Looking at Democrats in Florida, I am constantly shaking my head in disappointment. They remind me of a chicken with its head cut off, wandering around aimlessly. There is no clear goal in mind for the Democratic Party. And if there is a clear goal in mind, there are different ways to get to that goal.
Of course, my co-contributor, Kartik Krishnaiyer, has discussed the failed attempts of the Florida Democratic Party to field “Republican-lite” candidates throughout the state. And when it comes to political ideology, I am in total agreement with him.
But this article isn’t totally based on ideology, but it is an article about perception. These two things aren’t entirely exclusive, and work together in many ways. But the ways that Florida Democrats have been using both of these makes it so that Democratic candidates running for office usually fail before they can actually being.
Let us first look at candidates that really don’t fit into the Democratic Party regarding ideology, and those are the conservative Democrats that both Kartik and I have been talking about the last few days. As I mentioned before, I like to call these candidates “Republican-lite”. Why? Well, honestly, there isn’t much of a difference between them and their Republican counterparts.
So, if I am an average Florida voter and my choice is between Republican vs. Republican-lite, why would I pick Republican-lite? I might as well just pick the Republican. The candidate would be in the majority party, they actually agree with their party, and if both candidates are the same, why not pick the one that is actually closer to their party’s ideology compared to being at odds with their party? In addition, when we field Republican-lite candidates, it is harder to tell the difference between the two candidates. So, again, why would I vote for the Republican-lite candidate?
Also, when fielding a Republican-lite candidate, the likelihood a abandoning the voters on the left also becomes a problem. In this case, when the Democratic candidate is Republican-lite, that candidate is swapping tradition Democratic voters (who always vote Democratic) for more conservative voters that will vote Republican. This is exactly what happened in Florida during the 2010 election, and why we have Governor Scott and Congressman West…liberals didn’t vote because they saw no reason to vote. Therefore, the “moving to the right” philosophy doesn’t work. In fact, it hurts.
But before the liberals start cheering at my analogy, they have a little organization that they need to do themselves.
While liberals might be spot on with their views on the issues, they do have a big problem with perception. People don’t mind voting for “liberals”, but they don’t want to vote for “activists”.
This was brought to my attention just tonight when watching a debate for the race for Mayor of Orlando. As many of you know, I am a Buddy Dyer supporter, and would vote for him if I still lived in Orlando. But there was another candidate that caught my eye, but not in a good way. That candidate was Mike Cantone. Just by the way he conducted himself during the debate, he seemed like a fire and brimstone liberal that throws around Occupy Movement-sounding talking points, blaming everyone and everything with corruption, slamming the other side and just trying to knock them to the ground instead of telling us of his ideas. And when looking at his supporters on Facebook, it is the left-of-the-left. True, maybe the left-of-the-left love him, but as much as they don’t want to admit it, they aren’t the majority of voters in Orlando or Florida.
Therefore, Democrats need to find a “middle ground”, with ideology and perception both being factors. We need to base many of our candidates on liberal stances on issues while, at the same time, come across as sane citizens that you would entrust with making legislative or executive decisions for your district. Kathy Castor and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, as well as a number of members of the Florida House, are perfect examples of playing politics with a level head while not selling out on your liberal principles.
Democrats need to come across as the alternative to the Republican Party. And with how crazy they are turning right now, that should be a problem. But in addition to that, we also need to run our party like a professional party. Voters feel comfortable with a candidate that has a demeanor and appearance that looks professional. I’m sorry, but average voters don’t want a “liberal activist” as their elected official. That just isn’t the Florida way.
Therefore, we can keep our liberal principles, but give the perception of professionalism as well. That will win over Florida voters.