The opposition to Donald Trump has reached a fever pitch across the nation, but the Florida Democratic Party is a vehicle due to its almost constant electoral failure (loses in 17 of the last 18 statewide elections for Governor and Cabinet and chronic under performance in legislative races) that many see as flawed and won’t donate to outside of election campaigns. Additionally, the anger on the left that is currently directed a Trump also includes a suspicion of Democratic Party entities after the contentious Sanders-Clinton primaries of 2016 and the role of Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the then Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. The anti-Wasserman Schultz feeling is real among progressive activists and it fuels a suspicion of any party entity. Stephen Bittel is seen by many as a close ally of Wasserman Schultz, whether or not this is fair and truly remains the case or not.
But additional elements are in play. Bittel and those around him may not have fully appreciated the institutional disadvantage Democrats in Florida are at. Touting his ability to raise money and his access to donors, Bittel swept into the Chair position in a January election not needing a second ballot in a five way race – Bittel’s impressive vote getting ability within the Democratic Party hasn’t translated to fundraising though. It may not be his fault since the Democrats have been on such a bad run in the state, a run that began long before the new Chairman appeared on the scene. But the fact remains many supported him thinking he could turn the tables in terms of raising money,
Time and again when those who are accustomed to raising money for Federal campaigns or donating on the national level are then forced to play on a strictly state level in Florida, they become exposed. This appears at least in the early going to have happened to Bittel, as the infrastructure of the Florida Democratic Party has been so decimated by poor electoral cycle after poor electoral cycle that tempting donors to give money is a bridge too far outside an election year.
Whether Bittel will be able to take the failure of quarter one and learn from it is an open question. Democrats have been consistently becoming less and less relevant at the state level here in Florida, and since 2018 is a state cycle and many outside groups and entities are working hard to promote progressive causes, ideas and candidates for office, the party itself might simply be on the sidelines for much of it – a facilitator with diminishing power and resources.
For Bittel, the first quarter fundraising haul might prove a harsh but valuable lesson. State fundraising isn’t easy and it isn’t the same as it is for Federal races.