State House Races and Candidate Recruitment

Tonight, many Florida Democrats will gather in Hollywood for the Leadership Blue dinner, formerly known as Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. Unfortunately while the party potentially has much to look forward to, a successful election year in the State House is unlikely to be  among the positives of 2014.

Since our first post-qualifying State House race ratings will be released tomorrow, I wanted to put some issues related to candidate recruitment among the Democrats out there today so readers can understand why the situation appears so dire for the Democrats.

An acknowledgement that this might be a difficult year exists already in many quarters. I have found however that some of the comments around the internet blaming the poor candidate recruitment in House races exclusively on the Florida Democratic Party. This is a very simplistic approach that seemingly exempts the House leadership and local parties who deserve more of the blame than the FDP itself, with the exception of the Political Director whose job it is to recruit candidates at levels below statewide offices.

If we were to assign blame in the proper order it would be 1) House Leadership and allied state party political staff 2) Local DECs; a distant 3) The FDP and FDP employed House/Senate Caucus staff.

The harsh reality of this 2014 cycle is that in many of the seats that the Democrats recruitment efforts never truly got out of the box effectively in a large number of the most winnable seats on the map. I have seen the State Party chair and House/Senate Caucus finance staff blamed for House recruiting failures in various places including comments on this blog. That is a laughable proposition, and simply an attempt to shift the blame from where it actually belongs. So let us look at where specifically the blame should lie for the Democrats failures in this effort.

The bottom line is that the House leadership was not successful in recruiting candidates in many top and second tier races. Some of this failure rests squarely on local DECs and the unwillingness of House members to work hard to find candidates in swing districts. While the change of incoming House Leadership in September 2013 should have provided enough time for the new team led by Rep. Mark Pafford to be at least moderately successful in recruitment efforts, they were not. Describing them as merely unsuccessful would be generous. Since the end of 2013, the Democrats in the State House have failed to land a single top-tier candidate in any currently Republican held district. Some lower-profile challengers who have filed since January might emerge as viable candidates, but at this point that can not be counted on. For the sake of the Democratic Caucus, let us hope this happens.

Local DECs have a responsibility in swing districts to be working hard at finding House candidates. In 2012, the Orange County Democratic Party under Scott Randolph worked hard to find candidates in every marginal seat. This year, the Miami-Dade Party led by Annette Taddeo did something similar through these recruits are probably not going have the same level of success that the Orange County ones did in 2012. Nonetheless, these serve as positive examples of what local parties can accomplish.

All too often local DECs function as merely glorified debating societies and a place for cheer-leading.  I theory they must maintain a critical role in the process of recruiting candidates for office. Identifying State House candidates in tough seats is a job that local parties must undertake beginning at least a 18 months before an election. But in many cases local parties and those elected as leaders of local parties do not take this responsibility seriously enough.

Fundraising for Democrats running for House and Senate has also been underwhelming. But the poor candidate recruitment is an even bigger problem for the party.  These two factors are probably related to a large extent but I have previously seen cycles where fundraising was somewhat lackluster yet the Democrats prioritized and recruited well for House. 2006 serves a powerful example of this.

Tomorrow’s ratings will reflect the Democrats inability to take advantage of countless potential opportunities in 2014. Bearing this in mind, it would be wise for leaders in the local parties where the ball was dropped to begin planning in earnest for 2016 now, so that the same sort of debacle is avoided. Similarly, House members who are not termed in 2016 need to start thinking aggressively about that cycle laying the groundwork now for success.




  1. Disco Duck · ·

    I think while this column is accurate in outcomes much of the blame for the poor candidate recruitment must be placed on Rouson who was ousted and his poor staff that left nothing in place for Pafford.


  2. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    This article is spot on.

    Cannot wait to see the projections tomorrow.


  3. The most obvious one is the keys seat. What does the Monroe DEC do? If I find one of them here at LB ill ask WTF happened???!!!


  4. Get a clue · ·

    The Volusia DEC is only interested in beating Santiago if the chairman himself can run. Otherwise they don’t care.


  5. Just Sayin' · ·

    It is unfair to blame local parties. The direction must come from the top the state party and House leadership. Nobody expects Allison Tant to be personally calling possible state house candidates but her staff must set the tone.

    Christian Ulvert has since the Pafford coup consolidated complete control over the political operation. The result has been a shambles. A recruitment process that was dysfunctional and lacked any direction. A complete and utter joke.


  6. What about the Hillsborough DEC??? So many seats left with no candidate or weak ones!

    Pinellas also???

    They did nothing in the recruitment process.

    You need to call out individual DECs

    Miami-Dade the only exception.


  7. It’s done. No need to cry over spilled milk.

    Would true progressives rather have Pafford or Rouson? The answer is obvious and that is what matters now.

    Trust me. Rouson like Crist would be a republican still if it served his purposes.


  8. A Florida Democrat · ·

    Part of the problem is we have too many State House members selfishly interested in themselves. These members vote with big business and do not help the leadership whether it is Thurston or Pafford. They were all locked into Rouson and now are helping the Republicans for all intents and purposes.


  9. A Florida Democrat · ·

    I would agree the recruitment was poor. But blaming Pafford is like blaming President Obamafor Iraq.


  10. Concerned Democrat · ·

    Great article! Can’t wait for your rankings!

    Several observations and responses…

    Your exactly right…There IS blame to go around from the very top at Alison Tant at FDP to the very bottom at the local DEC level..It’s all a circular firing squad…we always insanely fight each other while missing the main target which is fighting the Republicans. And if you look at why the Republicans are so successful they do very little of that…because as I have said here many times ad nauseum…they are simply more pragmatic and business-like and we run around like bani chickens.

    That’s not to say we shouldn’t have healthy debates…it’s just that we don’t know how to have healthy debates.

    I know you progressives are going to freak out when I say this…but the The Nan Rich vs Charlie Crist fight is a perfect example…

    Nan has had well over a year to raise money and make her case and she has fallen flat on her face…weather you like or hate Charlie is not the point…the point of this whole article is winning vs killing each other…and that is where the Republicans are so smart…we are wasting precious time, money and effort on a primary when we should be smart and pragmatic like the Republicans…the only way to beat your enemy is to know him and how he operates…Obama won because all roads led to Chicago and they ran a single focus campaign where everyone followed one ball…and even those who got credit for Florida as brilliant…like Ashley Walker and Steve Shales…they were mere puppets that Chicago told what to do. So it’s clearly and painfully obvious by now (Nan people…don’t let the Cantor loss lull you into thinking your going to beat the former Governor with all his name recognition and media attention with $100 thousand vs his $12, million…ain’t gonna happen, I’m sorry) That’s why Democrats ALWAYS historically loose to Republicans (see Jim Smith vs Pajic vs Bob Martinez) the loosers go home mad and the Republicans laugh all the way to the bank…

    It’s silly to blame Rousoun..because he’s been gone for a while CAN blame Christian Ulvert cause he cleaned out House Victory while installing the Tant-Arseneaux-Ulvert puppet Pafford and he in turned hired Ulvert’s young, unqualified, inexperienced but beholden minions who have made Rousoun and his House Victory staff look like geniuses!


    1. A Florida Democrat · ·

      You don’t understand the process if you think Tant has anything to do with it.


  11. This is going to be like 2004 or 2010 all over again. Put our eggs in the basket of just a few seats. A similar disaster awaits.


  12. Florida voter · ·

    Candidate recruitment efforts were effective and well underway when Rouson was ousted. Pafford did worse than recruiting no one. He lost several candidates who were close to jumping in because he couldn’t promise $$$ or wasn’t as aggressive as he needed to be.

    The failure falls squarely on him. Progressives might like his policy positions but as a campaigner he is terrible. That is what this job is all about. He is failing miserably.


  13. It would be nice if we had real progressives to support Pafford who is the a fear hope for all of us.


  14. Dems in Action · ·

    If we had more primaries we might be able to groom more future candidates. It’s called “may the best candidate win.” Maybe we could even have debates between them! What a concept!


  15. This article is right on the money but I would have preferred to have seen it before qualifying so something could have been done about it. Why you didn’t point out the failure of Pafford before is worth questioning. Now it is a done deal.


    1. I think Kartik trying to keep up with World Cup has more to do with it than any political motive. He’s gotta keep his day job.


  16. Concerned Cuban Democrat · ·

    Simple Formula on how to win and loose…

    Progressives = No money = no literature, no yard signs, no mail, no TV no phone banks, no GOTV, no poll workers, no….you get the picture …throw in some total disfunction and no leadership at the FDP,…

    Result = Loss

    Conservatives = Big Business = All of the above…and throw in some Tea Party motivation

    Result = Win

    Bill Clinton = Centrist Democratic Leadership Council = big money = everything you need to win and throw in all the swing independent voters who decide elections …

    Result = Big Win for the Democrats


  17. Pafford could of fired people but he didn’t. The Ds are throwing everything in for Crist. Pointless since they can’t recruit candidates because they are too busy making money during session with Republicans on issues like vouchers. This is a great piece. Tant is awful so is Pafford, Ulvert, Schale, etc….it is just about $$$$ and low self esteem for most here. The party is running Crist…enough said.


  18. They recruit candidates…they are just never democrats.


  19. […] are on paper winnable for the Democrats in the Safe or Likely Republican categories based on the poor candidate recruitment efforts by the Democrats in these particular […]


  20. […] because the Democrats failed so miserably at candidate recruitment. As Karik laid out the other day here, there are simply limited ways for the party to turn fall into a success.  While the FDP seems to […]


  21. […] big part of planning involves candidate recruitment. At the House and Senate level, the party has already failed to recruit enough solid candidates but in Crist the top of the ticket should perform at least as […]


  22. […] changes, she needed to go to the ground and build from the bottom up.   We wrote here about her abysmal candidate recruitment efforts and these directly relate back to field presence and bench building. In the end, her changes simply […]


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