The poor candidate recruitment of the Florida Democratic Party has been a constant talking point on this site since we launched. The discussion around candidate recruitment has only intensified in the few short weeks since the November 4th election disaster for Democrats. FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant has been very forthright in stating that the party must do a better job in the future at this – recognition is half the battle and unlike her immediate predecessors who were adept at excuse making and spin on this matter (not shocking considering each of the past three FDP chairs prior to Tant were former elected officials and two were failed statewide candidates) she sees that a problem exists.
Still a proposed solution of the FDP, to lean heavily on the LEAD Committee is probably faulty. The committee is stuffed with many of the usual suspects and lacks the outside the box creative thinkers that are needed to truly make a break with the poor past performances. Florida, after all is where the Democrats have at the state level performed worse than any other political party east of the Mississippi – losing 17 of the last 18 races for state cabinet a fail rate that seems statistically improbable particularly in a place where Democrats have been so competitive at the Presidential level. Even more striking is that the Democrats have lost over 70% of truly competitive two-way races for State House and State Senate since 1998. That number would be even more embarrassing if not for the 2006 and 2008 cycles. Take those two cycles away and the number is closer to an 85% fail rate.
The good news is that the FDP appears committed to hearing other ideas to solve problems beyond simply what committee members might recommend. Chairwoman Tant is making a real effort to solve some of these problems even though her critics – which are plentiful, seem to not realize that she has made a clear break rhetorically with the type of spin we’ve previously gotten from FDP Chairs.
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 .
With the 2016 cycle now well underway and the Republicans using all of their institutional advantages to court candidates, some basic steps have to be taken to ensure that the next election doesn’t end up like the past two or 1998 or 2004, etc. Here are some simple ideas:
– More senior legislators need to take an active interest in candidate recruitment
This point is obvious and speaks for itself. Yet, this does not always happen. Some state legislators, especially many Democrats don’t put in the work required to help the party grow its numbers and constantly whine about the state of things. Perhaps its time these legislators instead of complaining about the party do something on their own. At the same time, it is incumbent on House and Senate Victory to engage these legislators. I believe they already do to a large extent but in many cases the members themselves are to blame.
– Former legislators can be great assets
In this term limits-era, legislators come and go with regularity. Those like myself who were around before term limits kicked in, knew everything about every legislator and didn’t need a guidebook to tell them apart- those guidebooks were for people who came to Tallahassee once in a blue moon to lobby or advocate for a cause. But today, with the constantly changing legislature it takes months sometimes for me to figure who took which seats (particularly safe Republican seats). Former legislators can be a great asset in both bringing newbies up to speed about the true lay-of-the-land and historical perspectives, as well community grounded folks who can help find attractive candidates.
– County Commissioners/Municipal Races
Democrats MUST begin playing more aggressively in county commission races across the state. Even in the largest urban counties in the state, Democrats are being snowed by non-partisan elections and the superior local infrastructure conservative candidates often enjoy. This means Democrats must make a greater commitment to play at the municipal level. We have seen some success in municipal races – the victories of Bob Buckhorn, Alvin Brown, Darden Rice and Rick Kreisman stand out from the last few years. But Democrats must play in medium sized cities- those cities with between 50,000 and 100,000 people. During this cycle we touted Skip Campbell’s campaign for Coral Springs Mayor. This is in a large city of over 125,000, making it one of the 15 largest cities in the state. Campbell’s candidacy came to fruition not because of anyone in the Democratic Party but because of a combination or activists, political operatives, this website and some other local bloggers. This coalition NOT the local DEC is what pushed first former Mayor Roy Gold to run and then after his withdrawal, recruited Campbell.
– Local DECs
The biggest problem in the chain of candidate recruitment is quite frankly the ineffectiveness of local DECs even those in the largest counties. Broward County for example tends to have a DEC that watches the world go by letting a free-for-all of candidates coalesce in races before sometimes taking sides. The local DECs must begin to serve as a conduit for the Florida Democratic Party at the local level. Yet many never seem to take this responsibility seriously. Varying degrees of DEC effectiveness is apparent. Some are better than others. But most of the DECs in large counties are beset by factionalism, squabbles about influence and have allowed political consultants and lobbyists a disproportionate influence on proceedings. Medium sized counties are doing better relatively speaking and some provide a road map of how a bigger county DEC should function.
– Engage Community Organizations That Favor Progressives
This ranges from environmental groups to community organizations to local unions and other activist organizations. This comes down again to the local DECs serving as the party at the grassroots level and working hand-in-hand with the state party to achieve maximum synergies and results.
In the coming days and weeks, we will have much more on this topic.