Clinton camp opens St. Pete party

The typical campaign office is a sterile affair, usually in some strip mall somewhere along a major corridor — wherever the campaign could find a short-term lease.

But for their south Pinellas ground game, Democrats went full St. Pete.

The Hillary Clinton campaign opened a satellite office in an old bungalow on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street North Thursday, right on the edge of the Euclid St. Paul neighborhood. It's an appealing, spacious place one could imagine as previously occupied by a handful of kids in their 20s...all that was missing were the empty beer bottles.

A large map of the county, divvied into sections, covered one wall. Clinton campaign signs covered others.

Supporters and operatives packed the house for the office's opening Thursday night, and a couple prominent local Dems stoked the crowd, pressing the importance of the presidential election — especially in 2016.

"This is as important of an election as we've ever had. I can't ever remember an election that was as crazy as this one, where we actually have a candidate who is really scary," said St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman. "And if you care about diversity, you care about tolerance, you care about love, this election is really important."

St. Petersburg isn't what one would call a battleground city these days, especially the closer you get to downtown. All but one member of the City Council are Democrats, and so, obviously, is the mayor. Yet outlying areas — largely blue-collar places like Lealman, Seminole, Pinellas Park — lean a little more to the right.

Organizers and canvassers working out of the St. Pete office will tackle those areas as part of a door-to-door effort to directly reach voters with Clinton's message — what's often referred to as the ground game.

Democrats did well in that arena in 2008 and 2012 thanks to a nearly surgical approach to interpreting voter data and knocking on doors, and are said to be leading Republicans on the ground again this year.

And winning in the Tampa Bay area is ever-important, politicos say.

"St. Pete is on the horizon, obviously," said former Governor Charlie Crist, who is now running for a Pinellas County congressional seat. "We are in the middle of the most important part of the country when it comes to this election. St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, the anchor of the I-4 corridor. And what could be more important than that? How goes I-4, so goes Florida. And when she wins Florida, it's game over."

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