Florida’s Democrats suffered a massive defeat on Tuesday. But so did Democrats across the nation and when you look at how things unfolded, Florida may have just done better than many of our neighbors. It is true that Florida’s record run of futility, losing 17 of the last 18 races for Governor or Cabinet (the worst record of any state east of the Mississippi) continues to hinder the long-term growth of the party.
In Big Bend and Panhandle areas, Steve Southerland became the only Republican incumbent in the US House to lose his seat for the GOP (Louisiana GOPer Vance McAlister lost but is likely to be replaced by another Republican in December’s runoff), Dwight Dudley held his St Petersburg State House seat despite enormous spending by the RPOF, and Jose Javier Rodriguez against long odds retained his State House seat. Democrats picked up seats on City Commissions throughout south Florida, including 2006 Attorney General nominee Skip Campbell defeating a conservative Tea Partier to become Mayor of Coral Springs, a city with over 125,000 residents. Pat Kemp came within a hair of countywide Hillsborough Commission seat against the hated conservative Al Higgonbothom.
Unlike other states where Democrats performances were actually worse than 2010, in Florida every down-ballot cabinet race saw reduced victory margins for the Republicans, all of whom were incumbents in 2014 but running for open seats in 2010.
So it wasn’t all bad. Yes, major changes need to be made but some of the reaction is simply over the top. The Florida Democratic Party should make some staff changes – that is without question. We can get into what those should be in the coming days. The people who made mistakes must be held accountable. Those who profited off the party while others were struggling also must be brought to task. The dysfunction and ineptitude of local “Coordinated Campaigns,” in Florida’s largest and most important counties must be exposed.
I would argue, however very aggressively that the current Chairwoman Allison Tant has done more in 22 months on the job to fix some of the structural deficiencies and staffing issues in the party than her predecessors. Chopping and changing simply for the sake of satisfying angry masses after Florida got caught in an electoral wave is silly. Initially, I did not support the Chairwoman, but she has won me to her side by her actions on the job.
The party Chairwoman Tant inherited had a great deal of dead wood. Expensive consultants on the party dime, long-term staff who had seized being effective and in some cases had come to hinder the party’s efforts and no field program of any sort throughout the state. While a complete overhaul takes time progress has been made. This year’s field program was stronger than it’s ever been in an off-year elections (I can attest to this as someone who was the Field Director of the party in the 2002 off-year elections when nothing went right and I ran around the state as a twenty-something like a chicken with my head chopped off), and most of the newer staff hires have been bright, younger, more savvy people than those they replaced.
However, Chairwoman Tant doesn’t deserve a complete pass. Some staff changes still must be made. Those responsible for the poor planning and enabling of some political consultants and vendors still must go. Additionally, the dysfunction of the “Coordinated Campaign” in most counties is something that must be addressed. This is largely a DEC issue and local elected official issue, but the state party must have more of a role in this.
It is worth noting that Chairwoman Tant needed a significant amount of on-the-job training. When she became Chair it was obvious she wasn’t prepared for the enormity of the task. But by early 2014, it had become obvious some of the changes needed were delivered. Was she the fundraiser her supporters touted? No, but some of those claims were merely naive ones by overzealous supporters during a heated campaign.
A final word on Allison Tant. She has done an excellent job with the Leon DEC, and that local party’s strong organization contributed mightily to one of the only Democratic successes nationally – the election of Gwen Graham.
Before we move on to other things, one thing I really want to stress is that in the thinking among some of the newer staff hired by the Chairwoman to replace long-time dead weight, multiple cycle thinking has become a staple of strategic thought. Time and again I have lambasted the party for taking a cycle by cycle approach. This year, I have found many staff understanding what 2014 would be like but beginning to plan for 2016 and 2018. In the last two decades that has NEVER been the thinking of previous FDP staff. The constant “crisis” mode of the party pushed by consultants and vendors who were trying to make a quick buck of Democratic candidates guided any sort of strategic thinking.
We will get more into the issues internally with the party in coming days. What staff should go? Who made mistakes this cycle? What role does Charlie Crist have in the future of the Democratic Party? Should elected officials continue to meddle in party matters? And perhaps most importantly, why are DECs and local “Coordinated Campaign” efforts so flawed in Florida’s largest counties?
All of these topics are on the table in the coming days as we sort through the wreckage of Election Day 2014.