The Florida Legislative Races in 2016: Political Climate

oldandnewSince 1998, Republicans in Florida have held a majority in both chambers of state government as well as the Governorship, leading to one party rule. In that time, Democrats have switched back and forth between minority and super-minority status in the state house, switching back and forth between non-Presidential and Presidential years, even though Florida remains a swing state with Obama carrying the state in 2008 and 2012. However, even with blue counties and high numbers of Democrats, the state house has remained decidedly red. Both 2010 and 2014 brought about super-minority status, with the numbers of legislators dropped below 40.

In 2014, six seats were lost – three in the Orlando area and three in the Tampa area. Considering that all of those districts are in essential areas for any state-wide Democratic candidate to win (Presidential or Senate), these seats should be considered highly competitive even though there are incumbents. Additionally, there are numerous other seats were Sink and Crist won the majority of the vote share (in 2010 and 2014 respectively), so there are numerous opportunities for Democratic gains.

Current Standing: 39 House Seats

Districts Won by Crist (2014) and Sink (2010): 55 House Districts

House Districts Lost in 2014: 6

House Districts Gained in 2012: 8

House Districts Lost in 2010: 5

Political Climate

While Republican still remain in control, the political climate has definitely shifted this last session. Florida Republicans have defined themselves by court cases, corruption allegations, and special interests. The redistricting debacle, the refusal to expand Medicaid, their attempt to ban transgender individuals from public bathrooms, and the controversy over implementing Amendment 1 has led to a constant parade of negative headlines that create a tough environment for Republicans. However, to date Democrats have been unable to capitalize on this negative publicity, especially during legislative session while their members are struggling to gain relevance. In order to change the power dynamic, drastic action needs to be taken to directly challenge Tallahassee lawmakers for the goal of more moderate policy making.

Thus, a case needs to be made that Tallahassee needs a drastic change. Instead of focusing on individual legislators, the Florida Democratic Party would do well to focus their campaign against the entire legislature, which would also help many Senate races (because more than likely all 40 Senate seats will be up for election due to the redistricting lawsuit). Instead of running individual campaigns, the FDP would do well to run a paid media campaign to attempt to lump the legislators into one huge dysfunctional mass. Not only does this make it harder to individual candidates to spread a message, it also helps top ticket candidates, as the party is directly attacking the party brand.

With 2016 being a Presidential year with a supposedly open Senate seat (Senator Rubio still has time to jump in after the presidential primary, so that may change), the climate is favorable for the Democrats. In Presidential years, the state leans blue, as Obama managed to carry the state both times and combined with subtle shifts in demographics, Democrats have reliably been able to add to their house numbers each Presidential election. Thus, it historically holds that moderate gains are possible in a Presidential year.

There are, in fact, winnable house seats for the Democrats in high numbers. The House map is not in court and there is no question where the districts will be, unlike all other districts in the land. Looking at the numbers, there are 16 seats that both Sink and Crist won where there are Republican representatives, showing that the districts do in fact have high enough DPI (Democratic Performance Index) rankings to show that a Democrat can be competitive.

 

House District/Rep % Scott Carried % Crist Carried
49 Placensia 40.11 52.57
69 Peters 41.34 52.30
67 Latvala 41.21 50.26
120 Raschein 44.78 51.66
83 Harrell 44.24 51.34
63 Harrison 45.26 49.77
93 Moraitis 47.11 50.17
47 Miller 45.52 48.34
115 Bileca 47.73 49.89
72 Pilon 46.72 49.54
66 Ahern 45.71 47.32
114 Fresen* 48.72 48.86
85 Rooney 47.82 49.42
103 Diaz, Jr 48.59 48.73
89 Hagar 48.42 46.84
30 Cortes 46.53 48.46
65 Sprowls 46.72 46.23
118 Spano 49.24 48.11

* Term Limited

 

Critical Assumptions

The first big-assumption to be made here is that the Democrats will have to find quality candidates to run. While this is a huge assumption, the Democratic party needs to implement and create a viable candidate recruitment program, along with new metrics for party support (see attached memo). While candidate recruitment has been a consistent issue for Democrats, this has to improve, especially in the targeted regions. Several candidates have already stepped forward, but it would need to be a whole slate of them in order to drive turnout and drive a proper contrast.

The second assumption is that overlapping campaigns (Senate, President) is going to increase Democratic turnout, especially in critical areas where there are winnable house seats, such as the Tampa-Orlando I-4 corridor. While there are undoubtedly winnable seats all over the state, house races will have additional GOTV support through these efforts. Particularly, top ticket races need to increase turnout among Blacks and Hispanics for the Democratic party, especially along the I4 corridor where the majority of contested seats are.

Third, and perhaps the most important, is that leadership battles and the internal divides in the Florida GOP will lead to missteps. Due to the leadership battles for speaker for the 2020-2022 session and the battles between the house and the senate, there are internal weaknesses in the Republican field and a lot more primary battles than normal. While there has been an attempt to put a united face forward, the looming governor’s race is surely to strain relations even more. Personal feuds, rivalries, and vote There will have to be some collateral in the leadership battles.

Lastly, there has to be an assumption that while Republican will be disorganized, Democratic candidates will be drastically outspent and the Florida Democratic Party lacks the resources to run 16 campaigns. The party is loaded down with Congressional candidates, however, there is also many other financiers available to assist them. Therefore, it has to be a strong component of this strategy to shift focus from the national races to the state races and spend money on Tallahassee races. This is needed to build a stronger bench, change the dynamic in Tallahassee, and built a party base around the state than can reliably keep Florida as an increasingly-bluer state. While individual legislative campaigns will raise money and plan accordingly, the party involvement will mostly be limited to direct attacks on the Florida Republican House leadership, which is much more cost-effective, potentially having a greater impact that running the normal 4-5 individual races.

 

3 comments

  1. What’s most important is that Democrats stayed home! And many who did vote, only voted for the top of the ticket and didn’t vote the down-ballot candidates because they didn’t know enough about them. I recommend a trusted information source which is beginning to spread to many Florida counties: The Enlightened Voter monthly (VoterEducation.net) which has proven to drive voter turnout and down-ballot voting.

  2. Katy you pretty much nailed it. Thank you for doing the work that the FDP should be doing. The only thing you need to add is the importance of flipping U.S. House seats. We have 3 great candidates in South Florida who the FDP should bundle together in Dr. Alina Valdes, April Freeman, and Annette Taddeo. These are 3 strong Democratic Women who are running against 3 very conservative Republican men. These are three winnable seats that the FDP can economically run ads and provide palm cards to in order to raise their visibility. 2016 should be touted as the year that women increase their numbers and this is the perfect narrative. QUESTION, is the FDP listening???????????????????????????????????????

  3. […] willing to speculate how the state Senate lines will pan out for them, a  recent analysis by the Florida Squeeze blog speculates that there could be as many 16 House districts controlled by Republicans that were won […]

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