House Democrats and the 2016 campaign – Expanding the map a must for success

Florida’s Democrats have been through two plus weeks of introspection following the Election Night defeats. I personally came out strongly in favor of Allison Tant keeping her job as FDP Chairwoman and Rep. Mark Pafford becoming House Democratic Leader. Now that Pafford has to been confirmed as leader, a move we wholeheartedly support it is time to look forward to 2016 campaigns.

The staff changes made since Pafford became House Minority Leader Designee have been positive, bringing in hungry young talent that takes a longer-term approach to winning seats in the House. These staffers can help undo the damage of the 2012 cycle – where official party propaganda led by then-FDP Chairman Rod Smith indicated a “historic victory.” But the reality as my colleague Katy Burnett so beautifully articulated earlier in the week is in a reapportionment year when Democrats won both top-of-the-ticket statewide races (Presidential and US Senate) the pickup of five seats to take the Democrats number to 44 while President Obama was carrying 55 House districts and Senator Nelson was carrying 63 was quite frankly a shamefully criminal under-performance.

Several of the 2012 races as Katy pointed out were pick ups thanks to redistricting while others happened despite the party’s long-standing non-interest. Many seats the party targeted were flops while other candidates who ran without party help or any meaningful financial backing came within a hair’s breath of knocking off GOP incumbents or heavily favored newcomers. In other words, the 2012 House campaigns were a mess, a debacle that was masked by the national wave in favor of the Democrats. Still the opportunities missed in that cycle have set Democrats back perhaps for a full decade.

Then-FDP Chairman Rod Smith hailed the 2012 victories in the House as “historic” but the reality is the failure to take full advantage of a redistricting year and the unfamiliar territory many Republican incumbents had to run in set up the 2014 defeats. Having reached 45 seats with Amanda Murphy’s Special Election, the Democrats were always vulnerable to a “six-year itch” type election which happened November 4th.

Those looking to blame Chairwoman Tant and Leader Pafford have been misplaced in their anger. However, changes must be made to the way House campaigns are targeted. Since 2014 was a “hold” cycle and 2016 is a “gain” cycle, several Republican incumbents should be worried about overreach especially given that Governor Rick Scott will never have to face the electorate again. Many sit in seats that the Democrats have NEVER targeted.

Republicans sitting in vulnerable seats have hardly if ever been held accountable for recording bad votes – votes that would impact working families and the quality of life in a dramatically negative fashion. Republicans such as  Rep. Dennis Santiago, Rep. Ross Spano, Rep. Manny Diaz, Rep. Michael Bileca, Rep. Travis Hutson and Rep, Mike La Rosa sit in highly competitive seats especially in a Presidential year. These seats flew under the radar in 2012 with the exception of Santiago’s Volusia County district where the party made a complete mess of the race. Term-limited Reps. John Wood, Rep. Erik Fresen, Rep. Larry Ahern and Rep. John Tobia all sit in seats the Democrats could very easily carry under the right circumstances in 2016. Then we have Rep. Holly Raschein, Rep. Chris Latvala and Rep. Kathleen Peters sitting in Democratic-leaning seats going into a Presidential year. Latvala might be unbeatable but the other two are far from sure bets if the Democrats do their job.

Democrats are great at making excuses when elections go poorly. In 2014, I feel that the excuses are largely justified and thus have been very supportive of the party leadership. However, 2016 MUST be different.

Rep. Pafford pledged last week in a memo last week sent to House members to open up the vendor and consultant process for House Victory. As Katy mentioned in her piece on Monday and I continue to hear from all quarters, the issue of Christian Ulvert will endlessly plague Pafford and whomever succeeds him unless this process is clearly open and preference to those tied to Ulvert is not demonstrated. Is this fair? Probably, given the poor performances of Democrats particularly in marginal seats in south Florida. It will be incumbent upon whomever is designated as the next House leader to take the wishes of members and activists into consideration on this score.

All of this having been said about Ulvert, other political consultants who have looked to trip up the Miami-based consultant who serves as FDP Political Director are not necessarily upgrades. Thus Democrats must resist the temptation to just chop and change for no good reason except to swap names and faces.

The 2016 cycle is where the Democrats having failed in 2012 MUST take FULL ADVANTAGE of the Presidential wave (assuming Jeb Bush is not the GOP nominee…if he is, this narrative can be scrapped entirely). Failure to do so will set Democrats back even further down the legislative hole.

9 comments

  1. Excellent points Kartik – I think you also need to stress that candidate recruitment needs to start NOW. Republicans are already filing and dividing up Senate seats.

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  2. The Dems need to sharpen their criticism of the GOP a bit more. It’s not out of line to point out the damage 30+ years of conservative damage to the country and the state. Florida stays afloat because of our environment, it’s really nice here and that brings millions of $$ into the state every month every year. That alone give some cover to GOP malfeasance. Scott,Crist and Jeb! were frauds as far as I’m concerned although Crist did a few things that were ok. Democrats need to be aggressive and on point. This GOP is a malevolent force in our state and nation and shouldn’t be let off the hook for the damage they’ve done.

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  3. The state party sucks and they sure as hell are not going to change. The asshats with Alan what’s his name are not going to do anything differently with Tant or anyone else. Sorry but I have no trust in the Ds in Florida.

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    1. Dysfunctionaldem · · Reply

      Asshat? Does that have a hole in the center?

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  4. democrats to win · · Reply

    We won 5 seats in 2012 = success

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  5. Dems in Action · · Reply

    Kartik, where is your backbone? You said, rightly, that Ulvert had to go. Now he’s okay? The FDP is a flawed organization and needs real housecleaning. Until they get out of Tallahassee, and until they start taking recommendations from the DEC’s, we will just have another 2014 election. How many times are we going to say: “maybe next time….” while doing the same thing over and over again.

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    1. I think he needs to go but the reality is swapping him for another like person which many political operatives on our side are is a meaningless proposition.

      He does need to go though. I don’t disagree with that at all.

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  6. […] Quite frankly candidate recruitment has at times been worse than it was in 2014. During the 1998 cycle, those of us that were active Young Democrats at the time joked about us not even fielding 61 House candidates (which wasn’t true but the point was having just lost the chamber 61-59 two years earlier but after party switches being down to 65-55, the thought was the FDP needed to do better.) In 2002, Libertarians fielded more general election candidates for State House and State Senate than the Democrats. The 2004 cycle was a disastrous one where poor candidates were fielded across the board for both House and Senate. We have already discussed at length the failings of 2012 where Democrats simply ignored many potentially winnable districts . […]

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  7. Jeff Ryan · · Reply

    How and why was Ulvert allowed with or without the written approval of Tant to work on races outside of House seats?

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