Chamber speakers detail ‘wild’ and ‘crazy’ election season

In an election cycle where no one can agree on much of anything, the political consultants who spoke about this year’s election season were of one accord Tuesday at the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.

“This is a wild year,” said Adam Goodman, a political strategist who frequently appears on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC programs as president and principal of The Victory Group of Tampa.

It was the same story from political consultant Rick Asnani, a partner in West Palm Beach’s Cornerstone Solutions.

“It’s going to (continue to) be a crazy election cycle,” Asnani told the crowd of about 500 at The Breakers.

The event included an unofficial straw poll that saw 288 breakfast attendees cast ballots in four races on the Nov. 8 ballot. The results gave Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a slim majority of the votes cast, with 43 percent, compared to Republican Donald Trump’s 42 percent and “other” candidates at 5 percent. Ballots marked “undecided” totaled 10 percent.

Before the results were announced, Goodman had offered the audience a piece of advice at the start of his talk: “Forget about the polls, other than it’s entertaining,” he said.

The problem with making sense of polls this season, Goodman added, is that the process is modeled on voters’ past behavior — and predictability hasn’t been a hallmark of this election cycle.

“We have no bloody idea about what’s about to happen,” he said, later adding that there’s another force at play.

“My prediction is that (voter) turnout is going to be like nothing we’ve ever seen,” said Goodman, who specializes in helping Republican candidates win elections.

“The American people are turned on like never before. The curtain has been pulled back, and we have been involved in the process.”

‘National funk’

Goodman characterized the presidential race as basically a referendum for voters — a choice between the status quo’s institutionalized government and something radically different.

“It is the system versus Donald Trump,” he said. “(But) is it a broken system? Or a broken Donald Trump? This is really where it squares off.”

Goodman offered several takeaways from the election season so far:

* “In the campaigns, we’re all having ‘Maalox moments,’” he said, quipping that acid-indigestion relief could turn out to be a financial goldmine. “Invest heavily, because it’s big.”

* Fundraising alone is probably not an indicator of a candidate’s success. “It’s not going to be about money,” he said. “It’s going to be about the message and the messenger.”

* Expect plenty of Super Bowl-style gatherings planned around Election Night returns: “The watch parties are going to be amazing,” he said.

* Don’t think you can somehow avoid the barrage of political advertising over the next couple of months. You can turn off your TV, but the ads will still reach you via your smartphone, he warned.

* And don’t expect a feeling of immediate relief after Election Day: “Whatever happens in the election,” he said, “we’re going to be in a collective national funk.”

Mailed ballots critical

Goodman spoke after Asnani had presented an in-depth wrap-up of local and state races and ballot initiatives. Asnani’s firm is non-partisan but its clients are mostly Democratic and non-party-affiliated candidates seeking election. He has been involved in several Palm Beach campaigns, including the referendum in which voters narrowly approved funding to bury the town’s utilities.

Like Goodman, Asnani expects voter turnout this season to be huge — with many voters not waiting until Election Day to cast their ballots. Candidates who ignore the vote-by-mail time frame will do so at their peril, he said.

Vote-by-mail ballots — once known as absentee ballots — will likely be especially key come November, he said, because of the way the ballots get distributed. Thanks to the contentious March presidential primary elections, many voters made it a point to vote, he explained. And those who requested a mail-in ballot last spring likely got another one mailed to them for the August elections – and will get yet another one for November. That’s because when a voter requests a mail-in ballot, he or she can opt to get mailed ballots for any election during the following two years.

The August elections in Palm Beach County, for instance, were telling: Of the total vote-by-mail ballots requested by voters, 47 percent were mailed back to be counted – about 55,000, which set a record. Of that total, he said, 42 percent of the ballots came from people “who had never voted before in August in their life,” Asnani said.

Vote-by-mail ballots will be mailed to domestic voters who have requested them starting Oct. 7, and requests for ballots will be processed up to Nov. 3. All mailed ballots are due back by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Early in-person voting runs Oct. 24-Nov. 6.

With vote-by-mail ballots playing a bigger role, he added, he advised his clients that an early start was critical to getting results. Candidates, he said, must ensure they are “in the hearts and minds of voters” long before Election Day arrives.

His message about voting by mail resonated with Jane W. Brown, an attorney who attended the breakfast. “I think it was interesting to learn how much of the election is decided even before we go to the polls,” she said after the event.

She also struck by how confounding the race to the White House has been, even for the professionals who study it.

“We really don’t know how this presidential election is going to end up,” she said.