2016 Legislative Races Preview: Part 1

Tallahassee_Old_and_New_Capitols_3With 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.

24 comments

  1. Bruce Borkosky · · Reply

    Due to gerrymandering, there are really only a few seats within reach. You can measure that 2 ways – based on the number of votes cast for either party in the 2012 elections, and the number of registered voters for each party. Both are indirect measures of how the votes will go in 2016. With that said, most of these districts are something like 52% R to 48% D (ignoring I’s). There are only 2 ways to win in such districts – get more I’s and D’s to vote for your candidate, or increase the number of D voters. More votes will work if you have a good candidate. However, more voters will work almost regardless of the candidate. If, through voter registration, you can bring the electorate to 50/50, then you really have a chance to win the election, which will increase donations and voter excitement. VR is really the way, and only needs to be done in a small percentage of districts. The downside of VR is that it cannot be limited to the year before the election, and it requires a DEC/FDP partnership. Unfortunately, the FDP has wasted the past 2 years, and is unlikely to meaningfully increase D voters in the next 2.

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    1. Not true Bruce. Thanks to Fair Districts we have far more competitive seats per capita than most states. For example Obama carried 17 districts currently held by Republicans in the State House. In all of Congress only about 25 seats with that same profile.

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    1. Bruce Borkosky · · Reply

      “we have far more competitive seats per capita than most states.”
      —– I haven’t done a survey of different states, so IDK about that – do you have a cite? At rate, I don’t think it matters – what matters is the number of voters / the number of competitive districts. There are only a few, even if that is better than other states. Besides, many of the other states are themselves gerrymandered – both by D’s and R’s

      “Obama carried 17 districts currently held by Republicans in the State House”
      —– one candidate will not give you good enough data. You need to look at the votes across multiple candidates to average out the effect that both good and bad candidates had. Obama was a good candidate, so he obtained more votes than average.

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      1. Crist carried 55 districts the same day Ds only won 39. Obama carried 56 the same day Ds only won 44. I don’t know who to blame for this. Is it bad candidates, poor education by local parties and advocacy groups to keep people going down ballot, or what. Like you Bruce, I thought the Obama number was aberration and that he over-performed so he carried 56 House Districts. But Crist carrying 55 seats the very same day we could only win 39 of those for our candidate and in some of those places had incumbents that lost is just not acceptable. We had four incumbents, Joe Saunders, Linda Stewart, Mark Danish and Karen Castor Dentel that lost seats that Crist won. In the case of the Danish and Saunders seats he won them by a comfortable margin (more than 3.5 points).

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  2. Ron Baldwin · · Reply

    Yes, gerrymandering is a big problem but there is a way to overcome that problem.

    There is one important word that most Democrats never utter except to say “woe is us.” That word is TURNOUT (sorry but that demands shouting). There are 500,000 more registered Dems then registered Repubs in Florida. I live in Pinellas County and there are about 3,500 more registered Dems (225,484) than registered Rebubs (221,111). We should be calling Dems who did not vote in 2014 and urging them to vote. Ideally the same people who first make contact with a non-voter should follow up a number of times in an effort to convince that voter to vote. My experience with our local DEC is that TURNOUT is not mentioned until the polls close, and everyone says, woe is us.

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    1. Bruce Borkosky · · Reply

      “There are 500,000 more registered Dems then registered Repubs in Florida”
      —– that only affects statewide elections. A large % of districts are 60/40 (or worse), and no amount of TURNOUT is going to make ANY difference. Let me show you – say there are 100 voters – if the R’s vote at the regular rate of 70%, then they will turnout 42 votes. Even if every D votes (100%), that will result in 40 votes, and a loss. Yes, Pinellas is a county that can benefit from both turnout AND VR. However, from now until 10/2016, you can only do VR. So why aren’t you doing it?

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      1. Few over the Many · ·

        Bruce a large number of districts up and down I-4 are basically 50-50 or close in performance yet every single one of these seats with one exception are held by the GOP after the last election.So we have plenty we can do to bring the numbers far above 39. In the Senate I tend to agree. As Kartik has pointed out before the Senate is a partisan gerrymander but the House is not. Obama won something like 55 State House seats and the very same day we only carried 42 of them in addition to 2 seats Romney won and we carried. We now have lost those 2 seats.

        I believe Kartik or Katy probably have the performance numbers and it would be nice for them to post them at some point.

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      2. Bruce Borkosky · ·

        @few- yes, that might be true for I4, but that’s only a small part of the state. The reason why so few D’s won, was at least in part to low midterm turnout. So, it’s not fair to compare midterm elections to general elections, because D turnout is so much higher in the general. In regards to the numbers, you can view all the election results here – http://election.dos.state.fl.us/elections/resultsarchive/index.asp. Also, you can get county voter registration files from your SOE, or statewide data from the division of elections (on CD).

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      3. On November 4th Rick Scott carried only 65 House Districts but the GOP won 81.

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      4. We’re working on compiling them. We don’t have them yet. We do have top of the ticket numbers and Obama carried 54 of the current seats in 2008, 56 in 2012 and Crist carried 55 in 2014. Democrats however won just 44 seats in Nov. 12 and 39 in Nov 14. So that’s a HUGE issue. Major ballot drop-off both election cycles. People turning out and voting top of the ticket and leaving.

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      5. We do have the performance numbers and we are going to discuss each seat by region over the next few weeks (hence the part 1).

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      6. Few over the Many · ·

        midterm turnout was down but I heard but cannot verify Crist carried 8 or 9 House districts which we lost election day. The same day Crist carried them we lost.

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      7. Actually the number is 16…Crist carried 55 House Districts, Scott 65.

        When you consider in Congress as someone said above only about 25 districts were carried by Obama and Republicans and only 11 (including 2 in Florida after this election) are held by Democrats after being won by Romney this is an incredibly high number.

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      8. Few over the Many,
        That scenario is one that many of us feared with the 2014 race. Turning out Crist supporters carried the risk of also turning out votes for Republicans down ballot.

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      9. Another factor was Wylie voters from what I gather basically went to the GOP for House also…still chewing on a bunch of numbers I have but it appears that way.

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    2. Susan McGrath · · Reply

      Things are not the same as the days when you were active in the DEC. There is and will be a great deal of conversation about turn out.

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  3. Few over the Many · · Reply

    So many opportunities. I can list some. Brandes and Gardiner in the Senate.

    House – All the seats that flipped in the last election except Clelland plus Hager, Diaz, Fresen, Raschein and Artiles are winnable.

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  4. Hank Porter · · Reply

    Its important to remember that most of the competitive legislative races were two-way races ie. one Democrat and one Republican. The Governor’s race, however, had a slate of third party candidates, most significantly Adrian Wylie, the Libertarian.

    In HD30, for instance, Crist barely beat Scott 46.7% to 46.6% with 6.62% of the vote going to the other candidates. KCD got 48.7% of the vote in her two way race. So, while Crist won HD30 with a plurality of the vote, KCD actually outperformed Crist’s share of the electorate.

    Its unknowable how the 6.6% of HD30 voters who backed a third party would have voted with only Scott or Crist as options. Its not immediately obvious, however, that Crist could have mustered an outright majority in that circumstance. Its not unreasonable to think that a large number of voters backed Wylie and Cortes.

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  5. Patti Lynn · · Reply

    I think that this comment, from Kartik is the answer:

    Kartik Krishnaiyer · January 28, 2015 – 10:15 pm ·
    Crist carried 55 districts the same day Ds only won 39. Obama carried 56 the same day Ds only won 44. I don’t know who to blame for this. Is it bad candidates, poor education by local parties and advocacy groups to keep people going down ballot, or what. Like you Bruce, I thought the Obama number was aberration and that he over-performed so he carried 56 House Districts. But Crist carrying 55 seats the very same day we could only win 39 of those for our candidate and in some of those places had incumbents that lost is just not acceptable. We had four incumbents, Joe Saunders, Linda Stewart, Mark Danish and Karen Castor Dentel that lost seats that Crist won. In the case of the Danish and Saunders seats he won them by a comfortable margin (more than 3.5 points).

    Target those districts and voters. At least START something!!!

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  6. Bruce Borkosky · · Reply

    @Kartik – “Crist carrying 55 seats the very same day we could only win 39 of those for our candidate”

    —- I think it is incorrect to interpret Crist as having been a generic candidate. As a former R, there were likely changes to his voting demographic. e.g., it could have been that there were some R’s who voted for him. You have to look at a combination of candidates in order to see which way the wind is blowing in a particular district. So, Crist got 47% of the vote, but the other statewide candidates only got 41-42% of the vote. IDK if these other candidates won those districts, but, with those numbers, I doubt it. I suspect that’s a more valid analysis.

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  7. Bruce Borkosky · · Reply

    Found the data:
    AG – carried 7 counties
    CFO – carried 5 counties
    Agri – carried 6 counties
    Gov – carried 13 counties

    So you could say that Crist also overperformed – at least compared to the legislative district candidates

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  8. […] for leadership between Senator Latvala and Senator Negron as we discussed in the first part of this series.  While things will probably not be determined until the primary of 2016, look for some high-dollar […]

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  9. […] liberal activists around the state were critical of the state party’s efforts in those races, which they said amounted to too little, too […]

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