The Phlip Side: Who is up for a challenge?

Newly elected Florida Democratic Party (FDP) Chair Stephen Bittel, who won the position decisively by gaining a majority of the vote on the first ballot despite having four opponents, has hit the ground running by announcing a $100,000.00 grassroots challenge grant for small and medium sized Florida counties within days of his election.  Bittel won his election to become FDP Chair because he ran the best grassroots campaign, and the fact that this challenge is among his first acts as Chair proves his commitment to grassroots organizing and shows that he is a man of action.  The attacks against Bittel and this challenge are laughable, and just proves that Bittel and his team are on the right track.  There is no one action that will give Democrats some semblance of power in Florida, but every long journey begins with a single step and Bittel seems to be leading Florida Democrats in the right direction.

According to the press release from the FDP, ”Competing organizations should provide a proposal that includes how they will increase voter registration volunteer recruitment, organizational expansion, and community engagement. All proposals should include metrics milestones and program timelines.”  This challenge is likely to be an incubator of ideas, with the best ideas being shared across all small and medium sized counties to the benefit of all Democrats.  Despite being from a large county, excluded from this competition, I agree with Chairman Bittel’s decision to exclude Florida’s large urban counties.  Organizing to achieve Democratic gains looks very different in a county like Broward than it does in a rural panhandle county.  It is also very encouraging that Chair Bittel is requiring milestones and timelines, which is thankfully going to be the new normal at the FDP according to Bittel, so that the primacy is on actions and achievements instead of plans and promises.

The focus on small and medium sized counties should be prioritized by the FDP not because large counties don’t matter, which they do, but because small and especially medium sized counties are where Democrats have fallen short in recent elections.  Out of the seven counties that make up half of Florida’s population, Sec. Clinton did phenomenally well in all but one county (Pinellas).  The 678,000 vote margin for Sec. Clinton out of Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties was as high as anyone could reasonably expect, and she still lost the state.  Trump increased the Romney 2012 margin by at least 10,000 votes in 14 counties, and 11 of those 14 counties were counties that Pres. Obama lost in BOTH 2008 and 2012.  There are many counties that Democrats have very little hope of winning, but we should work those counties too because margin matters.  Decreasing the margin of loss in a red county is just as effective as increasing the margin of victory in a blue county.

This challenge was blasted in the GOP controlled Sunshine State News by Leslie Wimes, which in my mind if further proof that Bittel is on the right track.  Wimes claims this challenge is just a ploy to try and help Sen. Nelson.  Even if that was true, which I don’t think it is, that would be considered a good thing by anyone who actually cares about seeing the FDP contribute to winning elections for Democrats.  If Sen. Nelson’s re-election isn’t the top priority for Florida Democrats, it is a close second to electing a Democratic Governor.  The type of work outlined in the parameters of the challenge grant will help Democrats up and down the ballot, including but not limited to Sen. Nelson.  Proffering two candidates who have never won an election over the only statewide elected Democrat, who has won three statewide elections (though admittedly against less than stellar opponents), as Wimes did is absurd.

I give the credit for this new $100,000 challenge grant to Chair Bittel, the man who chose to actively put himself into the arena to do good, instead of the critic and perpetual provocateur Wimes.  Instead of resting on his laurels, Bittel immediately went to work.  When asked where the $100,000 would come from Bittel said that he would either raise it or fund it from his own pocket.  As the first President Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing…and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”  It is refreshing that Chair Bittel acted decisively as too many times good ideas get bogged down by endless debate in the political arena.  Chair Bittel has a long four years ahead of him as the FDP Chair, but if his first actions are any indication those four years will be filled with much more prosperity and success than Democrats have experienced this century.

(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas, or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)

Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County.  He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state, and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.

10 comments

  1. Brian Bees · · Reply

    I’m curious as to why the party doesn’t spend more time discussing the effectiveness of Phonebanking, Canvassing, and a true persuasion campaign? I fully believe that Voter Registration needs to be a Fundamental part of our strategy, but since I’ve been active in the party in 2014, turn out has been our underlying issue(Just because you register someone, doesn’t guarantee they actually vote). We need strong GOTV universes for our Field Organizers to succeed, and that’s done by phonebanking and knocking on doors.

    The basic organizing model isnt going to drastically change from 2016 to 2018. We need these local parties to have the mechanisms in place, so when the Field hits the ground, the Neighborhood teams are already in place, the team leaders are already Identified, and the neighborhood phonebanks only need their lists.

    1. dianecbrown · · Reply

      Brian, you may not be getting info from your DEC…..FDP training I’ve attended included phone-banking, canvassing, base-building, GOTV. But the training was conducted in conjunction with state-wide conferences that can be costly (travel, lodging). I believe Chair Bittel is considering a regional approach to training so more members can attend.

      As a result of the analyses of the 2014 losses, Palm Beach County DEC developed an in-depth program (Blue Victory/Prencinct Leader) that it shared with many DECs (if not all) across the state. You may want to check with them.

  2. I’m curious as to why the party doesn’t spend more time discussing the effectiveness of Phonebanking, Canvassing, and a true persuasion campaign? I fully believe that Voter Registration needs to be a Fundamental part of our strategy, but since I been active in the party in 2014, turn out has been our underlying issue(Just because you register someone, doesn’t guarantee they actually vote). We need strong GOTV universes for our Field Organizers to succeed, and that’s done by phonebanking and knocking on doors.

    The basic organizing model isnt going to drastically change from 2016 to 2018. We need these local parties to have the mechanisms in place, so when the Field hits the ground, the Neighborhood teams are already in place, the team leaders are already Identified, and the neighborhood phonebanks only need their lists.

  3. Sean, we don’t often agree, but on this we are in agreement. I was not a supporter of Mr. Bittel, but I am happy to admit when he does something positive for the party.

  4. I agree, Sean.

  5. dianecbrown · · Reply

    I am impressed (but not surprised) that Chair Bittel has already implemented a program that he pledged in his “grassroots campaign.” Thank goodness for all of us that FDP voters did not fall for the phony campaign by Bernie Sanders idealists that being “rich” automatically disqualifies one from being a leader in the Dem Party. Along with Bittel’s wealth comes a lot of knowledge, experience, resources, and love of his Party. Now let’s hope the doubters come along and help Bittel build a great, successful Florida Party.

    (and thanks, Sean, for putting Leslie Whines in her place)

  6. Ruth Ann Eaddy · · Reply

    Diane, please don’t refer to Bernie Sanders campaign as phony. The enthusiasm of these folks and dedication was remarkable and we need them to be involved in the party. His campaign proved that small contributions from dedicated voters creates miracles. Even though he did not win, he proved that a clear message moves mountains,

    1. dianecbrown · · Reply

      To begin with, Ruth, I’ll refer to Sanders however the hell I want to refer to him.

      Secondly, you really should read more carefully before you critique anothers comment. I did not refer to Sander’s campaign as phony – although it pretty much was since he really didn’t think he had a chance of winning – I referred to the hate-all-rich-people campaign by Sanders’ supporters as phony.

      You obviously don’t know much about Sanders campaign or his more rabid supporters. They don’t want to be involved – they want to take over and destroy. You should read up on Our Revolution which was formed by and is supporter by Sanders.

      I suggest you do some research. The first one should prove enlightening. If you want to be enlightened.

      http://www.thepeoplesview.net/main/2016/4/11/how-bernie-sanders-is-running-one-of-the-most-deceitful-campaigns-in-modern-political-history#.V03sDGMmbwx.facebook

      http://bluewave2016.com/why-democrats-should-hate-bernie-sanders/

      http://www.rgj.com/story/news/politics/2016/05/17/ralston-reports-dems-need-unity-but-theyre-getting-mutiny-nevada-democratic-convention-hillary-clinton-bernie-sanders/84521894/

      http://www.politicususa.com/2016/04/03/fact-checkers-sanders-claims-clinton-fossil-fuel-donations-misleading.html
      http://bluenationreview.com/bernie-accuses-hillary-of-laundering-and-looting/
      http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/04/10/vatican-pope-didn-t-invite-bernie-sanders.html
      http://www.thepeoplesview.net/main/2015/7/17/gun-loving-progressive-hero-bernie-sanders-voted-to-protect-racist-vigilante-border-militia#.VesveFCoxyt.facebook
      http://www.ibtimes.com/does-bernie-sanders-hate-hillary-clinton-despite-rigged-campaign-he-may-endorse-2390664
      http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/feb/23/bernie-sanders-democrat/
      http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/3/18/1503248/-The-Lies-of-Bernie-Sanders
      http://www.salon.com/2016/04/04/im_done_with_bernie_sanders_why_this_democratic_socialist_is_voting_for_hillary_clinton/

  7. barbara miller · · Reply

    Good article, Sean.

  8. mike coleman · · Reply

    Chairman Bittel has taken a very positive first step towards moving our Party forward.
    The challenge grants provide incentive to both small and medium sized counties to work with their citizens to increase the Democratic registration and turnout.
    There are great challenges within these counties that must be addressed as a number of small and medium counties saw Democrats voting for Republicans at many different Office levels, especially at the Federal level.
    There was one county with a 47% Democratic registration total of all voters where Donald Trump received 80.8% of the votes cast.
    To explain this type of turnout in a manner we need to understand consider that if every Republican and NPA who voted voted Trump. This would leave minimum of 2,000 Democrats voting for Trump in that county.
    This county was not an outlier and it is reflective of the immense job Democrats must accomplish when considering changing our fortunes in small and medium counties.
    We have tremendous challenges in creating more Democrats and persuading the Democrats in those counties our Party is the Party with answers.
    First among them is to educate Democrats and all others who take the time to listen the facts of their lives is they depend upon programs and policies created by Democrats and the people living in those counties and everywhere else in the US base their lives upon.
    FDR’s Four Freedoms remain as necessary today as when they were first promulgated.

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