Steve Schale on the night the lights went out on Hillary Clinton in Florida

in Apolitical by

On Election Night 2016, at approximately 7:45 p.m., Steve Schale was at an Orlando brewpub.

The Democratic strategist opened his laptop to review his state’s election returns.

“It’s in real bad shape,” Schale told Hillary Clinton pollster John Anzalone and campaign consultant Jim Margolis in a phone call.

“What the f**k are you talking about,” Anzalone asked disbelieving, according to “Shattered,” a riveting look behind the scenes of the Clinton campaign.

Shattered is now the No. 1 non-fiction book on the L.A. Times best-seller listand sits at No. 2 on The New York Times best-seller list.

“Trump’s numbers weren’t just big, they were unreal,” say co-authors Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.

They write:

“In rural Polk County, smack-dab in the center of the state, Hillary would collect 3,000 more votes than Obama did in 2012 — but Trump would add more than 25,000 to Mitt Romney’s total. In Pasco County, a swath of suburbs north of Tampa-St. Petersburg.

“Trump outran Romney by 30,000 votes. Pasco was one of the counties Schale was paying special attention to because the Tampa area tended to attract retirees from the Rust Belt — folks whose political leanings reflected those of hometowns in the industrial Midwest.

“In particular, Schale could tell, heavily white areas were coming in hard for Trump.”

A couple of paragraphs later, Allen and Barnes note:

“You’re going to come up short,” Schale told Margolis and Anzalone.

The book also reports Schale “set off an alarm bell” — unnecessarily — in the eyes of some of Clinton’s senior aides.

“They demanded to know what data he was using to determine that the race was over so early.”

As the world would learn, of course, Schale was right.

Despite polls saying otherwise, and despite a supposed surge in Latino voters in early voting that was to be the hidden weapon to bring Clinton a victory in Florida, Donald Trump won the Sunshine State by 1.2 percentage points.

When it was clear that Trump would win Florida, other states began falling in line, setting off one of the greatest political upsets in U.S. history.

In an email Thursday, Schale told FloridaPolitics.com:

“The first returns from Pasco were horrendous, and I initially thought she was done, but very quickly, urban counties came in, and she was well ahead of all the benchmarks.

“She was also doing well in places like Seminole, and her absentee numbers in places like Sarasota and Pinellas were looking fine. Margolis and Anzalone called me at about 7:15 to ask if I was seeing the same thing they were, and I confirmed that I was, and I was cautiously optimistic.

“By about 7:45, the border counties on I-4 — those around the urban ones — started to report more complete returns, and it became pretty clear, when combined with less than robust Election Day returns from the base counties, that she would not go into 8 p.m., when the Central time zone counties report, with a big enough lead to offset what was going to happen there.

“I called those guys back, to tell them she was going to be short in Florida, and the book basically takes it from there.”

In “Shattered,” the authors report that when the Clinton camp learned they would probably lose Florida, they also heard they were losing in North Carolina. They were “keystone states for two of Hillary’s three paths to victory.”

A short time later, Bill Clinton called Craig Smith, the first person hired for Clinton’s 1992 campaign, and the co-founder of Ready for Hillary, the super-PAC formed at the beginning of 2013 to support a Clinton presidential run.

From Shattered:

“’Sorry to be the one to tell you,’ Smith said in an Arkansas drawl echoing the former president’s, ‘but we’re not going to win Florida.’ Bill hung up and called Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was eager to depart Virginia for the victory party at the Javits Center. Don’t bother coming, Bill told him.”

According to a post on his blog after the election, Schale said Clinton had a roughly four-point edge in early voting and vote-by-mail tallies going into Election Day.

Trump won by 360,000 votes — 13 points — more than enough to overtake Clinton’s early vote lead.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.