Donna Deegan’s win in Jacksonville was Florida Democrats biggest in over a decade. And it was down to hard work, good messaging, a great candidate and a focus on local.
It might be difficult for DC media types, national donors, Washington Post readers and those who watch MSNBC 24/7 to comprehend but local issues often times still do decide local races. And by emphasizing local in Jacksonville, we have a playbook developed on how to beat the GOP in Florida- focus on local issues, economic growth, accountability, transparency, corruption and cronyism. The GOP has governed badly, period – let someone else take the reins should be a messaging point.
Local GOP rule in Duval County (dating to 1990’s with few exceptions) has been awful. Jacksonville has been surpassed as a business destination by any number of other southeastern cities, while infrastructure has crumbled, government has become less accountable and in general the city has became less desirable.
Mayor-Elect Deegan and other Democrats who won locally in March and May, made this clear. A positive vision for Jacksonville and discussing why local GOPers have failed citizens swung enough votes to win elections. Talking about Governor Ron DeSantis or President Trump is noise – it might appeal to donors but doesn’t appeal to the voters you need to mobilize and activate on the margins to win.
Jacksonville is proof that despite population growth, Florida can fall well behind its neighbors. And this has happened on the watch of the GOP, debunking the DeSantistan narrative about how population growth fuels economic success and quality of living. In Jacksonville’s case, it plainly has not.
Florida elections (outside of 2022) tend to be decided on the margins. And those on the margins who are motivated to vote are less likely to be ideological. They are far more likely to be interested in good government, and issues that matter to them. I wouldn’t call them “centrists,” because that’s not what they are. These voters are people motivated by issues that impact them directly, at the level of government that is closest to them. Throughout the state, Florida’s GOP has failed at this. Something we’ve learned in Florida is that GOPers cannot govern without some serious conflicts-of-interest or by doing things in the light of day. Everything is sneaky, conflicted and ultimately bad for the majority of taxpayers.
For years, Florida Democrats understood local issues drove electoral success. How exactly did Democrats continue to control the legislature and most local governments in the state while being wiped out at the federal level in this state during the 1980’s?
The nationalization of politics thanks to social media, cable news and blogs has been especially bad for Florida Democrats the last decade or so. The worm might be turning though, as the Florida GOP is beset by internal rivalries due to national political considerations and the petty personality of Governor DeSantis. While DeSantis himself remains popular (heck, Davis may have gotten 48% because DeSantis remains a popular figure, he may have done even worse without his endorsement) the petty squabbles he’s created within the GOP have turned party activists and consultants against one another, undermining the GOP’s ability to provide a united front in low turnout, close elections.
But otherwise, this loss isn’t on DeSantis. It’s on Mayor Lenny Curry and the arrogant, insulated, poor governance of the local GOP. And the win for Democrats was about getting back to basics- Democrats are better for the average working person, more interested in government accountability that is responsive to citizens and for economic growth that benefits a wide swath of the population, not just elites than GOPers are. Period, end of story. Stick with that sort of messaging and the state will turn purple again.
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