Post-election some Democratic Party insiders and FDP officials are talking openly about the failed 2014 effort as due to an overemphasis on progressive policies and turning out urban areas of the state. Make no mistake about it – candidate recruitment for 2014 was a massive failure for the party. But the solution of some party operatives, officials and insiders seems to be to uniformly nominate “more moderate” candidates per multiple TFS sources. These sorts of blanket statements and thinking returns many in the party to their north Florida comfort zone. The failure of many in the party to truly understand the challenges of the Tampa Bay area, Central Florida or southeast Florida remains baffling. As one veteran Broward County political operative told me Sunday night “some of the leadership in Tallahassee remain so intimidated by south Florida they like to justify avoiding the area.”
No doubt exists Gwen Graham achieved a great electoral victory on November 4th. But her triumph is being cited as irrefutable evidence in some quarters that the party must nominate more moderate candidates across the board. Despite his history as a Republican, Charlie Crist ran to the left on economic issues and was able to excite some core Democratic voters who don’t always turnout in off-year elections. Still Crist’s baggage as a Republican and an unwillingness to articulate as strong a position as possible on women’s issues and the environment may have ultimately hurt Democratic turnout. At issue however seems to be that Crist ran several points behind Graham in the 2nd Congressional District, a part of Florida which is unique yet often forms the frame of reference for so many in the Democratic Party. Alex Sink poured time and resources into this part of the state and she was able to carry the 2nd Congressional District. However, like Crist, she was defeated statewide.
This is not going to be another posting that discusses electoral strategy and the simple fact that Hillsborough County has more than twice as many voters as the 2nd Congressional District. We’ve had that discussion before and the case to spend a large amount resources in north Florida in a statewide campaign for a Democrat simply cannot be made objectively. So this discussion is specifically about candidate recruitment.
I would submit a candidate without Graham’s name running on her platform would struggle to even gain the votes Crist did in the big seven urban counties (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange, Osceola, Dade, Broward, Palm Beach) and would likely not have gained the activist support that Crist ended up using to his advantage. This is not to forget for even a moment what a flawed candidate Crist was, and how those flaws undermined his opportunity to really motivate many Democrats to turn out to vote.
No question moderates do have a role in the party. The Democratic Party is a big tent party, perhaps not as big tent a party as the Republicans have proven to be in Florida (but not nationally) but still a large tent. However, the tendency for Tallahassee insiders and those who hit the cocktail circuit in the capital city to blame progressives and Democrats from the large urban areas has become tiring and worrisome. This is default response from party insiders and Tallahassee based political operatives who simply are not comfortable with doing the heavy lifting in parts of the state with which they have less familiarity.
Democrats lost six state House seats on Tuesday. In one case, that of moderate Mike Clelland, the Democrat was always going to lose his reelection because of the composition of the district. So that leaves five losses to discuss. Two of the losses were with relatively moderate legislators (Carl Zimmerman and Linda Stewart) who fit their districts well and would have won in any electoral climate- in fact the recruitment of these two candidates in previous cycles shows precisely the types of candidates Democrats SHOULD be running. Another defeated legislator, Mark Danish positioned himself in the middle of the political spectrum on a number of economic issues as well as on firearm safety. Only Joe Saunders and Karen Castor Dentel could be considered liberals of the defeated six House Democrats.
Moderates like Patrick Murphy, Jeremy Ring and Katie Edwards have proven they can win in south Florida by combining the votes of liberals with more mainstream voters and all three have been talked about as potential statewide candidates. Several moderates have this same profile in the Tampa Bay Area and in Central Florida. However, the comfort zone for the Democratic insiders and establishment is not simply to nominate moderate candidates but to push the party back towards a posture where north Florida gets the type of attention that Alex Sink gave it but Charlie Crist simply would not. Make no mistake about it – Crist’s extensive field program that focused exclusively on the state’s most populated counties is being scapegoated already by the Tallahassee insiders who are trying to change the candidate recruitment strategy.
It must also be noted that in many cases, recruiting the types of candidates that would get lots of support and lobbyist love in north Florida may be unpalatable for the urban areas in the state and like 2010, turnout could be completely depressed.
In the process, the Tallahassee leadership can strip the value-based voter from the Democratic Party as well as create a context to blame the failures of 2014 on progressives. If they are successful, we will see a return to the desire to run moderates statewide who either employ a flawed electorally strategy thanks to the traditional Florida Democratic political operatives or simply mispositioned ideologically to excite the base of the party.