The FDP Chairs Race has gotten off to a rip-roaring start with progressives and more moderate Democrats aggressively picking sides and trading barbs. This comes just a week after a devastating electoral defeat here in Florida. The realization that years of neglect have left us with an infrastructure incapable of withstanding GOP wave elections become more apparent on November 8 – and the solution to this will take years of hard work on the grassroots level and the implementation of a disciplined organization both from an activist and messaging perspective.
2016 was billed as a Democratic wave year – the combination of new, fairer Congressional & State Senate maps and Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump would push the party to victory. But instead what ensued was yet another cycle of missed opportunities and outright losses for Florida Democrats – a cycle where the state was not immune from national trends and one where the divisions within our state party were once again liabilities.
The primary season was brutal, but no more divisive than it was for the Republicans. The Presidential primary divided progressives and moderate Democrats, minority voters and white liberals, creating a poisoned atmosphere entering the fall. The US Senate Primary continued this trend with Congressman Alan Grayson, who ultimately lost by 40 plus points to Congressman Patrick Murphy taking his bitterness into November – Grayson sent a strongly worded email which was laden with inaccuracies and innuendo to his electronic list attacking Murphy, the father of the Democratic nominee and the Democratic Party. The full impact of this email will never be known, but it did bother many progressives who had come around to the importance of beating Marco Rubio. The real star of the US Senate primary may have been third placed finisher Pam Keith who on a limited budget almost finished even with Grayson in the final polling. Keith is a viable long-term bet for the Democrats in some future race, a rare potential star in a fading party.
Some Grayson allies have continued to meddle in Florida Democratic Party politics while many other progressives look for a new champion that they can rally behind. As for Murphy, his next move is unclear though with statewide experience and having run decently well given the circumstances ( the DSCC abandonment, a weak nominee at the top of the ticket and the shots from Grayson and his allies) he might have preserved himself for another run – just. Such is the weakness of the Democratic bench that Murphy remains at least from where this writer sits, a viable long-term prospect for the party. In most places, Murphy would have had the label of loser attached to him, but this is Florida where Democrats seem to play for participation trophies more than to win. Since Murphy did more than simply participate, but he competed hard he will continue have his name circulated among the top-tier potential candidates for the party.
Congressional and State Senate primaries were also divisive. The party invested resources in five State Senate primaries, resources that could have been better spent in the November elections. In some cases the party-backed candidates such as Mike Clelland and Ed Narain (per our sources these were both party-backed candidates) fell flat while in other primaries they were successful. But nonetheless resources were squandered in a way Democrats cannot afford. Blowing cash is different for Republicans because they always have a money advantage in this state particularly when it comes to legislative races.
That having been said, it is worth noting that nationally the Democratic Presidential candidate heavily outspent the GOP nominee and yet lost the election. This is proof positive that money without proper messaging cannot win elections. Democrats in Florida also must learn this lesson after they spent 2016 attacking Donald Trump and Marco Rubio (this website was guilty on the Rubio front as well – I plead guilty to spending the last month of the election obsessing more over Rubio’s flaws than in improving Murphy’s messaging) without offering a positive platform or message for the state’s voters.
Whomever assumes control of the Florida Democratic Party is going to inherit a wounded animal – one whose infrastructure and effectiveness has long since waned. Florida Democrats have lost 17 of the last 20 statewide races and 17 of the last 18 statewide cabinet races – a record which is comparable to that of deep red states in the interior of the country. The new chair will also inherit a party with a progressive wing that does not trust the establishment, and an insider clique largely based in Tallahassee who routinely does lobbying business with Republicans despite representing themselves at election time as dyed-in-the-wool Democrats.
The base of the Democratic Party has been reduced to urban counties in southeast Florida and around Orlando in addition to college campuses around the state and heavily African-American influenced rural Gadsden County. In terms of geography it would be almost impossible to cover less ground in this state than the Democrats currently. The rebuilding must start soon and should commence around the Tampa Bay area and Volusia County – the ends of the I-4 corridor which gave the Democrats a rude awakening last week while the party was racking up record margins of victory in the middle of corridor in Orange and Osceola Counties. The I-4 corridor is more than just Orlando, and Democrats need to rekindle enthusiasm in Polk, Pinellas, Volusia and Hillsborough counties as a first order of business.
The party is cracked, even fractured. But with new leadership, a fresh vision and a willingness to engage all stake-holders the rebuild can commence. For the sake of democracy, Florida needs a vibrant two-party system, and the Democrats have failed to give Floridians that option for years on now. It’s time to start rebuilding, and that begins in areas with large populations where the Democrats were not successful in this most recent election.