With the 2014 election behind us and brutal legislative session around the corner, Democrats across Florida are looking toward 2016 with tentative hope, as down-ballot Democratic candidates generally do better in a presidential year and there is a desperate need for change on the horizon. With a Senate and a Presidential race on the line, more than ever Democrats have do some serious introspection.
While it will not be the lashing that was 2014, there are a few important elements that need to be tackled. Ideologically, there are a lot of different pieces floating around that will make 2016 very hard to predict: infighting in the Republican party, the struggle of the Florida Democratic party to find a vision, the power struggles for power in the State Senate, and the inability of the Florida grassroots to properly organize. All these factors will have huge effects on the outcomes in 2016 and they may very well have national consequences. In the next few weeks, here at the Squeeze we will be laying out the political landscape that will shape the 2016 election season.
The first factor is the unwillingness of the Democratic party to aggressively recruit candidates. With a presidential year there could be a few pick-ups, the reality is that the party will still play 6 or 7 seats which are pick-up opportunities along with a few safe districts which will be open. Even though there are 39 House seats held by Republicans where Obama performed over 46% in 2012, very few of those will have competitive elections.
While everyone complains about the lack of a good bench, the lack of candidate grooming, training, or support is a huge problem that simply makes the lack of a bench that much worse. This will not change drastically for 2016; even if the LEAD committee comes up with some brilliant proposals, the reality is that late summer 2015 is far too late to make the necessary changes for the 2016 cycle. Candidate recruitment will again likely be abysmal and with eight Democrats facing term limits this cycle, once again the Democrats will be struggling to keep the same numbers.
Contesting so few races will not be enough to change the power dynamic in the legislature. With the trend of off-presidential elections being devastatingly harsh for house Democrats, 2018 will surely erase any meager gains unless drastic changes are made. As we have seen in recent years, 2008 State House gains were erased in 2010 and 2012 gains were erased in 2014. In order to break the cycle, drastic changes need to be made.
Expectations for the Florida Democratic Party need to be lowered until they can come up with a management of secondary races that are not considered top targets: this is the only way that there can be an increase in Democratic legislative seats. Currently, if a candidate is not considered a top target they are given no support, which just splinters the party. With the reality that the party is not going to improve this aspect, the results are going to continue to disappoint.
Because of this situation, some other groups are going to have to step up and run the hard races. Labor is the obvious choice: as we discussed with out post-election wrap-up, they more than any other has the most to loose from the Republican super-majority, but many other advocacy groups could step in and run candidates, especially in the few safe D seats that are coming open. If Democrats want better, the grass roots are going to have to step forward and fight for it.
With the Republican power struggles, there will be more primary competitions in Republican-held seats, which could lead to some opportunities for advocacy groups to create wedge issues. Issue groups (especially environmental groups considering the success of Amendment 1) are going to have to step forward and attack candidates who fall short on their issues. Progressive groups need to keep score-cards and vote tallys to show who is choosing sides in the power struggles. This year we will be doing that here at The Florida Squeeze for the major policy votes. Some primaries were bitter in 2014, yet were underplayed in the media and there will surely be more in 2016 with the new power struggles.
While Rick Scott is currently being roasted in bad publicity, the most important thing that can be done is try to tarnish the Republican brand in Florida . The legislature is going to attempt to distance themselves from the Governor, especially those wanting to move on to higher office. The battle and ousting of Leslie Dougher show how fragmented the party is. Senate Republicans and the Governor now are firmly on the outs with House Republicans. Advocacy groups are much more poised to take advantage of this than the Florida Democratic Party and gain allies and should look to play heavily in Republican primary battles.
The power struggle in the Senate will be a big battle. With so many Republicans up for election and Senator Jack Latvala with the means to give a good fight, there will be more primary battles than election day battles. Look for labor to get involved on the side of Latvala and lots of big-money races, but also for more competitive races this round. With the Senate districts still in legal limbo due to a League of Women Voters lawsuit, there could be a major surprise in store. The only way to take advantage of these unknown elements or a surprise primary win is with candidates who are trained, prepared, and ready to run.
We will continue to explore these issues and more related to legislative races in the near future. We will continue to explore these issues and more related to legislative races in the near future. Included in this series will be a district-by-district look at the state , where progressives can win and where the FDP should play but won’t.