Florida Democrats can’t stop losing.
Florida might still be considered a “purple” state, but Democrats’ inability to pull off more than one statewide win in almost a decade tells a different story.
Not only did Donald Trump win Florida twice, he increased his margin threefold in 2020 — thanks, in part, to his improved performance with Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County. And, who would’ve thought Georgia and Arizona are looking more blue than the Sunshine State these days?
If Democrats don’t win in the 2022, it will become harder to continue to call Florida a swing state. National donors will flee the party if they believe they can get more bang for their buck somewhere else.
With less than 18 months to next year’s elections, we’re wondering: What’s the Democratic message that will convince enough Florida voters to vote blue?
So far, we have heard crickets.
While Republicans have been forcefully pushing an agenda full of red-meat issues that appeal to their growing base, Florida’s Democrats are playing catch-up, crying foul every time Gov. Ron DeSantis ignores the COVID-19 pandemic or signs an egregious law in a made-for-Fox-News ceremony.
Trust us, we get their frustration. DeSantis and the GOP, emboldened by wide majorities in the Florida Legislature, pushed through a slew of bad legislation this year, from adding barriers to voting by mail to banning cruise lines and other businesses from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
Accused of being ‘socialists’
Unless Democrats get their act together, we will see worse legislation every year.
Democrats have yet to shake off the “socialist” label the GOP throws at whatever candidates have a “D” next to their name. That likely cost Democrats two congressional seats in Miami-Dade last year.
“For a lot of Democrats, they didn’t consider [the socialist label] be to an actual threat,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, told the Editorial Board. “It almost seemed like a joke.”
Yes, it’s a joke to think someone such as Joe Biden, a moderate, is a socialist, but the truth doesn’t matter as long as enough people believe in it.
Where’s the strategy to punch back?
If Democrats had one, the recent protests in Cuba were a great opportunity to test it, but, again, the party fumbled its response and allowed the GOP to own this issue. Instead of calling for the end of a repressive communist regime, some state Democrats, including Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, blamed the U.S. embargo for food and medicine shortages, taking a page straight out of the enduring Castro playbook and making it too easy for the GOP to brand all Democrats communists.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz, a former Miami mayor, has a tough job.
Elected in January to revive a party left in financial disarray after last year’s elections, Diaz has made progress. With more than $1 million of unpaid debt, employees’ health insurance was canceled and the party drew national ridicule after applying for, and later returning, a taxpayer-backed federal pandemic relief loan.
‘Tired of losing’
Diaz has steered the party toward financial health. That debt is being paid off, thanks to a bailout from large donors, and he has assembled a team of experienced field directors focused on different regions of the state. Diaz told the Editorial Board he wants to create the statewide apparatus that the party lacks, register voters and stay engaged with them instead of popping into communities weeks before an election, as Democrats are notorious for doing.
“The bottom line is, I got tired of losing,” Diaz said. “I got tired of seeing what was going on. And I decided that I needed to do something about it.”
Many Democrats have noticed the state party has become more organized. But in Florida’s largest county, they still face a baffling leadership vacuum. On July 19, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party chair announced he will resign at the end of the month from his volunteer post to focus on professional and personal duties.
“The largest local party in the biggest swing state in the nation should not be led over lunch, after work and on weekends,” Chair Steve Simeonidis said in a statement, the Herald reported.
It’s a no-brainer that the party chair in a crucial battleground county should be a paid, full-time job.
The Democrats’ problem is a problem for Floridians.
America is at its best when there’s a balance of power. Decades-long dominance by one party can inflict significant harm on a state where one sides gets virtually all it wants without moderation.
Republicans control both Florida legislative chambers, the governor’s office and two out of three Cabinet positions. The exception is Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who’s running for governor in the Democratic primary against former Gov. Charlie Crist. Before Fried’s election in 2018, the last time Democrats won statewide was in 2012 when President Obama and former U.S. Bill Nelson were on the ticket. Nelson later lost to Rick Scott in 2018.
The last time Florida elected a Democratic governor was in 1994, when Lawton Chiles beat Jeb Bush.
Twenty-seven years. Talk about a losing streak.
Republicans have created a formidable statewide machine that’s efficient at registering voters and recruiting candidates, in particular Hispanic women.
There are some newly elected Democrats who show promise: for example, Miami-Dade School Board members Lucia Baez-Geller and Luisa Santos, both elected last year in competitive nonpartisan races. We can’t forget Fried and U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who’s challenging U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and faces Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell for the Democratic nomination. Demings was Orlando’s first Black female police chief and one of seven managers in Trump’s impeachment trial.
In addition, the party presented some impressive legislative candidates in 2020, including attorney Maureen Porras, Annette Collazo, David Williams and Jessica Laguerre Hylton among them. The state party needs to nurture and support such smart Democrats who are steeped in the concerns of the people they sought to represent.
Democrats challenging the GOP’s dominance in Florida are in a David-versus-Goliath situation. Their party should not make their lives harder by continuing to shoot itself in the foot.
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to say that Miami City Commissioner Ken Russell is running for the U.S. Senate.