Donald Trump needed Florida and Susie Wiles delivered it

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  • | 12:00 p.m. November 9, 2016
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Just over two months ago, Susie Wiles was at Trump Tower in New York working on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s communications strategy in battleground states throughout the United States.

It wasn’t long before she was asked to come home.

And Florida at that time was in a bit of disarray for Team Trump.

Florida, as many media pundits espoused throughout Tuesday evening’s historic election, was the most battleground of battleground states.

A common narrative was that without Florida, there was no clear path to victory for Trump.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported in September, the Trump campaign had one field office — its Sarasota headquarters — compared to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 51 offices. Trump's ground game was overmatched.

The campaign needed someone with Wiles’ skills and background to secure the must-win state and pave a path to victory.

As Wiles describes it, when she returned in September, she added a couple of people to the campaign team that already “was blessed with great talent.”

She moved the campaign’s headquarters to Orlando, a more central location along the all-important Interstate 4 corridor.

Wiles arrived, she said, at a time when she had to focus on opening 26 offices immediately and ramping up the ground game just as quickly, while “making friends or renewing friendships” among state and national Republicans and voters.

The Republican Party at the state and national levels along with the Trump campaign coalesced and worked for the ticket.

Matt Parker, a field director for the campaign, was in Florida working for the Carlos Beruff in his bid for a U.S. senate seat. He’d worked with Wiles before in 2010 when she led Gov. Rick Scott’s entrance into politics.

“This is what she really does well,” said Parker.

He joined Wiles in September at that critical juncture and said with so many moving pieces, it was difficult for the team to assess the strengths and weaknesses and get everyone on the same page.

Parker said Wiles will be one to admit she’s not a “data nerd” when it comes to statistics.

But she is truly an effective manager who takes a campaign “to the top.”

The resulting ground game ended up being a “huge factor” for the statewide campaign, he said.

Wiles said from August until this past Friday, 186,000 Floridians attended Trump rallies. More than 1 million phone calls were made. There were 193,000 volunteers and 2.5 million doors were knocked on.

She credits the ramp-up efforts to before her arrival — she said the campaign had all the tools it needed to succeed and the motivation and vision from Trump.

It just needed a little guidance.

“I don’t know anyone who could have gotten more from the state of Florida,” said Parker.

One of the lessons learned, Wiles said, was the “blocking and tackling” of campaigning should have started sooner.

Her workdays the past several months were up to 18 hours long with sleeping often abbreviated. Sleeping in her own bed, like she did last week when Trump appeared in Jacksonville, always was welcome.

Wiles said many of the criticisms leveled against Trump in the media, such as the derogatory remarks about women and minorities, came to her as a surprise. She said she never saw anything like that with him behind-the-scenes.

She doesn’t necessarily agree with or support some of the things he’s said. The one thing she always has agreed with on this campaign was the desire to alter the status quo in Washington, D.C.

It was why she joined the campaign more than a year ago as Trump’s Florida co-chair, to the shock of many friends and political allies.

Her phone rang and dinged. On the other end was what she calls the “virtual who’s who” of area influential politicos who couldn’t understand why the well-respected, hard-working Wiles was pledging her allegiance to the malcontent businessman.

After all, Trump was still up against Republican establishment stalwarts like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both with strong Florida histories.

That was the reason, though.

Wiles was happy to vote for Rubio for U.S. senator and proud to work with the Bush family over the years, but the two men were invested in the status quo.

“My overwhelming desire was to see change,” said Wiles on Saturday from Orlando.

As Tuesday evening crept to Wednesday morning, it was readily apparent many others wanted that time of change, too.

In the Florida war room in Orlando, Wiles, Parker and the team watched as results flooded in.

Parker, wearing his lucky socks and lucky shoes, was the one who pulled Wiles into the hallway sometime late in the evening to give her a heads-up: The numbers were mathematically impossible for Clinton to win the state.

Florida had gone for Trump.

In the hours that followed, businessman Trump became President-elect Trump after a historic election that saw him pry several of the so-called “blue wall” states and captured other “purple states.”

Wiles helped him capture one of the most purple of them all and, thus, helped deliver him the must-have Sunshine State.

She said Trump called her during the evening. It was a conversation of mutual congratulations.

Without Wiles’ effort and, most importantly, results, the path to the presidency would have been extremely rocky — if not impossible to traverse.

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