Florida Democrats and the State Senate in 2016 – a massive missed opportunity

2016 was billed as a Democratic wave year here in Florida – 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 Presidential, US Senate, 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 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. The feeling was that the State Senate was an attainable target for Democrats and coming back to Tallahassee with 19 or 20 seats or even an outright majority of 21 was within the realm of possibilities considering the new map.

As late as early-October, Republicans were fearful that the State Senate could be in play. But when the dust settled November 8th, the Democrats returned to Tallahassee with just 15 seats. Considering Hillary Clinton and Patrick Murphy’s losses it was simply assumed that the top-of-the-ticket had let down Democrats running for the legislature had been crushed in a wave. But Dave Trotter over at The Political Hurricane has been breaking down numbers and it appears Clinton was merely a few hundred votes away from a 20-20 split in terms of carrying Senate Districts and she carried 51 State House seats (which is less than President Obama or Governor Crist in the last two elections but still ten more than the Democrats returned to Tallahassee with). It’s worth noting that according to Mr. Trotter’s analysis, FDP Chair Candidate Dwight Bullard was in a seat carried by Secretary Clinton with 56.40% of the vote, yet Bullard netted just over 40% of the vote himself in a loss to Republican Frank Artiles.

Florida’s Democrats may never get the type of opportunity to achieve parity in a legislative body again in the near future that presented itself in 2016. Considering this reality, it is important for those running for Florida Democratic Party Chair to make it abundantly clear how they would structure legislative campaigns, improve targeting and candidate recruitment as well as mine for newer more “Democratic” funding sources, diversifying beyond the lobbyists and corporate interests that play at the legislative level in both parties but favor Republicans. This is supposed to be a results based business but has been anything but over the course of the last decade with the Democrats in Florida – decisions on targeting races, hiring staff, contracting vendors, etc have been based less on merit and results and more on personalities and often on factionalism within the party. I’ve written it before but it bears repeating that  The FDP has long shared the internal behavior of collapsing businesses, declining empires or nation-states as well as losing sports teams in that decisions are often made based more personality, sentiment and factionalism than on competence, accomplishment and merit. 


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 party is cracked, even fractured. But with new leadership, a fresh vision and a willingness to engage all stakeholders the rebuild can commence. For the sake of democracy, Florida needs a vibrant two-party system at the legislative and state government levels, and the Democrats have failed to give Floridians that option for years on now. It’s time to start rebuilding, and that begins with restructuring and rethinking how legislative races are targeted and won.


  1. You make an important point about the primaries. The whole idea behind the primaries is to determine who is the most electable candidate in a general election. A primary provides empirical evidence of electability. When a political party takes sides, they are trying to control the narrative, not the wishes of the electorate. Therefore, when the party is involved, they don’t believe the empirical evidence.


    1. Debates and Forums and Debates and Forums and Debates and Forums……..


      1. Honestly, the average Florida voters has no clue about debates and forums.


      2. And whose fault is that? What the party is too stupid to realize is that the more exposure to our candidates and values the better turnout we would get. Also we have to stop preaching to the choir and develop some Independent converts. Bernie owned the Independents. The party better give the youth what they want or pack up the tent.


      3. But voters don’t care about issues. Therefore forums won’t help. This has been empirically tested.


      4. If we build it they will come. It helps to have charismatic candidates. Trump and Bernie filled stadiums. People were dying to see a debate between Grayson and Murphy, Rich and Crist, Canova and Schultz. I went to an open forum that Rep. Ted Deutch had. The auditorium was packed. People were so excited to have him answer questions. The forums that the FDP Chair candidates are packing them in. The Presidential were watched by millions. Take your empirical tests and shove them.


  2. I basically agree with this article but if Trump turns out to be the disaster most of us here think he’ll be then is not 2018 another big opportunity for Florida Democrats? And 2020? Obviously what happens in the next few months will determine what comes of those future opportunities. I think party building is a serious business and if we settle on a state chair that doesn’t believe in that then those next opportunities will slip through our fingers again. For myself I’m hoping for a bold choice for FDP chair, but I’m prepared for a letdown. That seems the one thing Democrats are good at.


    1. We need to unite and support whoever the committee people choose. The turnaround starts today.


  3. Democrats need a leader. 2018’s Governor’s race is our opportunity to turn this ship around. We need a person who is not afraid to speak truth to power, can’t be bought, and can rally the base and appeal to independents. That person needs to unite progressives and moderates by articulating Democratic values and be someone that all Floridians can be proud of. That person is Congresswoman Gwen Graham.


  4. I agree that the party needs a strong leader who is not afraid to make the sweeping changes necessary to bring a feeling of trust back to party membership. In my opinion, that person is Alan Clendenin. As 1st vice chair, he has the knowledge about current party weaknesses and has presented a plan to make the changes needed to bring transparency to the party and i volvement of all party members in the planning and implementation of winning strategies. He is a grassroots based person and will not be a corpoate lacky. He came close to winning four years ago and only lost because of interference by DWS! Let us not make the same mistake again by caving to arm twisting be Sen. Nelson and DWS this time!


  5. Mark Lynn · · Reply

    Candidate recruitment was the problem for Senate Democrats. Who is to blame (Oscar Braynon?) I’m not sure. But we didn’t even compete in the St. Pete District & and only nominally played in the Tampa seat. For instance, why didn’t they attempt to get Pam Iorio? She would have beat Dana Young. Dwight Dudley should have fought for the senate, not some low level judgeship. We had a decent candidate in Sarasota, but may have found better. Miami proved very disappointing. Dwight Bullard was a disaster (I saw that coming) & we got screwed over by one of our own (Andrew Korge). Could Ana Rivas Logan won?? Maybe ……. Our last minute candidate against Flores did ok under the circumstances, but others may have been more competitive. The only race we lost where we had the stronger candidate was with Rod Smith, but the Trump voters in the small counties out-voted Gainesville. Candidate recruitment should be Number One priority!!


  6. Ruth Ann Eaddy · · Reply

    Polk County had a wonderful candidate, Debra Wright, who ran against the worst women Senator in the state, Kelli Stargel, and got no help from the party because it was not an open seat or she was not an incumbent. Kellie Stargel has been the Republican puppet to introduce bills against women in every session and we don’t even try to get her out. This race was an issues race but the party only helped incumbents. How do we expect to get the majority unless we knock out some the Republican incumbents?


  7. […] “Florida Democrats and the State Senate in 2016 – a massive missed opportunity” via Kartik Krishnaiyer of the Florida […]


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