TFS Series: Florida Democrats at a crossroads – which way will things go?

The internet and social media have been filled with tales of gloom and doom since the November 4th election regarding Florida Democrats. While the party did not perform well on Election Day and now has lost 17 of the last 18 races for state office, a record unmatched for futility anywhere else in the eastern half of the country by Democrats (though the similarly purple state of Ohio is giving Florida a run for its money) signs of progress are clearly apparent. At the same time those who like to critique the party, including political consultants looking for business from candidates and political committees (particularly in southeastern part of the state) enjoy pontificating about how things can be improved and how matters are worse than ever. As an active partisan through the entire collapse of the Democratic infrastructure in this state in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I witnessed a rudderless part. This was followed by a succession of chairs and staff people who were in complete denial of reality. Thus, from where I sit today, a firm belief that the building blocks of positive change are already being assembled is a large part of my thinking. Things are far from perfect, but at the very least least small steps are being taken to move the party forward. In the near future these may become larger, more pronounced  and impactful steps.

This having been said, the results in 2014 continue to reflect years of neglect including poor long-term planning, poor infrastructure development, bad staffing decisions and the hiring of the wrong vendors/consultants. So heavy lifting must be done, and we do not know as of yet if the current FDP team including the coming changes can excel at this awesome responsibility. However, I can guarantee you that they will not do any worse than those who came before them and are almost certain to do better.

Much of the focus of critics in the last several weeks has been around the LEAD Task Force, and what it will or will not produce. The task force which is the first in the country at a state party of its scale and scope has been panned for its membership composition as well as its seeming lack of discernible focus. The sense I get however, is that task force itself is fluid and clear goals which revolve around long-term thinking will be discusses.

The good news is that the FDP appears committed to hearing other ideas to solve problems beyond simply what LEAD 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.

However, it must be stated up front that the structural defects of the party remain prohibitive to accomplishing the goals most have for the FDP. Without a major overhaul to the structure of the party, its committee system, its caucuses and local DECs, any change is likely to be somewhere between window dressing and minor impact. It should also be noted that the among the negative impacts of citizens united, the ruling and has profoundly affected the ability of the party to raise money or to even always serve as the primary clearinghouse for “Democratic” money that flows into the state.

Several points need to be covered which we will do here at The Florida Squeeze over the course of the next several weeks.

Among other subjects we will look at the following in this series:

  • the Democratic message and how it needs to be honed.

  • the over-reliance on large county voters.

  • the party structure and the need for reform.

  • the erosion of white vote.

  • how to potentially engage exurban and rural voters.

  • can the vote loss in north Florida be reversed and does it matter?

  • how to turn the economic argument against Florida Republicans.

  • the role of legislators and former legislators in candidate recruitment.

The articles in this series will appear periodically over the next several weeks.

24 comments

  1. I don’t mean to be petty, but was that first paragraph written to be in one of those annual bad writing competitions?

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    1. Grammar and language make sense to this untrained eye but the site going from a readable large font to a small one overnight does not. Design element or not this new site layout SUCKS because many of us cannot read the typeface without increasing the page to 120% in our browser!

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    2. Splitting infituves doesn’t bug me.

      But the new typeface does. I understand the desire to have a black font on a white background. Makes sense. Better than what you had before but now you shrunk the typeface so much that most of us can’t read it.

      Change the font please!

      As for this article you’ve laid out some interesting principles. I want to see where the series goes. I am hoping this isn’t simply another pro Allison Tant rationalization because you’ve been there and done that already!

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  2. Things are fine. Unlike Georgia or Alabama we aren’t losing every white seat and only lost the Gov by 65,000 votes.

    It was a bad national year. Florida will bounce right back in 2016.

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  3. floridian · · Reply

    If you ask people what is one issue they associate with the Republicans they’ll likely say low taxes. Dems need one issue that everyone can say is “theirs” and it needs to be directed at everyone.

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    1. This is a GREAT point. For years I mocked the GOP as a being a “single issue party” claiming that it was simply a tax cutting party because the issue like abortion, at the time gay marriage, guns, etc were things they talked about election time but often did not do anything about. They had one unifying issue and one thing they would ALWAYS do. So I would say we were a party of diverse ideas with actual public policy interest and they were a single issue party.

      Well guess what? That single issue carries they day not because they are right on it, but everyone knows what the Republican brand means- it means tax cuts. It does not matter if it is a “tea party” Republican, “social conservative” “pragmatic Republican,” “moderate Republican” etc they all push tax cuts and almost always are able to implement them.

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  4. Sharon Isern · · Reply

    We need an issue or two that engages and excites the most people. The main issue I saw in 2014 TV adds was “Get rid of the crook, Scott.” While I was behind that goal, I would have liked to see more about how WE would make things better for Floridians.

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  5. Mike Coleman · · Reply

    In 2010, turnout in Florida was about 5.4 million voters and in 2014 turnout was over 6 million voters.
    The resulting loss margin for both Gubernatorial elections was less than three thousand votes.
    The turnout increase was over 10% with nearly an identical result.

    Three big counties in South Florida added about 94,000 votes to their Democratic 2010 margins.
    Pinellas County added to their Democratic margin by about 22,000 votes.
    Pasco County had about an 8,000 Democratic margin improvement and St Lucie County saw a 4,000 Dem margin improvement.

    While we are focused upon Democratic shortcomings we cannot be blind to the obvious facts such as the Republican improvement of their turnout.

    Rick Scott improved his turnout margins by over 2,000 votes or more in at least 11 counties which also means Democrats lost margins in at least 11 counties too.

    Everyone wants to find someone or something to blame.
    Looking backwards to assess blame when the turnout results significantly (10%+) improved statewide isn’t likely to find someone or something to credit our losses to but it can or will surely increase tensions and be totally counterproductive.

    Our review must focus upon illuminate what we did well and use this information in a manner designed to duplicate to positives and reduce our errors.

    As far as Big County versus Small County reliance as a turnout issue there are challenges
    to overcome and factual issues to understand.

    When we think of Florida as having about a 500,000 Democratic registration we must look at voting history and party registration totals by county to find insight.
    First, we must understand that the three big SE Florida counties have a Democratic registration advantage that exceeds 600,000 voters.
    Understanding that fact begins to illustrate Florida’s Democratic predicament.
    We must also understand that Miami-Dade and Broward counties are majority minority counties and focus our GOTV efforts in ways that acknowledge the needs of the voters residing there.

    Palm Beach County stands in contrast to Broward and Miami-Dade by not being a majority-minority county and examining the 2014 turnout shows that Rick Scott’s campaign improved his turnout by nearly 9,000 voters although the Democratic margin increased from 71,000 in 2010 to 86,000 in 2014.

    The elements that created the 94,000 margin from these three counties need some tweaking to provide a better messaging for the majority-minority counties with the aim of increasing turnout percentages.

    For the 70% of Florida’s Democrats living in the other 64 counties there are other considerations.
    Among the things to consider is getting a good estimate of just how many Floridians are registered as Democrats while being reliable Republican votes.
    We can begin by looking to the 2014 Primary begin in the areas of North Florida where Nan Rich showed remarkable strength as I suspect great numbers of her “voters” were nothing more than mischief done by Republicans who never switched parties as the South flipped Republican courtesy of the “Southern Strategy”.

    We Democrats need to understand these “Democrats” exist in large numbers in Florida from North to South and we don’t have a good estimate of their totals.

    Without Democrats identifying these non Democrat Democrats and where they reside we will continue to be at a disadvantage as we spend resources doing GOTV to this population of Dems.

    Given the facts that Republicans control Florida’s government, draw the District boundaries, and have hidden Republican voters in pockets of suburban and rural Florida we have to tailor our GOTV planning in ways that both recognize the existing facts while focusing our messaging in a manner that neutralizes the hidden Republican effects.

    I have a great deal of optimism by realizing the conditions currently existing are changing in our favor with each passing day.

    For 2016 Democrats must maximize our opportunities to increase turnout and there is no better tool in Florida than Voting By Mail with an Absentee Ballot. Our campaigns and Activists have over a month to work their GOTV magic on our VBM population.
    Messaging and meeting our Democratic voter’s needs in Majority-Minority counties coupled with Candidate who inspire and activate Democrats of all types will increase turnout margins in the huge two South Florida counties.
    Early Voting GOTV strategies must be designed to encourage voters to turnout and ensure the Voters comfort while many wait in long lines.

    There is a lot we Democrats can accomplish to put our party in position to win this state during the 2016 Presidential election and that year can also see gains in the Legislature and Senate.

    We must acknowledge the existing conditions and resolve that there is no one size fits all strategy, Majority-Minority counties are critical to our success and are not easily GOTV activated using our current techniques, Urban counties are our strength, suburban and rural counties have lots of Democrats while also harboring tens or even hundreds of thousands of Republicans registered as Democrats.
    Activating our Suburban and Rural Democrats is another priority that requires both study and triage as we can seriously waste valuable resources chasing Republicans registered as Democrats.

    We cannot rely upon non local sources to create, craft and execute campaigns using cookie cutter methodology nor can we afford to cede any opportunity to elect our candidates by not running a candidate for every seat in every election.

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  6. IGNORE the base and keep losing.
    The party began losing confidence of yellow dog dems in 2008 with the delegate decisions. If you watched that event you saw them go behind closed doors and emerge with the decision.
    http://www.c-span.org/video/?205371-4/dnc-decision-michigan-florida-delegates
    Nan Rich ignored another aspect of ignoring loyal base.

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  7. hancockross · · Reply

    You (and the party) have left out the role of state legislative candidates themselves. I know Dems who ran in swing districts in the Miami area who were good-potential candidates but eventually dropped out of the process: Lisa Lesperance (HD115), Jeff Solomon (HD115), Pam Gray (HD120), me (HD114), etc. The world of a candidate in a swing district is very different from the culture of elected Dems who live in Dem districts and view politics from the perspective of fighting primaries instead of general elections. And the world of Dem candidates in GOP-leaning districts is yet a third thing altogether. As voters, as citizens, we are suffering in this state. The situation is not kind to candidates, as human beings on a mission, in competitive districts, either.

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  8. Such negativity. If we were one of the other states we’d be down to 25 House seats and 10 seats in the Senate. As Kartik points out a lot of the issues are from past years and just linger. But the current leadership is trying to change things.

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  9. Jim Walker · · Reply

    Hard to read an article where the author has to constantly split his infinitives!

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    1. It is now deemed acceptable to split infinitives but there was a good reason it was once a norm–, this sort of writing is a bit awk. “her critics – which are plentiful, seem to not realize” or –“to even always serve as the primary clearinghouse”… some opinions on this discussed here:
      http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/split-infinitives
      That said, it hurts the flow. Easy just avoid.

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  10. hancockross · · Reply

    Dems are talking about grammar and the Republicans are eating our children.

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    1. Succinct forceful writing makes a difference. Clarity was lost in the 2008 delegate decision by Democratic leaders in Florida. Then in 2014 our party leaders set forth a confusing narrative that allowed them to decide Crist was a viable Democratic candidate. . Sure, we won the top of the ticket in ’08 and ’12, but kept our eyes off the rest of the landscape. THAT is how the Republicans eat our children. It was clear that Crist was not a party leader, he was just person with name recognition. The Democratic party assumed its members would not remember Crist’s past or his roughing up our candidates like Bob Graham or Jim Davis. It seemed as if Jonathan Gruber was in charge as if Florida Democrats were stupid and would not remember. Clarity and careful statements would avoid our falling into this trap. Trust the people. Be clear.

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      1. hancockross · ·

        Also, Republicans have better typography.

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  11. Broward Voter · · Reply

    We need candidates that respect South Florida voters and need to stop nominating Tampa area men or women.

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  12. Truth Teller · · Reply

    This article opens a Pandora’s box. Claiming the party is making positive steps though absolutely no proof exists of this.

    I am also concerned by the claim Allison Tant has made a clear break rhetorically with the spinning and excuses of the past. Kartik who is someone who actually worked with the party extensively through the years knows better than to make such an audacious claim. This is an absurd statement.

    No need exists to address the erosion of the white vote yet again Kartik. I don’t know why you of all people have decided to try and please the closeted racists in our party by bringing up this issue repeatedly. Let Dave Trotter or some other Internet troll do that.

    As for the splitting of infinitives who cares. The font is too small but the site does look more professional with these changes. That is the good news. The bad news is this appears to be a series which is going to defend the party. That is totally unacceptable.

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    1. The Chair has admitted the performance of the party and candidate recruitment were simply not good enough. Previous chairs always made excuses or spun limited successes as great triumphs. She’s much more intellectually honest than her predecessors IMO.

      By the way the font has been changed. Good feedback on that. Also got some feedback via texts and Facebook messenger. Multiple people complained. The idea was to give the site a cleaner look but obviously this was an issue.

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      1. It still has not been made clear why the Chair felt Nan Rich could not speak at the annual J-J dinner. It is that lack of judgment that caused many to lose confidence in the chair. The debates were wrongly limited as well, but the dinner was just plain mean. That meanness caused many to lose confidence.
        You said it here so well:
        https://thefloridasqueeze.com/2013/05/24/why-is-fdp-denying-nan-rich-an-opportunity-to-speak-at-the-j-j/

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      2. Granted, Allison Tant could have handled it better, but I agreed with her decision not to have Nan (or Chris Smith, Perry Thurston, George Sheldon, etc.) speak at the J-J dinner in 2013. It was not a slam at Nan, but an effort to shorten what had gotten to be a painfully long event. As someone who left before the five previous keynote addresses because I wasn’t willing to sit them out, I was grateful. It’s rude to invite an ex-president, sitting governor or rising star mayor to be your keynote speaker then have make them wait until past 9PM to speak to a half-empty room.

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  13. Party spin.

    I prefer trotter.

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  14. Seems like this series will be a mixed bag. Part critical, part supportive, part hackery.

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  15. Old guy sittin' on the green bench · · Reply

    Think back to the last election. Can you summarize the Republican’s message in a simple statement? I suspect likely you can, would it would go something like this – cut taxes and reduce waste. Can you summarize the Democrat’s message in a equally simple statement? Until and unless the electorate can respond with our message we will continue to enjoy the same level of support from them as we have gotten. Simply said, the electorate doesn’t get it. We need a bummer sticker message. KISS baby … KISS

    Like

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