How Florida Democrats Avoid Another 2010-like Armageddon

One of the things that made me exceptionally proud in the early months of 1995 was that Florida, unlike much of the country had resisted the Republican tide that swept the nation in November 1994. Sure, 1994 was a bad year relatively speaking for Florida Democrats losing eight State House seats, two Congressional seats and importantly a single State Senate seat that gave the GOP a 21-19 advantage in the chamber. But Governor Lawton Chiles had held off Jeb Bush for reelection and the Insurance Commissioner’s office flipped from R to D. Florida seemed enlightened compared to the rest of the nation.

But that would the last time Florida would stand apart.  1998, which was generally a Democratic year nationally, was disastrous for Florida Democrats. 2002 and 2004, both Republican years nationally turned into wave elections for Florida Republicans who performed far better than the national average for the GOP. 2006, which was a Democratic wave election nationally was a mixed bag for Florida Democrats partly due to improper planning. The same could be said for 2008. Like 2012, 2008 and 2006 were net gain years for Democrats but nowhere near as good as they could have been.

Then came the 2010 wipe-out when the Democrats put every egg in the Alex Sink for Governor basket and lost four Congressional seats in the state. The party also lost five State House seats and two State Senate seats. The Cabinet races were a wipe-out of epic proportions and the Republicans entered a reapportionment year with advantages up and down the board. In fairness to Florida Democrats, similar scenarios played out in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio so it was not an isolated incident. Ironically, in 2012 Barack Obama would carry all four mega-states where Democrats had been obliterated in 2010.

Current generic congressional polling and Presidential approval ratings are similar if not slightly worse today than they were at this point in 2010. So what can Democrats in Florida do to avoid a similarly terrible fate? How can Democrats minimize the damage that seems to be coming?

I get the sense that unlike 2010, some in the Democratic Party this go-round are aware of the difficulty and challenges that lie ahead. Recognition of the peril that lies ahead is half the battle. During the 2010 cycle, while many sensed a bad Democratic year, proactive steps were not taken at the highest levels to minimize damage. Furthermore, a sense of denial had overtaken many of the state’s party leadership. While the current party leadership certainly has its flaws, understanding the daunting challenges that this election years poses seems to not be one of them.

In Charlie Crist, the Democrats have a more dynamic and tested candidate statewide than Alex Sink was. That is another big bonus for the FDP this time around as they look to minimize damage. Crist’s skills can help to develop a message of positive populism, something the Democrats have tried to embrace but generally have failed at.

But Crist can only do so much. As the party’s standard-bearer he has a seat at the table but also has an independent campaign to run and win. Ultimately planning and field work will make the biggest difference, and for this the leadership must come from the top of the state and national parties.

A 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 well as it did in 2010. Alex Sink was a poor candidate, and while Charlie Crist is often maligned, nobody would confuse the political skills of the two. However, without compelling Democratic candidates locally to work their areas and drive turnout in an off-year election, problems are likely to ensue. Still, enough energy should be generated by Crist’s campaign and the few targeted legislative races to create a possibility of a good grassroots and field structure. This is necessary to ensure that turnout doesn’t dip dramatically among core Democratic voters as it did in 2010.

The grassroots piece is critical. The DNC announced yesterday that they are bringing a voter expansion project to Florida. This effort should reap long-term rewards for the party if it is developed and sustained in the manner that has been promised. It is imperative that the Democrats begin planning at some level for 2016 now while keeping an eye on minimizing loses in 2014. Even if 2014 is as bad as 2010, proper planning will ensure the Democrats take better advantage of the Presidential wave in 2016 that could happen than 2012, when the party left countless winnable legislative seats on the table.

Ultimately, the President’s lack of popularity and movement from one crisis to another could undermine any efforts that are made here in Florida. But that doesn’t preclude the party leadership from putting in long-term plans that will help further develop an infrastructure so when 2016 and 2018 rolls around we are not asking the same types of questions. President Obama is a noose around Florida Democrats right now. But considering Democrats are going to be hit with association with an unpopular President they must make the decision whether to own his accomplishments and shift the narrative in that direction or whether to run from him. I quite frankly, do not have the answer to this question as it will depend entirely on good polling data to determine.

Many Democrats across the state fear 2014 is shaping up to be another 2010. On the surface, it certainly appears it could be just as bad. However, if Florida Democrats continue to recognize the difficulties faced this cycle and deal with them realistically while leaving a structure in place for the future, it could be a year of pleasant surprises.

18 comments

  1. Grass roots have been stomped down by the FLDems’ refusal to have a meaningful primary..
    Many of us see Crist’s refusal to debate Nan Rich as an indicator that the democratic aspects of our party are ignored and the decision who to run at the top of the ticket has been made by a group of people who do not feel the grassroots are important. It is all well and good to describe efforts as in this column, but unless the state’s Democratic leaders model a better top of ticket set of actions, those of us in the precincts will not rally. We read and pay attention.

    Start by having a meaningful primary where the long time Democratic WOMAN candidate–NAN RICH– is not trampled on by a Charlie come lately MAN. Loyalty means a lot. If the party expects the grassroots to be loyal to democratic principles,, then so should it.

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    1. Gender has nothing to do with the race. Face facts, Nan Rich, as much as I respect her and her right to run in the primary, has not caught on as a candidate. She’s raised small campaign sums, gained little public support or name recognition and she is not taken seriously by the media. If their roles were reversed, why would she want to debate Crist!

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      1. If CC can have a debate with a true Democrat like NAN RICH this might give him credibility. Until then he looks like a scaredy cat. Is he afraid NAN RICH will expose his chain-gang Charlie persona?

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      2. Because that’s what is to be expected in a Democracy. Otherwise Justin Beiber would be our Governor. Whatever happened to a free flow of ideas. As far as I’m concerned Charlie has no vision. He just wants power. Nan wants to fight for the people.Wake up Democrats. Let’s not sell our soul to another Republican.

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  2. Generally a good analysis, but of critical importance for 2014 lacking in 2010 is the horrible approval numbers for the GOP currently. The 2010 election was much clearer choice for voters…..hence the Republican sweep. I submit 2014 maybe much more localized and we will not see a national trend as in 2010.

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    1. That is a very good point.

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  3. What we need do · · Reply

    We need a real Democrats like Nan Rich at the top of the ticket. This is what will inspire the base and drove voter turnout. The author assumes Charlie Crist is the nominee which is not only unethical from a journalistic standpoint but wrong. Rich has gained lots of grassroots support.

    Charlie Crist with his wushu washy borderline criminal background will not inspire anyone.

    Think about the value in the legislature of having a strong D like senator rich as the leader to curb the excesses of the right in the legislature.

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    1. Charlie Crist has NEVER been formally accused of criminal behavior. I would also submit that he has benefited far less financially than many in politics from his connections.

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      1. Kartik, sorry but I think you need to amend that statement. Charlie has yet to be indicted but he has formally been accused under oath by Scott Rothstein, in a request for an investigation by former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, and by Former Fl. Repub. Chair Jim Greer. Scott’s investigators have a laundry list of where the bodies are buried. As far as his finances go, he recently sold a 4 million dollar home he shares with his wife in Miami. He is on John Morgan’s payroll and I can just imagine what war profiteer Harry Sargeant taught him about hiding ill gotten gains offshore. If you are looking for proof of what I am saying you will get it if Charlie wins the primary and by some miracle is leading Scott in the polls. The swift boaters are licking their chops.

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      2. For years Crist almost had to keep running for office because he had not taken the sweetheart jobs with lobbying firms that so many politicians did. This was when he was a Republican. He generally was one of least wealthy people running statewide. Go back and look at his financial disclosures. What has happened since 2010, I would agree is a different matter.

        When you say Rothstein, etc those were all about campaign contributions. He never enriched himself in the process. Maybe those around him did. That is another matter and worthy of discussion. But did Crist get rich off being Attorney General or Governor? The answer is a clear no.

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  4. Crist more than anything is the problem.

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  5. I agree he didn’t have the wherewithal to do it early in his career but I can guarantee that the reason he wants the job again is to cash in.

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  6. Kartik, thank you for rising above the slings and arrows thrown your way by the paranoid schizophrenic Crist supporters who accused you of being in the tank for Nan Rich and the GOP and threatened your career prospects. I wouldn’t expect an applogy anytime soon for their patently false accusations or petty threats. After all, that would border on professionalism.

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  7. S. Florida Dem · · Reply

    At this point, every Democrat planning on voting in the primary has made-up his or her mind. My advice to Nan Rich’s supporters is this: deal with the fact that Crist isn’t going to debate Nan Rich. Okay? It’s not going to happen. He has nothing to gain by doing it and more to lose. Once you’ve accepted that, maybe help her raise money. She’s raised less than a typical state house candidate in a targeted race. Charlie Crist has sometimes raised more than her in a day. Wishful thinking that she’s somehow going to win the primary without demonstrating any viability, and then expecting money to flow into her campaign coffers is just that: wishful thinking. It’s another thing you’re counting on that’s not going to happen. The big money groups will never invest in a candidate that hasn’t demonstrated the ability to raise enough funds on their own to be viable. Our nominee will be up against $50-$100 million. If our nominee hasn’t raised enough to be taken seriously, his or her campaign will be written-off and the DGA and others will focus on states where they think they have a better shot at winning. We have to defeat Rick Scott. Sadly, it is about money. And if we don’t replace Scott, our party will never be financially competitive with the state GOP. So this isn’t just about who is the next governor- it’s also about the next round of redistricting. It’s about the balance of power in the U.S. House. It’s about a lot of things that make all of these petty attacks by Democrats against other Democrats seem petty.

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    1. S. Florida Sell out, Nice try but nobody is buying what you’re selling. Charlie is an empty suit who is just a puppet. The money that Charlie has gotten is so he will return the money to the special interests. John Morgan is Charlie’s boss. War profiteer Harry Sargeant is his best friend. His past good friends were Scott Rothstein and Jim Greer. Charlie’s payroll is huge. Ask Rick Scott how much it costs to buy an election. It’s time to say No more corruption in Florida.

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    2. Dems in Action · · Reply

      This is about how low Democrats will go to win. And the FDP is to blame. This is not a democratic organization. This is just an oligarchical organization just the country is becoming. We don’t need a recycled republican to win. We just need a democratically run FDP. Let the people decide. Stay out of the primary race. Most of us are so disgusted we can’t find the enthusiasm it takes to get out the vote. When you tell us we don’t matter then you lose our respect.

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  8. There is a problem in the Florida 8th District that is going to have a negative impact on any Democrat in Florida being elected. Corry “Fraudster” Westbrook in early 2013 deliberately violated Florida law by fraudulently obtaining a Florida Voter Registration by illegally using her parents’ address. Since she was a legal resident of Washington, D. C. with a husband, home and job in that community, she has been under investigation for over a year by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The case is not able to be closed because Corry “Fraudster” Westbrook’s employer, Oceana, has refused to cooperate. All that is now needed is a copy of her W-2 which will document that she earned a salary and paid taxes in D. C. when she falsely claimed to be a Florida resident.

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  9. Christopher M. Kennard · · Reply

    Neither political party, the Democrats or the Republicans, are valid organizations putting the interests of the people of Florida first and foremost.

    I concur that the Florida Democrats are facing a huge mess of their own making. In particular, Charlie Crist, long a conservative Republican who earned his name “Chain Gang Charlie” by introducing stupid legislation mandating that state prisoners performing work outside the prison walls must all be chained together, is running against a longtime Democrat standard bearer, Nan Rich, who has held public office in Florida.

    I do not like seeing the mess the Florida Democratic Party is making of our election process by not demanding Nan Rich and Charlie Crist engage in primary debates in the race for the Governor’s office. Party functionaries and corrupt politicians within the Florida Democratic Party have subverted the primary process by forcing some candidates to withdraw, thereby leaving such seats with no Democrats running for office, and by not insisting that primary debates are held with all Democratic candidates fully participating.

    Why isn’t the Democratic Party demanding that full primary debates be held, so voters can really get an idea of who the candidates are, their beliefs and public record or speeches and past life achievements and public service rendered?

    The Republican Party has been clearly shown to be operating illegally in order to retain their power within Florida and to protect “Republican” districts that were improperly created in 2010 when electoral district lines were drafted by the Florida Legislature.

    However, Florida’s voters can immediately remedy the situation. We know who and how our fair election process has been corrupted. So we simply vote against everyone now in office who is running for re-election.

    My solution to this mess made by our sneaky politicians is three-fold. Vote, and bring at least one other person with me to vote. Vote everyone now in office out . . . Fire ‘em all! Third, vote new people who are honest, non-partisan candidates into public office

    First off, I will “double” my own personal impact on these elections by bringing someone with me to the voting booths this year who may otherwise not gone to vote. If more people brought someone else with them to vote, then many more people would actually vote this year. We can ignore those who are attempting to “buy” our elections with untraceable campaign funds, do our own in depth research on all candidates running for office, and come out in great numbers to vote, thereby settling what is more important, actual votes by real registered voters or campaign money given to politicians to buy their obedience. I believe the vote is mightier than the corrupt dollar.

    Secondly, I will vote against everyone now in office (all of whom do not deserve to be re-elected) and vote for new people running for office who are honest, trustworthy, intelligent and want to serve the all people of Florida and the United States, not just the wealthy elite who keep the current crop of corrupt politicians on a short leash, doing their bidding against the interests of the rest of us, the 99% majority of American citizens.

    Thirdly, I am going down to the Marion County Voter’s Registration office in Ocala, Florida and changing my voter registration from “Independent Voter” to “Democrat” so I can vote in the Democratic Primary elections on August 26th. I will register my protest as a voter by voting for Nan Rich during the primary elections. It is my belief that Nan Rich can not only be a better, more honest and more deserving candidate for the Democrats running against Rick Scott for Governor, but she will win the election and become a Governor that almost everyone can support, Republican, Democrat or an Independent Voter such as myself.

    The Republican Party will be given a very clear and convincing message that voters will no longer sit back and allow Florida politics to stay down in the gutter where they dragged it, hoping that more voters would give up and stop voting. Fewer voters participating in local, state and federal elections just makes it so easy for conniving politicians to keep us unemployed or poorly paid, uneducated, financially distraught and lacking good and affordable health care for ourselves and our children.

    If Florida voters do not send a clear message, during these elections and the 2016 elections, then we truly deserve the despicable sewer-dwellers we now have running both political parties and the state of Florida. I am doing all I can to ensure Florida gets the best people for public office instead. After this election, I will most likely re-register as an Independent Voter until and unless one party or the other regains it’s moral footing and focuses on political issues that help our country

    Hope to see you and your friends and family members who can vote at the voting booths this year. Let’s fire the current crowd we now have, and start over again with better people in government.

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