The FDP Mess and US Senate Hopefuls

DWSCongresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz (also DNC Chairwoman) has been in the news recently, both for hinting that she is considering a Senate run and for her stance on marijuana over a very public spat with John Morgan.  While her Senate aspirations have encouraged some Democrats around the state, who are faced with an almost empty bench, the reality of a DWS run is simply a train-wreck waiting to happen.  While there are many issues and concerns about her candidacy, no one is talking about one of the biggest weakness she has:  Allison Tant.

It is hardly a secret that Allison Tant was Wasserman Shultz’s hand-picked party chair and both she and Senator Bill Nelson pulled favors not so subtly to get her in the chair position.  And while the DNC Chairwoman had little connection to the grassroots of the party, she convinced enough people to support Tant – with the help of FDP Executive Director Scott Arceneaux.. Tant took the reigns and has tried  to push some real reforms, which was a welcome change compared to the lackluster performance of past chairs.  However, while she had tried to turn the party around after the abysmal performances of the past,  she has also created deep divisions and has created this culture of ‘her’ side and the “other” side.  She has spent just as much time attacking and alienating other Democrats as she has Republicans – in the name of creating a “united’” party of “Good Democrats.”  But by doing so, she has splintered the already dysfunctional party. This is after all a party that has lost 19 of the last 20 statewide elections where Bill Nelson has not been on the ballot.

 

In order for a Senate Democratic candidate to win, they would have to have the a fully functioning united party that was willing to hit the streets and fight for a win.  Under Tant, this appears unlikely to happen, regardless of her best intentions. The ground work of uniting the party elements has not yet begun and will not under this current party structure.  Even though there were devastating losses last year, the party has neither re-structured or publicly come up with a plan to improve.  There were deep divisions over Nan Rich’s failed run at governor, deep divides among the FDP leadership over the more conservative members in both the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses, and more recently an intense rivalry with Leslie Wimes over the creation of an African-American Democratic Women’s Club.  With so many fractured elements, the field work and infrastructure likely needed to win that Senate seat is going to be difficult to build.

One of the reasons Tant is such a polarizing figure is the divisive and haphazard messaging that the FDP has taken.  In the response to Rick Scott’s state of the state, it was very clear that Democrats have a messaging problem.  While they are quick to speak up for the middle class and the ‘little fellow’, they do not include a broad message to give people a reason to fight. The reason that economic populism is such an effective tool is because it is inclusive.  Messaging to just the lower class excludes a lot of people and basic political science tells us that they are the least likely people to go out and vote. They cannot be the audience for each and every press engagement.

In chasing after the perfect idealistic Democrat, the party has alienated a huge part of the base.  All progressive issues do not work all over the state, yet the party continues to take some far left stances and leaves little room for the moderate in the party. This comes at the same time as the party keeps talking about the need to nominate moderate candidates and not nominate progressives statewide. The contradiction is glaring yet many potential moderate statewide candidates have not been groomed by the FDP – in fact they have been ignored or ostracized.

Local issues need to matter more and there needs to be more attention to local issues than ideals. The average voter is more likely to engage in a local issue than an ideological one.  The official Florida Democratic Party has proven to be an ineffective messenger for these far-left policy stances  and when talking about moderates they have failed to grow the bench in rural areas.  They have alienated BOTH liberals and moderates in the party, while zig-zagging between the two and consistently losing elections. The FDP needs to focus on the issues on the ground and find more local issues to get involved in.They need to build a bench of local candidates and get involved in more city and county races.

The messaging from the party completely ignores that.  They are all over the place, supporting President Obama one minute, talking about minimum wage the next, then jumping into the Florida Legislature in an undisciplined way – they have lost who they are messaging to.  They fundamentally do not understand the people that they are trying to bring together.  There needed to be a united clear message instead of a bunch of garbled good ideas. Economic populism is more than just about individual pocketbooks – it is about the economic stability of the whole system, which is why it can incorporate a wide-range of voters. Elizabeth Warren is incredibly effective in her messaging because she sticks to a few key issues and hammers those. This scrambled all-over approach misses the mark and ultimately fails to unite people, something that is obvious in Democratic voting numbers around the state.

While the FDP is quick to boast about the effectiveness of the party’s social media campaigns, there is also a lot of baggage created by this approach. The constant trolling of GOP figures by the social media team on Twitter is unprofessional and frankly, an insult to most party-faithful.   It turns people off more than it draws people in. They are clearly constantly trying to get more followers and likes, but have sacrificed true communication.  No real communications strategy that incorporates developing intricate media relationships and a clean narrative appears to exist.  There is a difference between calling out current and former legislators on issues or simply harassing them about personal issues on twitter and this boundary is frequently crossed by the FDP Press Team. All of their communication is one-way, with little input from local communities or activists and without the consistency of a cohesive media strategy. This shows inconsistent leadership and the wrong goals. The desire to gain twitter followers and Facebook likes seems to have overhauled the need to register voters, communicate consistently or win elections as an FDP priority.

Just the other day we learned Gwen Graham was not listed on the FDP website. Once the issue became known on Facebook, the FDP fixed it. That came just days after House Majority Leader Dana Young (R-Tampa) revealed that she was solicited by the FDP for a contribution. These mistakes seem to happen regularly.


Overall, Tant’s leadership is questionable at best.  Even though many of the failures could be contributed to other party staff and outside factors, she is the leader and has yet to find a way to unite Florida Democrats or truly move the party forward.  If any senate candidate is going to win, Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz or otherwise, they are going to have to overcome the divisions that Tant has both inherited and created. Her standing as Chair may itself be another reason Debbie Wasserman Schultz won’t be fully trusted by many Democrats. 

32 comments

  1. Blue Dog Dem · · Reply

    Katy,

    Well done. I think you should follow up with embedded outrageous Max Steele and Joshua Karp tweets. An easy but effective post.

    Like

  2. Concerned Democrat · · Reply

    Katy,

    Very well said! Much better perspective than the ass-kissing suck up that Kartik has been in the last year constantly making excuses for the FDP and the Progressives and all the losses we Democrats have suffered.

    To the point, I wouldn’t vote for Debbie Wasserman “I Know Nothing” Shultz if she ran for DOG CATCHER! DWS along with the ancient Bill Nelson are personally responsible for stealing the FDP election away from Alan Clendenin of Tampa who had the votes and the grassroots delegates but whose only mistake was to say that he was going to “Clean House” of all the worthless staff and equally worthless Consultants who have raped us and screwed us Democrats and paid off the stupid staff so that they can all line their pockets while the rest of us witness the largest ad longest string of losses in the HISTORY of the Florida Democratic Party.

    And the result is the miserable leadership of Allison Tant and her puppet pullers led by Scott Arceneaux..all making six figure salaries for nothing!!!

    And even worse…Debbie was the National head of our party while we suffered the largest losses in almost half a century nationwide!!!

    No WE NEED TO CLEAN HOUSE AND START OVER TOP TO BOTTOM! And at the top…DWS deserves to be fired and the stupid sheep of Democratic Party committee men and women need to grow a set and have a revolution to get this done!!!

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    1. I think you’d be surprised how independent of DWS Tant really is. Yes DWS put her in there – no argument there. But she’s not a puppet of DWS at all and that from where I sit is a good thing.

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      1. Doesn’t matter, Kartick. A leader leads. I don’t see any of that. It’s a top down problem throughout. But of course just complaining isn’t enough so here are some recommendations:
        1. Find a CEO, not a crony to lead our party. Someone who has the operational business sense yet has a strong emotional tie to what Democrats stand for. Fundraising is important, but not everything. The leader of this party has been hand picked on favors, not action
        2. Establish a goal and objectives that will focus on issues that really matter to people and stick with a limited number. One of those should be the plan to find good people to run and YES SUPPORT THEM IN PUBLIC
        3. Find local leadership who will agree with the State strategy and structure a plan to bring that to the local level. Again, it’s time for people to consider if local leadership actually does anything for us. Someone needs to finally look outside the condos in my great county, Broward. My Bubbie is long gone. Where is the effort for finding young Dems?
        4. Stick to the plan, stick to the focus on a few points that can get people not to just be academic about them, but will get up and shout.

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  3. Nan Rich.

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    1. El Perro Mordilon · · Reply

      Nan Rich was a great Senator. I voted for Nan Rich. But, she would have lost to Scott too. We were doomed from the start.

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  4. Katy, you say the party takes some “far left stances” — can you give examples of those? Not nitpicking…just wondering what those are — especially considering the influence of New Democrat Coalition in our state’s party.

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    1. I agree with Brook on this…Actually I don’t think the FDP takes any far left policy positions, though maybe Katy was talking specifically about Joyner’s State of the State response.

      If anything liberals like Brook, myself and others have been concerned about the FDP’s unwillingness to really embrace positive progressive messaging – empowerment language. The message always seems to be about how horrible the GOP is and is quite haphazard as you say Katy, scattered and not executed well.

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    2. I would use minimum wage as an example. This is very much an urban issue and does not have the same impact in rural counties. With the party taking such a strong strong stance in favor of raising the minimum wage – as evidenced by the response to Scott’s state of the state and multiple mentions in social media – you alienate a lot of rural voters who do not feel connected to the issue, as well as the handful of Democratic legislators who have rural districts. This is not an issue that connects on a broad scale in areas that Democrats need to reach out for. With the measure having little hope of advancing in the legislature, it just creates divisions. While it IS an important issue, it seems like the FDP is not the best messenger – issue advocacy groups and unions are simply better messengers for this issue.

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      1. I know this going to shock some people, but I agree with Katy Burnett here. Every issue isn’t the same to all Democrats. Every issue doesn’t resonate the same with all Democrats. Every path that leads to more Democratic elected officials isn’t the same for all Democrats. I started the DAAWC because the messaging to my community isn’t there, but the apathy of my community IS there. We have to bring more people back to the voting booths and there is no cookie-cutter way that works for everyone. As important as an issue may be to one person, the next person may not give a rat’s crack about it, but is still a Democrat. Part of why I am a Democrat is because supposedly we accept diversity in people as well as thought. Somewhere along the line we have lost the ability to reach people on the issues that are important to THEM. Some have forgotten that the party isn’t the leaders, it is the people the leaders have been placed to represent. If people don’t feel like they are being properly represented, instead of voting for the other side, they simply don’t vote. Look at the number of registered Democrats that did not vote in the last few elections and tell me that isn’t true. I’m trying to change that with a group of people who I can, and do, reach.

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  5. Pinellas Democrat · · Reply

    I am glad to see someone at the blog hasn’t completely sold out to the smoke, mirrors, and spin coming out of the the Democratic Party HQ.

    It is clear the party’s only motivation is to protect their own. Even their bogus call for rules reform is nothing more than a circle the wagon distraction. FDP mantra; pay no attention to the facts, if it wasn’t for the pesky rules we would have won the governor race, elected a Democratic Cabinet and we’d be in the majority in both the House and Senate.

    From all appearances Allison Tant’s mission is to protect their own and ensure the FDP is on lock down as Debbie Wasserman Schultz personal organization. DWS has done nothing but demonstrate a self-aggrandizing posture and would use every tool available for her selfish agenda including threats and manipulation of party members.

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  6. Tampa Bay Demo · · Reply

    This article nails it. Spot on perfect.

    The social media conduct of FDP staff is embarrassing and even though er lose elections Tant always hides behind Twitter followers and Facebook likes as justification for her “success.”

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  7. I cannot help but think that Kartik and Katy both play good cop bad cop want to comes to the party.

    This blog has way too much influence within the Democratic Party circles to be publishing inflammatory knee-jerk articles like this one. This is quite frankly an irresponsible piece that will hurt our party.

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    1. The party should be strong enough to withstand a blog post. If it is so weak that a blog can damage it, there are far worse things wrong with the infrastructure of the party than even I am suggesting.

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      1. I know we get a lot of traffic, more than I ever imagined but to think one or two blog posts of ours can hurt the party in the ways sometimes claimed is laughable.

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  8. The Observer · · Reply

    The Party need someone like Howard Dean who takes no prisoners and does not put up with any bull from the likes of Debbie W

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  9. Few over the Many · · Reply

    Well done Katy and well done Kartik! Just saw your facebook post and article on World Soccer Talk. Sticking up for working people

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  10. True Blue · · Reply

    Katy – I don’t agree with the premise about progressives/messaging and have to agree with Brook and Kartik there. Tant and Arcenauex (sp?) have consistently since November claimed that the party needs to be more moderate because their entire world is rural areas and thenTallahassee where everyone votes Dem regardless.

    But the rest of this article is solid gold. The social media conduct in particular of party staff is embarrassing. If FDP staffers don’t think many around the state who are stakeholders in this party think they are immature, trollish children, they are kidding themselves.

    This article without that messaging part needs to be framed. Delete that paragraph and this will fly off the shelves!

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    1. The party staff’s internet trolling is about the most embarrassing thing going.

      Like

  11. The Hornets Nest · · Reply

    You stirred it up Katy didn’t you?

    Like

  12. Kartik and Katy once again show they run the states best blog! Great work!!!!!

    Like

  13. Mark Lynn · · Reply

    DWS would be a disaster in a statewide race (see Kendrick Meek). We have an excellent bench without her or Grayson. Patrick Murphy seems to be gearing up, but I do worry about his House seat. No Dem bench in that district. Only hope the next rich businessman we’ll have to pick is another Murphy not another Tim Mahoney! Gwen Graham will be a statewide contender after she gets another House win under her belt. I’m thinking if Nelson retires in 18. Kathy Castor looks like a good bet – 10 years in Congress -plus built in statewide name recognition thanks to Mom, plus her gender with Hillary leading the ticket. Most importantly is the fact that her House seat is safely Dem and would send someone like ex-Mayor Pam Iorio to Washington. Just my thoughts on this race.

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    1. Kathy Castor the best bet of them all IMO. But what incentive does she have to run? Running statewide as a Democrat in the post- Chiles years has proven to be the end for so many politically, including her mother.

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  14. The bottom line is the party is ineffective. Tant has spent more time focusing on internal enemies than external problems. The staff is young and largely green. Any Senate candidate will be on their own.

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  15. Alan Grayson for U.S. Senator.

    Like

  16. Jacob Eaton · · Reply

    I live in Leon county I’ve seen Tant’s failures firsthand two years ago when Tant took over the Leon county party we had approximately 240 members are steering committee had three elected African-Americans in a county that’s 40% African-American. Now the Leon County Democratic Party has 1 african-American elected and approximately 80 members. Her leadership has been a disaster Leon County voter turnout continues to decline for Democrats the party is a joke.

    Like

    1. Interesting. I happen to have thought Allison did better with that DEC than Jon Ausman has. I found her and the DEC helpful during Sheldon’s Campaign. But that’s my own personal experience. I don’t know the DEC well there enough to really make a judgement.

      I think as FDP Chair sure we could do better but the “best and brightest” in the state aren’t exactly lining up for the job. She’s the best chair we’ve had in over a decade. That’s not saying I think she’s the best possible chair, but she certainly is better than the three chairs that came directly before her at the FDP level. Because the Democrats are in such a hole statewide and have lost 17 of the last 18 elections for Governor or Cabinet I don’t think ANYONE really wants the job honestly. So blaming Tant for the problems is counter-productive especially when given what came before. But critiquing her and her staff is fair game.

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      1. Jacob Eaton · ·

        I will say this for the local party Tant has been a good fundraiser. How they spent the money well that’s another thing. What I can say about Jon and Larry Simmons they would canvas Tant’s 80 person party they wouldn’t even walk for there own event. The party is older and less divers than what it was under Larry Simmons or Jon Ausman.

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      2. Concerned Democrat · ·

        Kartik, You see this is exactly what I’m talking about your sucking up to this disaster of a party leader in Alison Tant, with the incredibly stupid comment, “She’s the BEST chair we’ve had in over a decade”(???)

        OH MY GOD!!! REALLY?????

        What are you smoking???

        This is where you loose all credibility with everyone with half a brain that bother to read this blather!!

        Alison Tant is by far beyond a shadow of a doubt the absolute WORST FDP Chair we have had in many decades!!! Period!!!

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      3. A couple points here. Maddox got the party in IRS trouble. Thurman and Smith brought back some of the worst party vendors and consultants. They also hired some terrible staff and didn’t deal with getting rid of other poor staff. Tant has dismissed some staffers who needed to go years ago AND has dealt with some of the bad party vendors and consultants – people you and I both know needed to go.

        So I think calling her the worst in years is dead wrong. Those who enabled the culture of losing by employing consultants that have not won a serious race since the 1990’s yet have gotten rich off the party were the problem. Employing staff that hadn’t performed in years and created independent fiefdoms was also a problem.

        Could we do better? Sure. Is she worse than her predecessors? No way in my book!

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      4. Jacob Eaton · ·

        Poor venders Hmm yea the VAN works great. Or what about that new system that Allison twisted the arms of my local’s party to buy that was 30k wasted.

        Like

  17. Joe Kreps · · Reply

    Very interesting, but stupid. 5 people gave a thumbs down to Alan Grayson for Senator. Alan Grayson has the money, the balls, and the brains to beat Rubio. I think the Republican trolls are afraid to see them go toe to toe.

    Like

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