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"Who ever heard of such a thing?" asked one prominent state Republican. "Who's ever heard of presidential candidates coming to a state for the governor and having nothing to do with the party?"
"This governor is acting very differently toward the party than former governors have," said Paula Dockery, a former Republican legislator who is now a syndicated columnist. "Even when [Scott] controlled it more, he still wanted his own political committee and seems like he wanted it to be in even better standing than the party."
Frosty relationships and Byzantine turf wars are nothing new to politics in any state, especially when one party dominates, the way Republicans have in Florida. But with a presidential election 17 months away, many Republicans are worried that the party's trouble with state leaders could do more than fray nerves—it could ultimately deny the GOP's eventual nominee Florida's 29 electoral votes.
In 2016, Florida is a must-win for the Republican nominee if the GOP intends to retake the White House. And after watching the Obama campaign out-organize and out-maneuver them for several years leading up to the 2012 election, state Republicans from Ingoglia on down want to get an early start laying groundwork for their nominee's campaign to take over and exploit.
But time is running out. "We're probably six months behind schedule," said one state Republican in May. "Especially compared to what Obama was doing in 2011," when his team was already building a massive volunteer base more than a year before the election.
When it comes to local politics, Florida looks less like a famous battleground state than it does a peninsular extension of the Deep South. In fact, only two Democrats have managed to win statewide office in the 21st century.
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Florida Republicans have controlled the legislature uninterrupted since 1997. And since 1994, when Jeb Bush narrowly lost his first run for governor, the GOP has won every single gubernatorial election—a level of Republican dominance surpassed only in deeply conservative states such as Idaho, the Dakotas, Texas, and Utah.
But when presidential candidates come to the state, Florida's competitive nature breaks through. In the last six presidential elections, Democrats and Republicans have split their wins—three to three. In the last of those elections, Republicans first mocked and then watched sullenly as Obama's campaign built, over the course of several years, an enormous volunteer-driven field program that boosted him to a one-point victory.
Rick Perry and Mitt Romney in 2011 at the Fox News/Google GOP Debate in Orlando, Florida. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The Romney campaign, which spent the better part of 2011 and 2012 concerned with primary politics, was quite simply less prepared, and state Republicans are determined to not let it happen again. "I personally have spent a lot of time reviewing a lot of documents and papers on what the Obama campaign did and how they executed," Ingoglia says. "I'm not one to sit back and wait for someone else to come up with solutions, but instead take the bull by horns. I ran for chairman on a platform of doing some of those things."