Where is the Democrats statewide bench in Florida?

Having lost 17 of the last 18 races for Governor or Cabinet, Florida’s Democrats have a record of futility at this level unmatched by any Florida_ref_2001_smallother political party east of the Mississippi River. For all the whining about “gerrymandering” and institutional disadvantages that many Democrats and activists have become known for across Florida, losing close to 95% of statewide campaigns is simply not acceptable. The Florida Democratic Party hierarchy today realizes this, though more than a decade and a half into a full throttle malaise, many would argue it is already far too late.

While Democrats have been running and losing statewide, little has been done to grow the party on the grassroots level by county DEC’s and to develop and produce attractive statewide candidates. Florida Republicans were in a similar malaise in the 1970’s, having flushed away a good electoral run in the late 1960’s thanks largely to party infighting and the emergence of a new generation of Democrats most notably Lawton Chiles and Reubin Askew.

By the time the 1980’s rolled around, the RPOF looked like the FDP does today. Ineffectual, unable to take advantage of national wave elections (with the notable exception of Paula Hawkins 1980 US Senate win over a divisive Democratic nominee in Bill Gunter), and often leaving winnable legislative seats completely uncontested. But things changed quickly- the Republicans began aggressively contesting local offices and thought outside the box about candidates, looking to businesses and Chamber of Commerce’s across the state to find potential candidates. They also benefited from some party switches, most notably that of Conservative Attorney General Jim Smith who had been defeated in the 1986 Gubernatorial runoff by liberal State Rep. Steve Pajcic (D-Jacksonville). Pajcic’s victory in the runoff led to an exodus of conservative Democrats and a seven seat state Senate pickup (including party switches) in that cycle.

By the time 1994 rolled around, the Republicans had so many credible candidates for statewide office, they had no idea what to do with all of them. An era of Republican dominance ensued shortly thereafter and the Democrats have yet to recover.

Today, Florida’s Democrats are almost completely irrelevant in the state’s political process. Democratic legislators are hardly if ever needed to pass major legislation and Republicans have controlled the cabinet since 1998. Democrats have rarely if ever reached beyond either siting or former elected officials to grab candidates – the one exception was the husband/wife duo of Bill McBride and Alex Sink. It is probably not a coincidence that Sink is the only Democrat to win a statewide office since 2000. Her background and profile is what the Democrats need to find more of throughout the state.

But since we don’t have names and faces attached to potential Democrats statewide candidates who are not public officials currently, let’s take a quick look at the few that might make a good statewide run in 2018 (Much of the recent focus on the 2016 US Senate race is nice, but  as a Floridian who maintains a state-first perspective, I am much more concerned about filling candidates for cabinet races than for a single US Senate race).

Irrespective of what some activist Democrats might think, Charlie Crist might have a statewide run left in him. Let down by the Obama Administration and national trends, Crist over-performed in 2014 relative to similar candidates in other states. Crist must define himself  early and aggressively if he were to run again – he is after all a man that has given his entire adult life for the betterment of Florida’s citizens, unlike the insider class in his former party who sought to either enrich themselves or use this state to push a strictly ideological agenda.

Crist remains in the opinion of this writer, the single most attractive and electable Democrat that the party could field for high office in Florida as of today. But the reality is that many Democrats want to move on, so he probably won’t get another look. But moving on entails exactly what and whom?

The names Patrick Murphy and Gwen Graham continue to circulate. Both defeated incumbent Republicans in seats that lean slightly Republican (Murphy’s a more traditional Republican seat where Democrats haven’t fared well since the 1970’s). Both are untested statewide but have the type of profile that is very attractive to a wide swath of voters. Murphy’s voting record has been mixed but might in fact be too liberal on some social issues to win over as many independently minded folks as Graham might be able to do. Besides, Graham has family pedigree that even among the highly transient Florida electorate will be a plus. Murphy remains attractive but Graham is probably a stronger bet if and when she seeks statewide office. It should also be noted Murphy is one of only a handful of Democrats from mostly liberal southeast Florida that can be taken seriously as a potential statewide candidates.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has spent a lifetime in Tampa city politics. Seen as a rising young star in the party in the late 1990’s he still hasn’t made a statewide run. After being elected Mayor in 2011 Buckhorn’s profile has risen to a point where he seems to be the heir apparent for Governor provided Crist doesn’t take another shot. Well-liked by Republicans and Democrats locally, the Mayor seems like a decent candidate for statewide office. But as he approaches the age of 60, time is beginning to run out. Still for 2018, Buckhorn looks a strong bet, and Hillsborough County which is the most important place electorally in the state is a great place to be based. While Democrats have run other candidates based in the county for Governor since 2002, Buckhorn is the single best known and locally connected public official in the area. He seems a very solid bet though a liberal primary challenge from another part of the state cannot be ruled out.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer made a credible run for Attorney General in 2002 and has a resume that few in either party can match. Top all-time score on the Florida Bar, Senate Democratic leader and big city Mayor for over a decade. But he simply isn’t dynamic enough on the stump or telegenic enough to be considered a top-tier contender. State Senator Darren Soto (D-Orlando) is one of the few Democratic legislators with real statewide potential. But Soto might be more focused on running for Congress sometime soon than taking the plunge into a statewide race where any Democrat will be an underdog.

Unlike the 1960’s and 1970’s when Democrats from Miami were able to run frequently with success for statewide office, southeast Florida has become so different than the rest of the state culturally that it is difficult to envision many Democrats from the region being serious contenders to win statewide office. One exception could very well be State Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Plantation). The second term House Democrat boasts a unique mixture of traits –  a knowledge of agriculture issues and the rural heartland of Florida (a subject we will cover in greater detail in the near future) as well as an understanding of urban southeast Florida, and a growing political network in both places. Edwards is still very young (she’ll still be in her mid 30’s come 2018) and has plenty of election cycles in front of her.

What about the potential progressives in the Democratic Party? While the author is a devout liberal, it has become obvious that most of the progressives who might seek statewide office are unlikely to be successful. This might be different in a Presidential Election year, like 2016 but the names tossed around, Alan Grayson, Dan Gelber, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch all have significant drawbacks that might simply make them regional candidates. While as an individual, I would be more likely to support one of these  four in a primary (especially Gelber who is uniquely qualified to serve at a high level in this state) than the names discussed above and each might be viable in 2016, realistically with the Democrats desperate to win any state office, the significantly safer bets for 2018 are mentioned before this paragraph.

Democrats must get it right in 2018. The building blocks and foundations must be laid now for a successful statewide cycle. The Florida Democratic Party hierarchy gets that things must change – but will lip service and rhetoric shift to action and a better cycle with good statewide candidates? Only time will tell on that front.



  1. Bruce Borkosky · ·

    A good article, Kartik. Although it is true that “little has been done to grow the party on the grassroots level by county DEC’s”, I still place responsibility at the feet of the FDP, because they are the only ones who can set goals, monitor results, and hold DECs accountable. One or two DECs cannot turn around the state. In order to obtain results, the FDP must set specific monthly goals, for continuous action on the part of the DEC, and then monitor the results of those actions.


  2. Tampa Bay Demo · ·

    Good article though again giving the FDP too much of a pass. Local DECs need FDP help not vise Versa.


    1. It’s a two way street…the FDP and the DECs both need massive improvement.


  3. Buckhorn has been too cozy with the republicans. He won’t be nominated.


    1. Charlie Crist WAS A REPUBLICAN and was nominated with ease. So that’s not a deterrent at all.


  4. Nice narrative but ultimately an insulting article. How many more losing candidates do we need from Tampa? Katie Edwards the best South Florida hope? Maybe for the republicans! She’s a republican. Buckhorn did nothing got Demos this cycle! Gwen Graham? Please!


  5. Nice narrative but terrible conclusions.

    Bob Buckhorn? How many more Tampa moderates do we need to run? Besides he did nothing for demos this cycle.

    Katie Edwards? She’s a republican! Only a democrat because of her district!

    Gwen Graham? She’s simply lucky!


  6. Concerned Democrat · ·

    Good Article! But as usual you gave a big pass to our non existent leadership at the top of the Democratic Party that, as Charlie Crist sadly found out the HARD WAY, needs to go starting with Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Allison Tant and you can throw in the staff and the worthless loosing “whores” I mean “consultants” who have lost millions of our hard earned dollars being outsmarted at every turn.

    And you can throw in this redeculous “Why We Lost” study committee that’s meeting this weekend in Orlando of more party “whores” that Allison Tant set up as a smoke screen to divert attention from her and her staff’s including Scott Arceneaux’s pitiful leadership that Wasserman Shultz and Sen Bill Nelson are also personally responsible for since they brow beat the dumb sheep of Democratic Committee men and woman to vote for Tant and look what we have to show for it.



  7. Nice narrative but a faulty premise.

    Buckhorn? More Tampa moderates??? How many more losers from there do we have to nominate for us to learn?

    Katie Edwards? She’s a republican! Only a democrat because of her district!

    Gwen Graham? Oh please.

    Patrick Murphy…untested and too green.


    1. You can say untested and too green but that is part of the premise…no bench and it might simply be okay to take a flier on some one “too green.” As I said in the article I’m also all for recruiting people directly from the world of business or private sector that has an impressive resume to run them statewide.


  8. Pasco County DEC recruited and supported great candidates for CC and the District 38 seat. We supported state wide candidates for Attorney General and Governor. The Democratic Party was steamrollered locally and state wide by the big buck of the republicans. We’ve got the candidates, we need the bucks to get them elected to office.


  9. It's 2014 not 2006 · ·

    You think base turnout goes up with Buckhorn as the nominee???

    No way!


    1. I think 2018 is going to be tough regardless. But I don’t know who else is ready to mount a credible campaign for Governor other than Buckhorn or Crist. Suggestions?


  10. Katie Edwards?

    Seriously? She’s the absolute worst. Well Moskowitz is worse but the absolute second worst.

    I hate how you always kiss the party’s ass and that of democrats in Tampa and Orlando before bashing South Florida.


  11. Barbara DeVane · ·

    O please. Not Charlie Crist again.If the Democratic Party can’t do better than warmed over Republicans, shame on us!!!And, Gwen Graham will never win a statewide primary if she doesn’t get more moderate in her first term as Representative.Just my thoughts today.Barbara P.S. I’m doing all I can to push her to moderate!!


  12. Broward Operative · ·

    It’s pretty disgusting that you would elevate the likes of Gwen Graham and Patrick Murphy who have not paid their dues yet over a DWS, Deutch or Lois Frankel who could also go statewide. This obsession with candidates from the Tampa area and also Orlando is sick. South Florida is what provides the Democrats with any chance in this state and we get spit on by Tallahassee, Tampa and Orlando. We create the ability for Democrats to win and we sustain the state economically!

    I like the mention of Katie Edwards but otherwise this article is crap. Absolute garbage which is where this and you belong. You are a total sellout, Total hack having thrown in with the Tallahassee and FDP crowd and sold your soul and Broward County out. Your Strikers articles were sick also. I heard the story there – they didn’t kiss your ring like the previous ownership so now you are with Tampa and Orlando. Go live there you loser! Or better yet go to Tallahassee where you can hang with the whole crew of Democratic Party losers!

    I hope they have paid you well your party friends.


    1. Calm Down · ·

      Hold on there partner, let’s put that drink down and get you some fresh air.

      Patrick Murphy and Gwen Graham are two of a handful of recent Democratic success stories of the last decade. They both won highly contested races in areas that aren’t the traditional Democratic strongholds in Florida. They both have big fundraising networks, interesting biographies, and deep roots in the state.

      Compare this to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch, and Lois Frankel, who each sit in Congress due to the fact that they each won a Democratic primary at one point in the past. Neither candidate ever faces credible Republican opposition, and yet for all their collective years in Congress none of the above has ever passed a serious bill. By extension the same can be said of Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings, and Frederica Wilson. All are great people, and good Democrats, but none have serious legislative accomplishments.

      So instead, the most elevated individual in the above group is Debbie, who serves in the largely ceremonial position of DNC Chair. She gets a lot of media attention for holding this post, but when I’m honest with myself, she has never given a speech or an interview where I’ve been impressed with her the way I’ve felt impressed with Elizabeth Warren, or Barack Obama.

      Also, whether anyone wants to admit it, Debbie has been on a losing streak. Allison Tant was her pick for FDP Chair, and 2014 was a horrible year for the FDP. Moreover, Debbie came out against Medical Marijuana in the 2014 election, which was a profoundly dumb move that will come back to haunt her. But most importantly, she seems to be losing the confidence of the rest of the party.


      This article is a few months old now, but I still think that it’s essential reading for activists.


      1. Concerned Democrat · ·

        Amen Calm Down!

        I agree with you 100% on your assessment of our “ultra liberal” loosers in the Party who will never win a statewide election and continue to drag the party into the loosing column starting with DWS and her handpicked looser leader Allison Tant and her loosing staff and their loosing cabal of “consultants” who couldn’t win a race if their life depended on it and who handed the Democrats some of the worst losses in the history of the Florida Democratic Party this cycle and who are all in Orlando this weekend patting each other on the back and telling each other how wonderful they are!

        AND that includes that stupid smokescreen of a whitewash Tant committee, that several members of didn’t even bother to show up, on why Democrats lost?

        I’ll tell you why Democrats lost, cause YOU ALL SUCK!

        You “leaders” of the Party (now there is an oxymoron!) all need to step down and step aside and give others a chance to lead!

        But sadly the stupid sheep of Committeemen and Committeewomen who all switched their votes from the grassroots leader Alan Clendenin to Allison Tant at the arm twisting of “Sgt” D W Shultz and her equally exciting sidekick “Astronaught” B Nelson all don’t have the guts that the Republicans just did and said last weekend “hey we kicked the Democrats asses in this last cycle…but we want to do even better!!! So we want a new State Leader!!”

        And they kicked out the old and voted in a new boss.

        So what are the chicken s*** Democratic delegates doing in Orlando this weekend?

        Who knows? Who cares?

        Certainly not leading!

        Democrats need to take a cold hard look at the success of our former Governor and Senator’s daughter Gwen Graham who won in an ultra conservative district in N Fla by “listening” and positioning herself to her constituents.

        I hear mucho grumbling from the Progressives about her vote for the Keystone Pipeline and how they are going to “change” her!

        God Gwen please don’t listen to those losers! Take a page from your dad and successful centrists Democrats like Bill and Hillary Clinton and even “gasp” Barack Obama who is not as “liberal” as you would think.

        We Democrats have to be a little more pragmatic and CLEAN HOUSE of the scum leadership and that stupid loosing Tant “Committee” of hand picked “Yes Men and Woman” and just start over….clean….from scratch!!

        Oh and NO ONE, Especially Consultants, who have even received one penny from the FDP, directly or indirectly, in the last two election cycles….need apply!! Your OUT! Find another job or go to another state!!

        You had your chance…and you blew it!!

        Let’s start over…with all new people!!!


  13. This article is on the mark but I cannot help but think you’ve pissed off you progressive friends particularly those in central and south Florida with this reality check.


  14. I don’t think Katie Edwards could ever run for statewide office as a Democrat. Her voting record is the worst by Democrat from a non-Dixiecrat area in the legislature probably in the last 20 years.

    She would have no chance of getting out of a primary with that kind of voting record. Besides she’s simply got to much baggage in other areas also.


  15. Since many of our elected Democrats in the legislature are African American, why not at least mention one of them? My choice would be Senator Dwight Bullard.


  16. Concerned Democrat · ·

    so the only good statewide candidates are cormwr republicans and closeted republicans says kartik. Buckhorn will never win the nomination unless the fdp forcex it. katie edwzrdz is the most anti woman woman in the democratic party.

    I agree with bullard and try perry thurston again mark pafford gerakdine thompson and reggie fullwood who will beat back the republicans a few weeks from now. all of those would be sfronger sfatewide who cpuld rally the base.


  17. Joe Kreps · ·

    Kartik, you really got the anonymous haters going this time. I won’t even waste my time responding to any of them. Anonymous comments are useless and only stifles genuine debate.


  18. Blue Dog Dem · ·

    Really good article that’s on point.


  19. Katie Edwards lacks the temperament to be a statewide candidate.

    Those of us who have spent any time around her know that.


  20. El Perro Mordilon · ·

    Did Rick Scott, or Marco Rubio write this article?


  21. Jeff Ryan · ·

    There were three strikes that killed a chance to win in 2014.

    Strike One: The downfall started when the FDP shut out Nan Rich at their Florida Blue dinner before Crist was a candidate. Why do this to a former House and Senate Member, and Senate Democratic Leader elected by her own members.

    Strike Two: Crist not debating Nan Rich. It seems the FDP forgot that Nan is a life long Democrat and she merits debating. Crist is new to the Party. Plenty of Democratic voters in and outside of Broward did not like that and it showed statewide. The Crist campaign felt there was no upside to debating Sen. Rich. They forgot there was a significant downside.

    Strike Three: Crist not campaigning in the panhandle. This is old Florida style and it is fun. You get a motor-coach and start early in Pensacola at the court house, drop by all the constitutional offices, continue east on Highway 90 with a dip down east of Live Oak and in two and a half days you are in Jacksonville.


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