How did Florida Democrats Fare in 2013?

Exactly a year ago on December 31st when running for Chairwoman, Allison Tant released her blueprint for that she would do as Chair of the party. Let’s take a look at each point and how the Chairwoman and the party has fared.  My commentary is in bold italics. Please keep in mind Tant’s blueprint was not for a single year but for a longer period of time thus she does deserve to be cut some slack for the incomplete status of almost all of these goals especially when considering the absolute mess she inherited.

1.  Empower Local Democratic Parties

The Florida Democratic Party can be its strongest when we empower local Democratic parties across the state. By positioning the Florida Democratic Party to serve as a hub of resources for local Democratic parties we can better provide key resources, such as email management programs, voter contact programs and fundraising softwares at cost effective prices. When local Democratic parties partner with the state party by utilizing the same programs and systems we can have a fully integrated system that streamlines data sharing and allows for real-time information sharing. As a component of strengthening the position of the state party and empower our local parties, I would like to add regional staff to help with fundraising, field and political activities. Additionally, the Florida Democratic Party will make investments in leadership development and trainings to allow for team building and leadership skills to grow from the bottom up. 

This is a work in progress. Much of the failure of this is down to the ineffectualness of DECs themselves who despite being empowered to make changes by Tallahassee seem incapable of maintaining a high-level operation during off years. Additionally, the state party hasn’t really set up a strong field operation at the local level but from my experience that tends to happen between March and May of an election year. My assumption is that the FDP and Tant are planning on laying this field infrastructure in coming months. 

2.  Secure High-Tech Infrastructures

In 2008 and 2012, we learned the benefits of having high-tech infrastructures as part of campaign operations. In particular, 2012 showed that President Obama’s electoral successes in battleground states like Florida was highly dependent on data management and voter targeting. As part of an integrated and coordinated campaign operation, the Florida Democratic Party will make investments in high-tech infrastructures that include upgrades to data management programs and voter targeting systems that allow the state party, local Democratic parties and candidates to benefit from the latest technologies.

This is improving. Full marks to the party and Chairwoman on this. 

3.  Recruit Strong Candidates
A central component of the Florida Democratic Party’s operations must be to identify and recruit strong candidates to run at every level of office. In 2012, Florida Democrats won up and down the ballot because of the strength of our candidates. It is important that we continue to focus our efforts in aggressive candidate outreach so we have candidates from within their communities step up and run for elected office.

Amanda Murphy was great State House candidate for the October Pasco County special election in HD-36. The problem is much of the other House and Senate candidate recruitment has been subpar though much of this falls on the House and Senate leaderships. The recruitment for CFO on the state level has been a debacle of epic proportions and the party’s inability to properly manage the message about Allie Braswell’s withdrawal was comically inept. The decisions of the FDP around statewide races have smacked of desperation. Two underwhelming CFO candidates and a absolute mess being made in the Governor’s race. Both Democratic candidates Charlie Crist and Nan Rich have already had issues with the Party. Crist’s populist/economic based messaging likely takes him clear of the party while Rich was shown nothing but disrespect by the FDP on numerous occasions most notably at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner. The Democrats still do not have a candidate for Agriculture Commissioner of any note. In the Attorney General’s race, the FDP’s inability to head off a potentially bloody primary and their inability to see who potentially could run was shocking. My feeling is the party’s political team was so desperate to get a top tier candidate they in-fact recruited two in the same month, and cannot figure a way out of it. The following month, another top-tier potential Democratic candidate made noises about running publicly, without the party doing anything about it. Right now the party is failing badly in this role. If the party finds a strong candidate for Agriculture Commissioner and figures out a way to sort out the A.G. race mess, then 2014 will be a better year for the party on this front. 

4.  Activate a Lasting Fundraising Operation

The successes of the Florida Democratic Party are best measured by its ability to implement an aggressive and robust fundraising operation. To implement the many components of a successful coordinated campaign operation, it requires significant resources. My focus will be to develop a lasting fundraising operation through high and small dollar contributions from Democrats across the state and nation. Florida continues to play a critical role on the national level and as such, we must harness and cultivate traditional and non-traditional donors who can make important financial commitments to the state party so we can make the needed investments around the state. In the short-term, to lay the groundwork for the critical 2014 elections, I will focus on three important tasks noted below.

Establish a Governor’s Fund – Our work to elect a Democratic Governor in 2014 is paramount. It will take significant resources, which is why I would like to immediately establish a Governor’s Fund where funds are raised to support the Democratic Nominee in the General Election. 

Jefferson-Jackson was a wildly successful from a fundraising perspective but the party’s 2013 cash haul has thus far been far less than anticipated. Still it was never going to be easy. Republicans have monopolized the state’s fundraising apparatus and have benefited from the control of Tallahassee special interest and corporate lobbyists have gained in the last decade. 

Cultivate & Engage Obama Donors – Having spent years raising funds for President Obama’s 2008 & 2012 campaigns, I know there are many donors who contributed to President Obama, but have not invested in the Florida Democratic Party. As Chair, I will spend time cultivating these donors and bringing them on board as Florida Democratic Party donors so we can grow our donor base and fundraising capacity.
This was never going to be easy and hasn’t happened yet. Tant bit off more than she could chew with this one. Perhaps Tant was naive about state race fundraising when she ran for chair. Most Obama donors have no interest in state politics which is removed from their thought process. The control of the state by one party for sixteen years has led to disenchantment and the distance of the capital from the population centers of the state has created an environment of apathy and disinterest in state affairs among many liberal minded urban party donors. 
Board of Trustees – An important component of the Florida Democratic Party’s leadership structure is having a Board of Trustees to help shape and guide our fundraising operations. Through the Board of Trustees, we can expand and grow our donor base by having a committed group of Florida Democrats engaged in aggressive fundraising to achieve our ambitious goals that will allow the Pillars of Success to by fully implemented.
Again a work in progress.

5. Engage Party Faithful & Activists

The countless hours contributed every day by the party faithful and activists across the state is what makes the Florida Democratic Party a success. As chair, I will continue to bring together our grassroots leaders and activists and encourage greater involvement throughout the legislative sessions and election cycles. Through leadership trainings and workshops, we can better grow our grassroots and keep them involved in key battles that take place in our state’s capital and across county and city halls. The best tool to effectively keep our grassroots leaders and activists engaged is to have open and ongoing communication. As chair, I intend to have an integrated and coordinated communications program that brings our party leaders, elected officials, grassroots leaders and activists together through the active sharing of information.

My work as your chair will be my full-time focus because the work ahead requires nothing less. The Florida Democratic Party’s Pillars of Success is an ambitious plan to build a highly coordinated and interactive state party that paves the way for us to have many victories in 2014 and beyond. However, this plan cannot be fully implemented without significant financial resources.  Therefore, one of my major priorities will be to work every day to aggressively raise the dollars needed to ensure we can successful implement the Five Pillars of Success and deliver many resources to local Democratic parties across Florida. Without financial resources, none of this can get done. And more importantly, without your support, we will not move forward!


The engagement of activists and outside progressive groups has improved only slightly. Still the damage done to the party by previous regimes was going to be difficult to overcome. Tant is certainly better than her three immediate predecessors whose conflicts of interests and personal ambitions prevented the party from ever being a cohesive, unifying force. The party is doing a better job though of reaching out to the grassroots activists. This the Chairwoman deserves credit for but in all honesty she could not have done any worse than her predecessors in the job. 

In 2014 we’ll learn far more about where the party stands using this document as the benchmark.


  1. Barbara Miller · ·

    My observation as a Democratic activist on the ground, I think the FDP needs to have and implement a much stronger plan for fundraising, training, disseminating information on issues, and recruiting.


  2. You are waaaaaay too soft on Tant. She’s totally unqualified to be chair and she has no state fundraising base. She has little idea how state politics works and has no grassroots fundraising network of her own. True she is better than Smith but that’s not saying a hell of a lot.


  3. The CFO debacle tells all about this party.


  4. Mark Lynn · ·

    We havent had a good chairman since Simon Ferro!!


  5. Honestly, I thought you would be the last one to drink the FDP Kool Aid, but it seems that you have slightly. You state that there are major flaws but yet say that the current chair “deserves credit”. The Florida Democratic Party continues to be horrible and the record speaks for itself, as they are in basically the same position as they were in 2009 in fundraising, candidate recruitment and everything else. There have not been any “improvements”, just new titles tacked onto previously failed strategy!

    First, lets look at candidate recruitment. Yes, it seems like there are some decent new candidates, but I can count this number on one hand. Recruiting for just a few seats doesn’t mean squat. There needs to be an overall effort (as to me the State House races are, by far, the most important). As far as the constitutional offices, recruitment has also been horrible. Even without looking at the blatantly obvious example of recruiting a former Republican to run as a Democrat for the state’s highest office, the candidates in other races have either failed previously or only have very, very regional support with no support outside of that base.

    As far as Murphy, I am glad she won. But, as you know Kartik, how often do Democrats hold seats that are won in special elections? Sasso, Perez (don’t get me started on him) and other seats Democrats have won always go back to the Republicans. Granted those seats are a little more Republican than Murphy’s seat, but I don’t consider this pick up a success until the Democrats retain the seat in a midterm election. Same for Clelland and Danish.

    You say that most of this is pinned on the leadership of the House and Senate. But if there is anything that we learned throughout the entire year in Florida Democratic politics, it is that we have no friggen clue who runs legislative campaigns. The whole FDP-Rouson debacle exposed this problem. If I am a candidate for House District 41, who do I go to for advice, money, data, etc? Do I go to the House leader, who will tell me one thing, or do I go to the FDP, who will tell me the exact opposite? I put this blame on the FDP. It is the party’s responsibility to organize the structure of the party and for those in the party to follow it. Unfortunately, the party is trying to suffocate the leadership in the House and Senate. This is a two-way road of blame, but I feel the FDP is overstepping on this one.

    As far as fundraising, it has been HORRIBLE! Over the past year (as of the last reporting period), the FDP has raised a little over $3 million, while the Republicans have raised over $13 million. When looking at individual candidates, Republicans continue to significantly out-raise Democrats and Republican challengers in toss up seats have been able to keep on par with the Democratic incumbents. Boasting FDP and Democratic fundraising efforts (not saying you are doing this, but the FDP is) is putting a lot of lipstick on a very, very ugly pig.

    As far as the operational setup of the party, you do state the problem. The FDP does not have any statewide program to help DECs and local parties. Very little blame is to be put on the DECs. That is because the FDP wants to control all elections at the top, even some hotly contested county and municipal races. This, in turn, overwhelms the state party and other qualified candidates get the shaft. How many times did Christian Ulvert run around like a chicken with his head cut off in 2012, hopping from race to race because he didn’t have any sort of plan? Ulvert’s “reactionary campaign tactics” is not what the FDP needs, but how has because he runs the party. As far as the database, you say it is “improving”, but how so? I don’t think you can give “full marks” for something that is “improving”, especially when you can’t state the improvements. As far as messaging and communications, I think the CFO race is a great example.

    The light praise that you give the FDP is exactly what they want. Now that they know that you will not strongly criticize them, they can continue to do nothing, knowing that there will be no consequences for their actions. I figured the whole idea of this was to get Democrats to win and put the fire under the feet of the party. With this article you have put the fire out. Now complacency will return, and Democrats will have another 2010 in 2014. Yes, they might be successful in defeating one Republican and replace him with another Republican, but I don’t see any other success.

    I think one problem is that you are looking at this “in comparison” to the Rod Smith era. And if we compare Tant and Smith, the fundraising amounts are almost exactly the same. And with the JJ being “wildly successful”, that means that traditional party fundraising must be severely lacking. In comparison, Smith and Tant are exactly the same with neither one showing much in the way of return on investment for Democrats. But Democrats are competing against the Republicans, not against Rod Smith. What Smith did should not even be used to determine how the party is performing. Instead, party performance should be determined on if Democrats are on par with the Republicans, especially in a state that has gone Democratic in the last two presidential elections. In this comparison, the FDP continues to do horrible.

    This doesn’t even include the bad press that the FDP gets. The Rouson incident, the Nan Rich snub, going after Republicans to run as Democrats.This shows that the FDP does not have their house in order and are structurally not sound. If I were a donor, I don’t see any reason to invest in the FDP because, again, I don’t see a good return on investment. Kind of like buying a Yugo or a Pinto! And by the fundraising numbers, I am not alone in this thought. And as far as perception, I would be embarrassed to identify with the FDP.

    The reason that I left Florida Democratic politics (beside physically moving from the state) is that nobody fights to get the party working. And I am not talking about the “left vs. centrist” debate, but instead talking about structure and the cronyism that has happened in the party for many years. Why does the FDP still use Screven Watson, Dylan Sumner, Steve Schale, Hamilton polling, and other vendors that have failed for three decades, or unqualified vendors like “Yale graduate” Beth Matuga? I am wondering why you left this cronyism out of your article. I think this is a HUGE problem with the FDP and should be the central aspect of any debate on whether to party is doing better or not. All other points are mute if these problems are not discussed first. I know people are “afraid” to mention these names and to say how poorly of a job they have done, but it is time that people stop cowering to these people and actually stand up.

    So, no, I don’t see any place where credit is due…not one. And, I am sorry, but I don’t consider “having more tweets” a measure of success of a political party.


  6. Many problems with the FDP and local DECs are structural and won’t be fixed without major bylaw changes. As long as we’ve got individuals who try to undermine leadership at every turn, those changes can’t occur. I’ve seen it now through three FDP administrations and I’m sure it goes further back than that. I would estimate that 75% of all actions taken are defensive to keep those forces from destroying the party in their quest for personal power.


  7. The Observer · ·

    Another problem that exists is that local Dems. often view the state party people as carpetbaggers when it comes to money. They come to our backyards, hold JJ style fund raisers and leave. That money never gets to work on a local level. One additional issue is local and former elected officials who can not let go. They try to hang on to power and money and continue to decide who gets to run. That in turn all too often eliminates good candidates from the mix. I know you understand who I am specifically speaking of here.


  8. demdaysi · ·

    While all of this talk of fundraising is going on, someone with Tant’s ear should tell her to pay attention to the turmoil in the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida. One of the Democratic Black Caucus county presidents recently sent out an email where there was a hint of a black voter boycott in the 2014 elections. They have reached out to her and been ignored for more than eight months. Now we are eight months out of the August primary and the turmoil is escalating and she is still ignoring them.


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