Elaine Silvestrini, Sept. 30, 2007
St. Petersburg Times, "Obama at a distance," by Adam C. Smith, Oct. 1, 2007
St. Petersburg Times, "Florida's absentee voters will be first," by Adam C. Smith, Dec. 9, 2007
St. Petersburg Times, "Audio: Interview with Barack Obama," May 22, 2008
Miami Herald, "CAMPAIGN 2008: No-show Democrats stick to their pledge," by Beth Reinhard, Oct. 10, 2007
Interview with Kirk Wagar, Obama's Florida finance director, May 20, 2008
Interview with Frank Sanchez, a top Obama fundraiser and adviser in Tampa, May 21, 2008
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