House Races and the Democratic Campaign Bench

oldandnewIt is no secret that the Florida Democrats desperately need to pick-up some seats in the house this next election cycle. While there is little hope in pushing any progressive reforms, there has to be defensive measures in play to curtail Representative Corcoan’s “Burn It Down” philosophy when he takes over in the 2017 session.  Democrats have to make significant gains in 2016 in order to have enough members to effectively play defense. 

There is little doubt that this upcoming election will result in Democratic gains in the House, but the question is will that be enough to counter the abysmal midterm loses that the House Democrats have been dealt over the last two cycles. Considering that six seats were lost last election, a  five or six seat pick-up may seem fantastic, however, it puts the party in a constant back and forth between super-minority status and minority, which does nothing to increase party goals.

But is this even possible? As we have said numerous times on this blog, there are many competitive seats on the House side. The map is set, there is no litigation, no question on districts.  Currently, there are 39 Democrats in the House, yet Charlie Crist won 55 House districts. That means that there are 16 House seats with high enough DPI to be competitive, and 16 seats which Crist carried a year ago where Democrats lost to a Republican for House. With some incumbents thoroughly entrenched and indeed, they would take incredible work to turn, that still leaves enough seats in play to at least give Democrats a seat at the table in Tallahassee.  With only 39 representatives there currently , Democrats barely need to show up. 

The question must be asked: even though there are seats on the table, who is going to run in these races for the Democrats? The party will pick 4 or 5 to run (mostly candidates who bring in their own fund-raising networks) and then there are handfuls of other qualified candidates running, yet few with professional help.  In the absence of trained volunteers on the county level, candidates are left to try to manage their own campaigns or rely on dedicated but inexperienced volunteers.  This is not formula to win massive numbers of seats. 

There is just not a pool of upcoming talent in the Democratic party to run these races. While there will be a few pick-ups, both party-run and not, in many ways, the battle for the House is over before it has even begun.  Aside from a few party staff and expensive consultants, there are not enough people willing to work the low-dollar races to make a big impact in the state house. 

Where is the talent going? The partial good news is that many are still working in Florida, but there are already simply too many races next cycle for the limited pool to go around. With competitive Democratic races all over the state for Congress and three Democratic Senate races, skilled campaigners have simply been scooped up.    Randolph, Taddeo, Demmings, Crist, Lynn – all these races are overall good for Democratic morale, but they have also wiped out the bench of campaign staff around the state.  The pool of Democratic campaigners is painfully short and there just are not enough to spread around. 

We have talked a lot about candidate recruitment on this blog, but perhaps not enough about the connection between potential candidates and campaigners. How many qualified candidates, with fundraising capabilities to be competitive, are turned away simply because they couldn’t find qualified people to run their races?  There simply just isn’t enough people with campaign knowledge to take part time house race work and few local volunteers with the skills.  This is a handicap that the FDP must address if the power dynamic is going to change.

The FDP’s LEAD report was clear about the need for more candidate recruitment, yet failed to address the connection between campaign staff and candidates. The problem is NOT that there is a lack of qualified candidates – the problem is that qualified candidates do not have the information to determine if they can or should run. They lack knowledge about the process. Unless a candidate is connected to party insiders, they have trouble finding competent, reasonably-priced managers, much less how to know if consultants are worth the money and in what areas.  This knowledge gap between people willing to run and campaign basics also need to be addressed.

And that is why running for office is often seen as an inside affair run by party elite.  Many times in both local and state races, there is an anointed candidate that gets additional support from the party, when in reality, the candidate may simply have information that sets up his campaign more effectively and connections to campaign professions (sometimes insider-driven and sometimes not).  While the goals of this ‘inside’ process is sometimes well-intentioned by veterans of the process, it also decreases morale.  This both creates tension among different constituency groups and also yields mixed results. Overall, this does not create more winning campaigns and does not increase the bench. The results are a clear reflection of the muddled process by both the state party and local efforts.

Overall, the process needs to be more transparent, with more readily-available information and support.  Increased information will actually keep unqualified or unequipped candidates out of the race while encouraging them to future runs.   This could all be possible if there was a pool of ready campaign staff equipped to win house races. 

7 comments

  1. Good post, Katy.

  2. Naoya6161 · · Reply

    Hmm…I think that a big problem that will be faced by most Democrats aspiring for House seats, regardless of resources, will be winning in so many conservative districts (all thanks to gerrymandering).

    1. I am not sure that is a fair statement. Obama won 54 House districts and Crist 55. Yet the Democrats only hold 39 seats. When you consider where the Democratic vote in the state is concentrated and the need to draw compact districts, logically the Dems should have about 55-57 D leaning districts and the R’s somewhere like 60-63. Calling the current House map a “gerrymander” is simply an excuse for Democrats who don’t want to concede that for whatever reason districts voting for Democrats towards the top of the ticket are not down ballot.

  3. Steve Ellman · · Reply

    Tell us more about Corcoran, please. My impression is that he has a thuggish mentality similar to that of Tom Feeney.

    1. Correct and also similar to Rep. Paul Hawkes, Feeney’s former House Chief of Staff. Corcoran served in a similar role for Marco Rubio though he has oddly opted to endorse Jeb Bush.

      1. Steve Ellman · ·

        Thank you, both.

    2. He was the one that wanted to declare war on the Senate over Medicaid expansion. I think that speech says a lot about the way he is going to approach leadership.

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