Coming off a special session where the Republicans Leadership once again showed arrogance and the contempt for the will of Florida’s citizens, the Democrats would have a unique chance to target vulnerable Republican lawmakers. But unfortunately due to the Florida Democratic Party’s emphasis on the Governor’s race legislative races and particularly House races have taken a back seat. Even more disappointing is the failure of local DECs in important parts of the state to work with the State House leadership to identify the types of candidates that could be successful in marginal districts.
The single-focus on the Governor’s race has hurt the legislative campaign committees with recruitment and perhaps fundraising also. The staff working on legislative races have done the best job they could to raise money and find candidates but it hasn’t been easy. When you are alone on an island politically it is difficult to be as successful in raising awareness as needed. In the Senate, all focus now is on protecting Maria Sachs, while the House is largely focused on protecting Democratic incumbents.
An acknowledgement that this will be a difficult year for Democrats in the Legislature is growing. 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.
The districts held by Reps. Santiago, Wood, Tobia, Spano, Pilon, Bileca, Rooney, Moratis and Raschein are all seats that are competitive and in the right circumstances winnable for Democrats. But for whatever reason despite the availability of data showing these seats as highly-competitive, the Democrats took a pass. In many cases the failure to identify viable candidates comes down to the poor local infrastructure including the lack of aggressive recruitment local Democratic elected officials.
The bottom line is that the party 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 sitting House members to work hard to find candidates in swing districts. Of the dozen districts which are held by a Republican but Alex Sink and/or Barack Obama ran at 49% or higher at the top of the ticket only a handful have viable Democratic candidates.
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 now Lieutenant Governor candidate Annette Taddeo did something similar through these late 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. In 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.
In the future sitting Democratic House members need to take a more active interest in races around the state and work with local elected officials and local party officials to identify targets early and start the recruitment process. 2014 appears to be a lost cycle for legislature as the process realignment continuing was very possible this year.