Does bush-league politics hurt Central Florida Democrats?

Demings (left) says he has not endorsed Uribe (right).

In the race for the Orange County Commission 4 seat, Mayra Uribe, who is pretty much the Democrat in the so-called “non-partisan” race, sent out a mailer claiming that she has the endorsement of Democratic Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings. In addition, her website said a month ago that she also had the support of Belle Isle Mayor Bill Brooks.

In the case of Brooks, he denied that he had endorse Uribe, and his name was then taken off Uribe’s campaign website.

But in the case of Demings, Jennifer Thompson, who is Uribe’s opponent in the upcoming election, produced an e-mail from Demings, where he claims that he has not endorsed Uribe.

While claiming that two people have endorsed your campaign and being wrong about it is bad enough, the fact that Demings decided to give the information to Thompson instead of going through Democratic channels, or other media channels, says a lot.

There are many problems that face Central Florida Democrats. The strength of our candidates and the people running those campaigns are just two of those problems.

I have been in my fair share of campaigns (as recently as 2008) where the candidate seemed to be a last minute throw-in by the party, who didn’t know the issues and had no experience whatsoever. In addition I have seen decent candidates who have had campaign managers and consultants that lead people in the wrong direction.

Unfortunately in Central Florida, Democrats usually have problems with both.

Once in a great while you get both a good candidate and a good campaign staff. Buddy Dyer, Scott Randolph and Darren Soto are great examples. But in other districts, where Democrats could be putting up a fight to the Republicans, it seems like there is a total lack of effort in trying to find strong candidates and knowledgeable people to run those campaigns.

Lets take a look at the State House for example. This time around, we do have some decent candidates running for seats currently held by Republicans. Yet, in many of these cases, the people that are consulting the campaigns (ie…campaign manager or campaign consultant) are either inexperienced or lack the knowledge needed to secure the seat for the Democrats. This recent example of Uribe and the “endorsement mix-up” is a good example of an inexperienced campaign.

Yet on the other hand, the Republicans run their campaigns like a business. They have their people lined up, they know their contributors, their campaign consultants are top-notch and they don’t have to run their campaigns like amateurs. They run them like professionals.

So why do Democrats in Central Florida mostly run their campaigns like amateurs?

First, we need to look at the fact that any electoral success for Democrats in Central Florida has only been possible county-wide for the last six or so years. With the demographic changes, we have seen the electorate change from being predominately white in most of the House districts to being mixed with all races. This, of course, helps Democratic.

But then Democrats have to explain why we couldn’t win a race in State House District 49 until Darren Soto came along. This district was basically written off by the Republicans when it was created for the 2002 election. Yet, the Democrats let John “Q” Quinones win the district three times. Why?

In 2002, “country of origin” played a big part of the campaign. In a district that was largely Puerto Rican, Quinones was the only Puerto Rican candidate. In 2004, Israel Mercado was an average candidate with a very weak campaign. And in 2006, Lou Raia was a joke candidate who didn’t even have an organized campaign. These reasons alone explain why the Democrats weren’t able to pick up this seat, even though it was highly Democratic.

Then Darren Soto came along. While not living in the district that long, Soto had an impressive resume. He was a top-notch debater. In addition, he was able to bring in a strong campaign staff that was dedicated to seeing him win. The Soto campaign was far from bush-league. Instead it was very professional.

Another problem that Orlando-area Democrats have is the lack of representation in the Florida Democratic Party. The birth of the modern Florida Republican Party started in Orange County, with Ed Gurney and Lou Frey. As time passed, Bill McCollum, Dan Webster, Andy Gardiner and others have passed the torch and kept Central Florida Republicanism alive. Yet, even with our recent strength and national political pundits constantly mentioning our region as the key to almost every election, the FDP continues to consider South Florida more important. In addition, there seems to be some “pie in the sky” idea that the party feels that it can recapture the panhandle. The easy answer to that is “no”.

Orange County and, in fact, the entire I-4 corridor has become the target of national campaigns. I don’t need to tell you that, you already know that. Yet time and time again, even when Obama takes Orange County by an extremely impressive margin, the average Democrat running for office in the county loses. This needs to change for Democrats to be successful in Orange County.

If Democrats unite, organize (not just volunteer wise, but financially as well), pool all of the resources together and have an overall organized game plan like the Republicans, we have a shot at winning more races. But until we do that, we will continue to run bush-league type campaigns that will just prove to be failures time after time. And incidents like what we have seen in the Uribe campaign will continue.

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