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.