The miles keep adding up — 8,300 and counting. Lee County, Glades County, Brevard County, Madison County. Joe Gruters is visiting them all, driving to all 67 Florida counties to campaign.
But, this time, he’s not running a campaign for someone else, as he’s done for District 13 Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key. Gruters is campaigning for himself.
“I’ve never been the guy to ask for money for myself or ask for votes for myself,” he said. “It’s interesting.”
Gruters, the chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, is one of five candidates seeking to become the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
Gruters, 33, is by far the youngest (the next youngest is 58), and Gruters sees his youth as one of his biggest assets.
“I can bridge the generational gap,” he said. “If we don’t pull in the youth, the party is going to be in trouble.”
Gruters worked his way up the ladder within the party, starting out taking its message door-to-door, then joining the Young Republicans, leading that group, running campaigns for political candidates and then eventually becoming chairman of the local party.
His experience as a campaign manager is showing. Gruters has contacted many key voters to gain their support.
The Republican Party chairman and committee members from each county will vote Jan. 15 for the new Republican Party of Florida chairman. The governor and Republican House and Senate members also have votes and choose others who get to vote as well.
Gruters has networked with Gov. Rick Scott, several state senators and key House members who have influence on many of the voters.
“You never know who will have a sphere of influence,” he said.
He’s already received a verbal commitment from five of the counties he’s visited, and he’s counting on receiving more.
Gruters has enlisted the help of several campaign veterans, including the former campaign managers for U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, Attorney Gen. Bill McCollum and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp.
If he’s elected, look for the state party to emulate the grassroots organization Gruters has cultivated in Sarasota County.
During the November election, the county generated 16% of the statewide Republican get-out-the-vote phone calls, even though only 2% of Florida’s registered Republican voters live here.
Fearful that the Democratic Party has used technology to its advantage, Gruters said he would ensure all 67 county parties are up-to-date on technology.
Under his leadership, he says the RPOF would pay for the creation of a website for all 67 counties. It would also encourage the use of e-mail lists and social media.
“We can’t expect to flip a switch and with 90 days to go (before an election) expect people to pour in,” Gruters said. “It has to be a constant process. Giving (local parties) the tools and support gets us halfway there.”
For now, the campaigning continues.
Gruters took two days off at Christmas and two days off at New Year’s — but only because he knew he wouldn’t be able to meet with anyone then.
After the New Year’s holiday, it was back in the car.
Those hours on the road are not spent listening to the radio, either. From 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., it’s a constant juggling act between phone calls, e-mails and Facebook.
The state chairmanship is serious business for Gruters.
“I want to be able to say I had an impact in my life,” he said.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in finance from Florida State University and MBA from University of South Florida
Contact Robin Roy at [email protected]