As we’ve noted before, coverage of Election 2004 has so far been lacking in detailed, on-the-ground assessments of the campaigns’ activities in particular states. Matt Bai, writing in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday, began to address that deficiency for one key swing-state - Ohio. Today, Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times provides similar treatment for Florida.

Smith’s news hook is the arrival in Florida this week of “the first wave of Kerry campaign field organizers.” That comes as a relief to some worried Florida Democrats, since Kerry’s campaign had until now done little to develop grassroots activism in Florida. Even one of the two unpaid volunteers who’s been working full-time for Kerry acknowledges that, “it needs to be more centralized.”

He contrasts this neglect with the Bush operation, which, as Bai reported from Ohio, “has embraced grassroots organizing like never before.” In Florida, Bush “has had seven - soon to be eight - field staffers scattered across the state, and five more campaign workers based in Tallahassee.” All 67 counties have a Bush-Cheney campaign chair. That operation helped turn out 10,000 people for a Bush rally in March. We also learn that Bush has phone-banks up and running in 40 counties, and 28,000 volunteers state-wide, more than any other state except California.

What does this mean for the Kerry campaign going forward in Florida? Smith quotes Jim Krog, a “veteran Democratic strategist,” suggesting that the Kerry campaign’s tardiness in getting its Florida field operation up and running could mean it’s not committed to contesting the Sunshine State - which has seemed to be trending Republican since 2000 anyway.

Kerry’s deputy campaign manager discounts that notion, assuring Smith that “Florida is a Tier 1 state for us.” In fact, there’s no way to know that right now: As Smith reports, it won’t be until late August that both the Bush and Kerry campaigns make a final decision on where to focus their resources.

Amidst the spate of reports on Bush’s tour bus and Kerry’s minor scrapes from a bicycle mishap - Smith’s report stands out, because it focuses like a laser beam on one of the few issues that stand to affect the outcome of the election:

What are the campaigns doing, both on the ground and back at HQ, to win the states that count? For campaign junkies like us, that’s addictive stuff.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.