Setting up for failure: The Florida Democratic Party and Alex Sink.

St Pete

Well, another race and yet another Democratic loss. For years, one of the most popular quotes in Democratic circles has been “as soon as Bill Young retires or dies, Democrats will easily win that seat”. Well, that time has come and, as of 7:30 PM EDT, that time has passed. Democrats blow another opportunity at another seat that they should have won.

Looking at this race, there were some obvious problems from the start.

The first problem was the recruitment of Alex Sink, a candidate who screwed up an open-and-shut race for governor in 2010. While her 2010 campaign was poorly executed (mostly by those who would eventually run the Florida Democratic Party into the ground under Rod Smith), it was just her overall performance that eventually led to less-then-impressive results. When she easily won the CFO race, she was rarely on television, and won the position by endorsements and a strong resume. When she ran for governor, she actually had to speak often publicly. Her speaking skills are quite weak, and her debating skills were even worse.

These same problems carried over to this election. Sink had a lead early in this campaign, mainly because of her resume. But, again, she had to make public appearances, where she was less than impressive. And while she didn’t make a “cell phone gaffe” like she did in 2010, her debate performance was less than impressive.

Alex Sink was a candidate that the Florida Democratic Party rammed down the voter’s throats. But this is not the first time. Over the last two decades, the FDP has “reused” a candidate to run them in races where the FDP thought they had a chance of winning. Bob Butterworth and Betty Castor are just a few examples of the FDP “going back to the well ” when it comes to candidate recruitment. The fact that they continue this practice shows that the FDP has huge problems when it comes to statewide candidate recruitment. Just look at the current Democratic Party line up for State House and State Senate candidates. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Democrat’s current best hope to win back the Governor’s Mansion is a former Republican governor. These examples show that under Allison Tant, the FDP still has not addressed the candidate recruitment problem, which is kind of important!

But back to CD 13 race. David Jolly was a candidate who could rally his base. Alex Sink was not. This was the exact same problem that led to Sink’s defeat in 2010. Democrats stayed home because a former bank president didn’t serve their interests. Sink, as well as the Florida Democratic Party, did not give Democrats or progressives a reason to vote for Sink. During the campaign, Sink talked about “bipartisanship”. Apparently, Sink didn’t get the memo that Democrats are highly partisan voters as well and are cynical, especially of Tea Party Republicans. If she would have come out as a progressive, she might have won that extra 2% needed. Instead, she tried the play the middle road, using DLC-style tactics, which is still popular with the vendors that the FDP still uses in Tallahassee. These vendors and consultants are living in a world dominated by Republican lobbyists and deal-cutting in the legislature. They do not understand Democratic activists and that was obvious again in tonight’s result. 

FDP and DLC-style tactics might have worked in the early 1990s, but they do not work today. This is especially the case in a special election. Those who are independents usually don’t vote in special elections. And if they do, they are usually ideologically attached to one of the two political parties. In this case, independents did have a Libertarian candidate to vote for. If he wasn’t in the race, Jolly’s margin would have been higher. The Sink campaign’s biggest problem was that they were running a general election strategy during a special election. Special elections are determined by ideology and political bases, period. The FDP and Sink campaign failed to understand this elementary concept of election campaigns, which has now proven to be fatal.

Once Sink was the forced Democratic candidate, it was just a matter of time before this entire election imploded. She was the wrong candidate, campaigning on the wrong issues, being helped by the Florida Democratic Party and their vendors, who have no track record whatsoever of winning any meaningful elections. Basically, CD 13 was doomed from the minute the FDP played a central role in the campaign even with the continued role of the DCCC.

But, of course, Debbie Wasserman Schultz is spinning it as a “Democratic victory”. A few hours after the polls closed, she tweeted this:

Living in denial is not the way to conduct political campaigns, and neither is having a mutual admiration society. Instead, Democrats need to tackle their problems head on!

Tomorrow my colleagues Ryan Ray and Kartik Krishnaiyer will have more thoughts on this race.


  1. This is a HUGE loss for Democrats in a district that Obama won twice. Dems had their hand-picked candidate who had universal name recognition running against an unknown Republican lobbyist who just won the primary 45 days ago. Another big thanks to obamacare! I can’t wait until Nov. Say hello to majority leader McConnell! We suck!


  2. I wish I could argue that you are wrong, Dave, but you happen to be right!


  3. Cristina A. · ·

    In order to know who really won, we need to hand count the paper ballots. The results we accept are simple tabulations in computers owned by private companies which happen to be owned by Republicans and that have been proved they can easily change the results.
    Let’s ask Charlie Christ, he signed the low which prohibits to count them. We have paper trail to no where.


  4. Dave, You are as right as I am left. Charlie Crist will get out the vote alright. The T-Party vote. The Democratic Party better wake up and smell the losers. There is only one way to have a Democratic Governor and that is the Nan Rich way. Every milk toast centrist that the Dem. Party has shoved on us has lost. Give us a no nonsense Progressive Democrat that will whip up the base and get the vote out like Nan will and we will win. Hear Nan and hear her well. We don’t need two Republicans to chose from.


  5. The Dems should be quaking in their boots. They won’t admit it but they spent huge money on this election,substantially out spent Jolly and even brought in Bill Clinton to campaign for her. Sink lost to a no name candidate. Jolly also had to deal with a supposed libertarian candidate who was taking away votes from his column.


  6. Dems need to try harder · ·

    A Democrat-plant Libertarian won 5% — hence the 2% margin. The important % is the 46% received by the better known Democrat in a district that Obama won in 2008 and 2012. That’s a terrible showing.


  7. Dems need to try harder · ·

    Wasserman-Shultz, just a week ago said, and I quote, “A victory for sink, all but assured according to our numbers, means a victory for those who embrace the ACA and believe it to be the best thing to happen to America since Social Security.”


  8. Kathleen · ·

    I have another opnion about Sink. With all the money they spent, she had no real field. All that ad money would have been better spent on field.

    They were recruiting field the WEEK BEFORE THE ELECTION

    Had they had proper field and better campaign organization she could have won.It was crappy campaign management.


    1. Agreed to that as well.


  9. This is a correct analysis. Same with Crist. But again, this IS a democratic party that spent thousands, to work against democrat Kathleen Ford in a non partisan St. Pete mayoral race. There could have been two dems on the ticket, but noooooo, they took her out. I asked some activists, “if something happened to Alex Sink, what would the party do”? The FL Dem Party does not raise candidates. They recycle old, and take in republican turncoats, ala Daryl Rouson. They take out good dem candidates, and try to ruin them forever.

    Now what Dem party???? Well I have the answer. There are two parties, but ONE MONEY BUCKET. Alison Tant Richardson, and her hubby, helped to create shenanigans in the 2000 race that changed our country forever. This is Bill Nelson, taking the active heart out of the dems, and shoving all of these corporate trolls down our throats. Over and over he forces our party leader on us. Then they spend lots of dollars in ST Pete to take out Ford? There was a lousy incumbent republican mayor, Bill Foster. Now you see it again. Accept the truth, stop ignoring it, and change this.

    And, Alex participated in that St. Pete crap show! For no reason, she broke many local dem hearts via private emails that got into the wrong hands. A town she had not even moved nearby ….yet.

    Dear Alex,
    You don’t crap on dems, who are female, pro choice attorneys, then move there to run, when the wounds are still bleeding. The dem party sent a pol to the office with a perv on staff according to the TIMES. And you helped. Thanks…from many mothers in Pinellas.

    The dem party also did not help a good dem candidate in Tarpon Spgs, due to another dem being in the race. But the Pinellas Dems sent 6K to Rosa in Clearwater agains Hoyt Hamilton? They have owned the beach pavilions for Y E A R S. The dem party in Tarpon recruited another dem to stop him, the real dem very involved and more than qualified.

    There are keepers of the gates everywhere, to insure dem losses, by dem party bosses. Get it?


  10. I agree in nearly all respects with Dave Trotter’s analysis of yesterday’s disastrous special election defeat in the 13th. While many raved about Alex Sink as a great candidate, I strongly agree she lacked many critical talents of a good candidate. We’ve lost a great opportunity and now have added another right-winger in the Florida Congressional delegation.

    No question our state Democrat party and the DCCC blew this golden opportunity, but would someone kindly explain to me the rationale for forcing out our 2012 candidate Jessica Ehrlich. Even before Congressman Young’s death, she had announced and had begun her 2014 campaign. Yes I know this site railed against her 2012 campaign performance even though she posted the BEST vote total of ANY DEMOCRAT since old CW was first elected in 1970 except one. Ehrlich’s 42.4% was surpassed only by Karen Moffit’s 43.4% in her 1992 race. No she didn’t win, but giving CW the closest run he had in over two decades in my book deserved a second shot.


  11. Yes, it was ugly. As taking back an endorsement from Emily’s List, otherwise would not have been noticed. Alex sitting on the board went for this tactic. Ugly is as ugly gets. What a way to start!


  12. This p


  13. party is a joke…

    Failure time and again yet use the same methods and tired consultants.

    We deserve to lose.


  14. […] Democratic Party and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the defeat have been examined in detail multiple times on this […]


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