Romney campaign sets up shop in South Florida

Mitt Romney’s top Florida general ventured into the heart of politically hostile territory Wednesday, establishing a Broward County beachhead and rallying Republican troops.

Adam Putnam, the state agriculture commissioner and Florida chairman of Romney’s campaign, acknowledged it’s tough for his side to operate in the most Democratic territory in the state.

But, he said, the efforts will pay off. Any votes harvested for Romney in Democratic South Florida will nibble away at President Barack Obama’s statewide totals and, Republicans hope, help their candidate bag Florida’s 29 electoral votes.

“Every county matters. Every precinct matters. Every subdivision matters,” Putnam said as he officially opened Broward’s first Romney office on Oakland Park Boulevard.

The two dozen Republicans present, from campaign volunteers to County Commissioner Chip LaMarca, seconded Putnam’s message.

When he remarked — as Putnam acknowledged politicians do in almost every campaign — that this “is the most important election in our lifetime,” several people murmured “true.”

And when he said Obama needs to take responsibility for the loss of 500,000 American jobs since he became president, one woman yelled, “Yes!” The Romney campaign described Putnam’s remarks as an account of Obama’s “Upside Down Economy.”

But state Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, said later in a telephone interview that the economy is getting better under Obama. To help make her case, Sachs cited Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who’s been bragging about Florida’s economic turnaround.

“Through the Obama administration, businesses have created 4.4 million jobs over the last 28 consecutive months of growth,” she said.

Obama, who didn’t have to deal with the kind of grueling primary battle Romney endured, is far ahead of the former Massachusetts governor in his Florida organizing efforts. The president has four offices in Broward and four in Palm Beach County.

Rocky Rodriguez, honorary chairman for Romney in Broward, said the Fort Lauderdale office, which was dedicated Wednesday, actually opened on Saturday.

There’s a “war room” — where the door was quickly closed when a Romney staffer saw a reporter outside — and a 20-station phone bank room where volunteers can call voters to ask if they’ve made up their minds and who they’re planning to vote for. The results are the kind of valuable data that campaigns use to identify potential supporters.

Rodriguez said the campaign hopes to open outposts in Coral Springs and Pembroke Pines. In Palm Beach County, Republican Chairman Sid Dinerstein said Romney offices are opening in Boca Raton and West Palm Beach, and possibly a third location.

Ed Kennedy, Broward’s state Republican committeeman, said Romney can more than make up for Obama’s head start.

In 50 years in Broward politics, Kennedy said he’s never seen the intensity of pro-Republican enthusiasm he sees this year. “Our situation is not getting enough volunteers. It’s having enough space to put all the volunteers,” he said.

aman@tribune.com or 954-356-4550

6:39 PM EDT, July 11, 2012

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