Democrats cheering on Ron DeSantis should be careful what they wish for

In the past few weeks, I have heard from more than a handful of Democrats who haven’t learned a powerful past lesson of Republican primaries in Florida – cheering on the most extreme right-wing candidate for an office and hoping to face them in November has often meant that candidate wins the office outright.

But be careful what you wish for, Democrats. Adam Putnam, the longtime presumed front-runner for has run a poor campaign and been dogged by public relations messes he hasn’t properly handled. In most polling, Putnam has fallen behind Congressman Ron DeSantis, one of the most conservative members of the US House. DeSantis might appear crazy to some, but his brand of conservatism is grounded largely in intellectual arguments and his conservative policy positions come across as more nuanced, consistent and seasoned than President Trump or his US House colleague the dogmatic and immature Matt Gaetz for instance.

Some in the Democratic Party make the assumption or the case for political reasons that nominating a moderate with a moderate reputation such as Gwen Graham, against DeSantis would allow the Democrats to occupy the middle ground and win the Governorship for the first time in close to a quarter century. This was similar logic employed in the nomination of Bill McBride in 2002 (McBride lost by the largest percentage margin of any Democratic nominee since reconstruction) and the Democrats in 2010 when Alex Sink was pushed and other potential candidates were shoved out of the way. In 2010, Democrats thought they had caught a big break with Rick Scott upsetting Bill McCollum in the primary – in fact they hadn’t as Sink’s milk toast moderation led to a lower than expected turnout in urban south Florida and the emergence of the conservative (carpetbagger) Scott as Florida’s leading political figure. Democrats felt in 2014, Scott’s conservatism defined the party and he’d be easy pickings. Again they were wrong.

A few faulty assumptions have been made in relation to this governor’s race among at least some Democrats, mirroring mistakes of the past:

  1. That Putnam would be more “moderate” than DeSantis. Putnam’s instincts are conservative and have always been in his 22 years serving in public office (his entire adult life). Putnam also has a nasty streak and an adherence to party talking points, DeSantis hasn’t yet demonstrated in his albeit much shorter time in public life. This is the same assumption that was made vis-a-vis a McCollum against Scott. McCollum was the NRA’s water carrier (much like Putnam) when in Congress and a viscous, nasty conservative when it came down to it. He showed that during the debate on the 1994 Crime Bill and the 1998 impeachment of President Clinton. Putnam performed similarly as a legislator only appearing “moderate” in relation to his replacement in the GOP House leadership, Mike Pence.  This state has shown that time and again Democrats preferred to run against Scott who wasn’t temperamentally as prone to meltdowns as McCollum and they lost. Putnam is far more prone to a short fuse from my observations of him than DeSantis.
  2. DeSantis’ conservatism will favor Graham or the Democratic nominee. The problem with this is that DeSantis has a very clear and articulate vision of policy – unlike Putnam whose adherence to party talking points is easier to debunk. Pushing a mushy moderate agenda or playing it safe isn’t going to work against DeSantis. When given the choice Florida voters have proven time and again they will vote FOR something rather than against AGAINST someone or something.
  3. The attachment of DeSantis’ to Trump may stimulate greater turnout that projected for the GOP in a midterm election. Midterms are turnout wars and something Florida Democrats with the continued preference for moderate candidates from outside southeast Florida still haven’t comprehended. Democrats MUST match the energy and enthusiasm DeSantis could generate from Trump voters – remember Trump actually won Florida by over 100k votes in 2016.

It’s still only July, but the warning signs for another Democratic disappointment are already popping up. When a party has lost 17 of the last 18 elections for Governor or cabinet, something statistically almost improbable given the balanced nature of the state’s electorate, arrogance and entitlement isn’t a wise thing.

10 comments

  1. Ruth Ann Eaddy · · Reply

    Phillip Levine is getting his progressive message out via TV and mailings that explain his platform. He has a message with the ability to implement his agenda as well as the resources to get past the primary and bring his message to everyone in November. Evidently the elites of the Democratic Party aren’t impressed, but look at the elites past record. The last win was when? Phillip Levine is following Rick Scott’s methods for election. It takes lots of money without any reliance on the state party. Remember even with all Rick’s Scott’s baggage he has won 2 elections and now is neck in neck with Senator Nelson for US Senate.. This election is much too important to be moderate. We must be brave when we vote in the Primary.

  2. And you didn’t even mention Charlie Crist in 2014.

  3. InsiderMyself · · Reply

    I like Jeff Greene for a couple of good reasons. He took care of the media in a big way for all past candidates harmed by the media. He sued the Tampa Bay Times and won. Further, he states he’ll use his own money to help the down ticket dems in the state if he wins. Cue Bill Nelson and his past stingy ways…and the demise of the FLA DEMS under HIS leadership for 15 years!!! Only giving money to the corporate wing wannabes.

  4. I know Gwen Graham and she is no Alex Sink. Gwen will go after her Republican opponent and take no prisoners. She has built a team of grassroots supporters and will raise a lot of money. 2018 is the year women will take the electorate by storm. Any one who underestimates Gwen’s intelligence, passion and resolve does so at their own peril.

  5. Yes, hope FLDEMs treat her better than Nan Rich who C.Crist refused to debate in 2014. This was a mystery in 2014. Ms. Rich could have won…but CC refused to debate her & Dems went along with a new Dem over a lifelong Dem. That lack of loyalty to long-time members by the party is troublesome.

    1. Worse than that, Debbie Wasserman Schultz stabbed Nan in the back, I hope Tim Canova beats her. His victory as an independent, caucusing with Democrats would be the best result for progressives.

  6. David Jones · · Reply

    Stay calm and knock the doors. Stop the hand wringing and start the doorbell ringing. Churn out the turnout, plain and simple.

  7. amanda more · · Reply

    The people who vote are a different group now and before august 28 and mostly women. 30 million buys name recognition and Greene bought his, Gwen Graham already had it. North Florida will never vote for Levine although they won’t realize Greene is also jewish. Graham has raised money the old fashioned way through thousands and thousands of supporters. Once you donate even those that society thrusts upon them to be meek and mild find their voices. I happened to call for our local people who happened to be women. There is this sinking feeling when you have donated for free your sweat and work and they turn out to be just another grabber. Women are worth the fight. And once more. We know it.

  8. Sister_Imp · · Reply

    Good grief. After chortling that Republicans nominated a reality TV con man, only to see him now in the White House, there are Democrats anywhere in the US who’ve learned nothing?

    Always enjoy reading the Squeeze. Wish the Florida (and US) Democrats were guided by your common sense.

  9. […] In Ron DeSantis, the GOP will have a nominee for Governor of similar ideological bent to Rick Scott, but one that’s likely to appear far more impressive to those deciding on whether to turn out in this election. […]

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