Why Does the Florida Democratic Party Lack a Real Field Presence?

Why Does the Florida Democratic Party lack a field presence? An age-old question that lacks a real answer. For years Tallahassee-based staff and consultants have made assessments about elections and campaigns without really rolling up their sleeves and spending time in the field. While this is not an indictment of all FDP staff or retained consultants, it is a trend that began in the late 1990s and continued more or less until today.
In 2002, I was personally recruited by a number of DEC’s in Central Florida who had the budget to have field operations directed on the ground and properly coordinated with the state party. While the FDP accepted this demand and ultimately listed me as the “field coordinator” on official correspondence, little was committed in the way of resources; neither financial or people to work on stimulating Democratic turnout. It serves the Democrats well to have a true field office (not merely coordinated campaigns which focus on the top of the ticket) that worry exclusively about local elections and building a Farm Team- comprised of local officials and state legislators from an area.
In a reapportionment year the need for turnout efforts in legislative races are more critical than in regular election cycles. Much like 2002, this election cycle provides a unique opportunity to win several seats that have fallen into Republican hands as sitting GOP officeholders need to familiarize themselves with new terrain and new voters. But much like in 2002, the party either has no resources, or has chosen not to allocate them to a comprehensive field effort. Relying on the Coordinated Campaign is good and well in some areas, but also a mistake in other areas, particularly those that do not receive people resources from the decision makers. While it is my experience that many local DEC’s are mismanaged, others have tried to build a useful infrastructure but the lack of coordination with neighboring counties or the state party has doomed them.
Many Tallahassee-based lobbyists and political operatives have overstated the importance of north Florida counties in the possible revival of the party. This is a common theme on our blog-site. While it is true that the leakage of legislative seats in the Big Bend and Panhandle areas has been dramatic, little can be done realistically to change the fortunes in that region. More importantly, that region does not have enough voters to really turn the tables in statewide elections or in tipping the legislative balance of power. Even if the Democrats carried every county between the Suwanee and Apalachicola Rivers, every election the GOP has won for statewide office since 2000 they still would have won, including Alex Sink’s narrow defeat in the 2010 Governor’s Race.
We have also heard from the party’s southeast Florida base that maximizing turnout in Broward and Palm Beach Counties would make all the difference statewide. While there is certainly much truth to the theory that more Democratic votes can be squeezed out of these two liberal metropolitan counties, both are already performing very well for Democrats and basing any statewide strategy around the two counties is difficult. What is important is that the party structures in both counties become more organized and less beset by factionalism. More importantly, Democratic candidates and the FDP cannot take the area for granted: just showing up for fundraisers without actually meeting and turning out voters.
But the most important counties in the state that need a real field presence are between Ocala and Stuart on both coasts. These counties have been forgotten by many Democrats except in spots, and will provide the margins for any meaningful Democratic revival in the state.
Party building requires, like any building, a solid foundation. In politics foundations are built of people – be they registered voters, party activists, eager candidates or motivated donors.  Building the foundation necessary to begin and sustain a long-term resurgence of the Democratic Party requires creating a new backbone at the local level of committed activists, potential candidates, and major fund-raisers.
With this core group of believers who share core values, while at the same time incorporating that most democratic of notions inclusiveness, we can begin to build the essential “Farm Team” of local elected officials, and lay the groundwork for a successful campaign operation statewide outside of the capitol. The Florida Democratic Party needs to make an effort to establish real field offices in central Florida (and by central Florida I do not mean just Orlando) as well as making sure they pay attention to voters in southeast Florida. The fact that the FDP has lacked any real field presence when compared to the Republican Party of Florida  (RPOF) has been apparent for well over a decade but becomes more and more noticeable as time goes on.
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30 thoughts on “Why Does the Florida Democratic Party Lack a Real Field Presence?

  1. Or the local elected officials can descend into fiefdoms and infighting as they do here in Palm Beach. A Farm Team as you call it is only good if we are committed as Democrats to the greater good and actually rebuilding the party. Right now, I see very few who actually have that goal in mind. Great theories in this article but you cannot change human behavior, can you?

  2. I’ve often wondered this. Why does the FDP not do this, or at the least send staff south to spend Sept, Oct and Nov in Tampa, Orlando or Fort Lauderdale ?

  3. While coordinated campaings are useful for turning out Democratic voters, they do little to promote non-federal candidates. My experience has been that the coordinated campaigns come in, take completely over, and it’s almost impossible to get the ground game to promote any of the local candidates that a running. And while there is some benefit from voting the “Democratic ticket” it does nothing to build the name recognition of local Democratic candidates.

    And we wonder why we can’t field a full slate of candidates for the Florida House and Senate?

  4. Being a somewhat recent transplant from Minnesota (2001) and a more recently registered Democrat (2011), I’m not very familiar with how the FDP is organized either on a state level or local one. Frankly, based on my experience, I’m unsure if there is a FDP in any form other than name either locally or in the state.

    From my limited experience volunteering in Lake County in 2008 for Obama-Biden, it would appear that the party is on paper organized on a county basis at least in central Florida. My impression then was there was very little real FDP in the county as everything happening was at the direction and control of the Obama team staff. These young, charging paid professionals on leave/loan from various parts of the country clearly were driven. While we didn’t carry Lake (what Democrat could except Emogene Stegall?) those efforts cut 6-7% off the 2004 Bush vote totals…..clearly a success on any measuring scale.

    I have a couple of points to make. After 2008 (I had volunteered at the phone bank for nearly two solid weeks) the only contact I’ve had with FDP came from the Obama team asking for me to get involved in 2010. Yes, I left my name and address on numerous “lists”, but to date no contact has come from the Lake county FDP. Nothing came in 2010 when there were open state Senate and House seats and a serious challenge to then Representative Alan Grayson.

    Further, I know this maybe heresy, but the days of organizing a political party on the basis of the antiquated county lines is about as logical as trying to get a sun tan wearing a tuxedo! With changes in population dictating the crossing of county lines for legislative and Congressional districts, it only makes common sense for a party to scrap the county organizations and set up legislative district groups within Congressional District committees. Sure, county commissioners, the sheriff and other elected officials still hold plenty of power locally, but I dare say its certainly easier to organize a totally local campaign say for a county position than it is a legislative or Congressional seat that crosses county lines.

    While we are affected by actions at all levels of government, more and more these days the actions of our legislature (note the change in voting laws and cuts to local education to name but two) and the federal government (health care, the environment as examples) have greater impact on our lives.

    Maybe I’m naïve to think a culture based on “the good ole courthouse boys” can come into the 20th century, let alone the 21st, but maybe it’s a thought worth thinking about!

  5. This is an insightful and fair piece sad to say. I am not happy that the party continues to make these mistakes cycle after cycle.

    I also agree with Ann. My experience with the Coordinated Campaign is the same. They are concerned with national races and anything run by the FDP or local DECs suffer.

  6. Here in Palm Beach we have been able to successfully work around the DEC which has fluctuations between being well run and total and utter incompetence . We have has for many years the People’s Choice PAC which works closely with Democratic clubs to create a way to fund, and help get the message out about good local Democrats. The PCPAC issues Palm Cards and does fundraisers to work around the DEC. It was the brainchild of Dr. Andre Fladell, the Prince of Palm Beach County. It is supported by Robert Wexler, Ted Deutch, Dave Aronberg, Burt Aaronson and several local law firms.

  7. Problem again is that the party is run by Tallahassee elites/ both lobbyists and consultants that know little about the current landscape around the rest of the state.

  8. More often than not they actually undermine the parties efforts. Sometimes they even back Republicans.

  9. Bingo. That is precisely the problem, Lobbyists insulated from reality who never spend any real time outside the protective bubble of a capital which is 4 hours or more away from all the major metro cities in the state.

  10. I agree. I have personally thought that there needs to be clear boundaries regarding elections. Even if there isn’t a coordinated campaign, there still seems to be some blur.

    Take for example in Orlando. A lot of people in the DEC there think that the Obama campaign “owes” them something. They think that Obama’s people went in, did what they need to do to win, and left without leaving them anything, which they did. I’m sorry but I agree with the Obama people. It isn’t the OFA’s job to worry about staffing the local Democratic Party.

    I think that the FDP should worry about legislative and constitutional races ONLY!!!!!!! I think the local parties worry about their county and local races. DCCC, DSCC and the DNC worry about everything that is federal. Period! I think the FDP spends too much time worrying about federal elections. Let the DCCC deal with that. They need those Florida congressional seats a lot more than the FDP does.

    Thanks for giving me the ideas for my next article 🙂

  11. This is a terribly unfair blog. Tallahassee is the Capitol of the state and therefore the center of political activity. Should the DCCC and DSCC staff leave DC and be hanging out all over the country for months on end? Tallahassee is our Washington and it is easier to direct statewide efforts from the capitol. The FDP sends campaign people into different areas, trained and paid by Senate or House victory. They act as the field staff and work directly with the leadership in Tallahassee on the targeted races.

    This article implies we should set up some sort of satellite HQ further south. That is ludicrous. How do you raise money outside of the capitol from political people and will the party then fall into the clutches of consultants that are local yokels and do not have the statewide experience of the people we have directing the effort now in the Capitol city?

    The whole notion of setting up an FDP office elsewhere is idiotic and counter productive. When that Senator from Miami in the 1970s tried to move the capitol to Orlando it was rightfully and thankfully rejected. Stop fighting those battles South Floridians. Besides, if anything South Florida is not like the rest of the state. It might as well be New York. Orlando itself is like a fantasy land full of transients and people who do not have strong political views. Tallahassee is still the best place to live and work if you want to understand regular Floridians.

  12. As far as raising money, I wouldn’t get too cocky. We raised more in the 1st quarter in 1996 than we did in the 1st quarter of 2012. So “being in Tally” isn’t really making that much of a difference.

    I guess the point is that those in Tallahassee are completely and entirely out of touch with reality. Yep, I said it…they are clueless. You think that 5,000 votes in Dixie County is more important and logical to organize than a five square mile area of 3 to 4 precincts in Orange County, which are easily persuadable, with even more votes with houses in closer proximity. That shows how utterly clueless many in the FDP are regarding logistics, let alone understanding anything about elections. And, I’m sorry, but the track record over the last 20 years sucks. Listening to Florida Democrats saying they know how to run a party and win elections is kind of like reading a book by John Edwards titled “Staying Faithful to Your Wife”.

    So, let me ask you “Mr/Miss/Mrs. Tallahassee”, the Democratic Party has been getting their asses kicked in a “purple” state since the mid-1990s… what the hell has the FDP done the last 20 years? Have they mastered the art of being losers? Absolutely! The quality of candidates are crap in most cases, the fundraising is down, we lose House and Senate seats left and right. Most people would have fired their asses for such of dismal performance, especially after 20 years. But for some reason, you think the sun shines up Tallahassee’s ass. You really think that we should listen, or even trust, people in Tallahassee anymore? Hell no, we need a change in our party, and we need it as soon as possible. You can pretty much write off the 2012 election. Hopefully we won’t do the same for 2014.

    Granted, when it comes to candidate recruitment, especially in some of the State House seats, I think we have the best crop of candidates since 2006. Still, this shouldn’t be a “once every six years we have good candidates” type of thing.

    I have seen the Republicans organize. Like I have said, I was even one back in the early 1990s. The organization that the GOP has is way beyond anything that we have. We don’t even come remotely close to what they are doing, not one bit! They are totally kicking our asses. I haven’t even seen our party do 10% of what the GOP has done. What is even more sad is that when I was highly involved with the Utah Democratic Party, they were 1000% more organized at the state-level than the FDP. Yes, UTAH!

    You and your ways really don’t have much of a leg to stand on. The FDP has been a failure since we split the Senate back in 1992. And since then we have done nothing about it except to figure out how to become more like the Republicans and suck up to their lobbyists. We need an absolute spring cleaning of the Florida Democratic Party.

    Unfortunately, the FDP has become a group of “yes men/women”, which is the reason why we are failing. The FDP has always surrounded themselves with “yes” people and created their own mutual admiration society whilst Rome is burning. It is always hard to keep a straight face when I hear people who worked for the party a few years ago say “Karen Thurman is a good chair”. No she wasn’t, she was horrible! And ever since I got involved with Democratic Party back in 1991, I haven’t seen a chair that has been worth a damn. I’m not going to say anything about Smith because he has yet to go through a general election. But the ones before him have been utter failures!

    Basically, the FDP needs to quit surrounding themselves with a bunch of “yes” people. If the FDP is doing something wrong, then damn it, they should know if they are doing something wrong! But the fact that people are scared to say anything negative about whoever is sitting in the thrown at the time is our downfall. If the GOP don’t like their chair…screw it, he is done! We don’t do that.

    Time to get rid of the Tallahassee way of thinking and the mutual admiration societies in the FDP and actually start knocking some damn Republican heads!

    Hell, this has made me so fired up, I would even consider running for Florida Democratic Party Chair in 2013!!!

  13. Thurman was a lobbyist herself only interested in a curing influence in the Republican circles in the capitol. Check my response on the consultants post you guys did. The very same applies here.

  14. The PAC supported Crist but is not involved with him. The PAC will have to vote on Rader but given his strong record and that he has surrounded himself with good people like Eric Johnson, Ted Deutch, Burt Aaronson, and Robert Wexler, he should have no problems.

  15. Prophet,

    The PCPAC has never backed a Republican. You are confusing the Voters Coalition and the PAC.

  16. Let’s call it what it is….illegal maybe? When Charlie ran he was supported by Wexler, Sachs, Aaronson, Aburzzo, Deutch and Vana, when Charlie is in jail who will help him then? Let’ Irv Serve…In Congress here we come!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. CharLIE Crist was not a Republican? How about Tom Lynch? How about half the judicial recommendations? Stop the bunk!

  18. First off: Broward County has the worst voter turn out of any county, which has been costing us tens of thousands of vote by under performance. Second: the turn out percentage has been steadily dropping. Third: Chairman Mitch Ceasar has actually refused to develop a field plan for Broward, and there are no plans to start working on one. So I dont see how you can say that Broward’s is performing just fine. Also what you call “factionalism” is the actual party activists fighting to get something done to the face of very stubborn inertia to do nothing until early voting has started. You have suggested we simply vote for a new chairman, but I have little hope for that when the party allows the chair to run his own election, count the votes himself in secret, and then spirit away the cast ballots never to be seen again, which is what happened at the 2008 Broward DEC election, in which the numerous grievances and photographic evidence of ballot stuffing were ignored (by Thurman regime). So far, Rod Smith has declined to do anything about this mess, and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz is certainly not going to kick any ass in Broward, so I dont see any fix for Florida. Obama has always been smart enough to bypass the party completely and run his own ground game, so its not going to affect him any, just the rest of the ticket. Is it just failing to plan, or is it actually planning to fail ?

  19. It’s really pathetic how the same issues keep recurring. We have had these problems for years. The only solution is to ignore the FDP and form
    A shadow party that will do the things you talk about here.

  20. I’ve said the same over and over again. It really is pathetic . As I admit on our soon to be released podcast elements of these articles about the party were written by me ten years ago and simply fine tuned recently.

  21. I agree. I have never seen an actual written field plan in Broward County. Maybe it exists and I have not seen it. But many smaller counties have painstakingly developed plans and published them so active local Dems are organized and sing from the same song sheet so to speak.

  22. The party is a joke. Not at all concerned about anything but the own status of the individuals involved. A complete joke the FDP is.

  23. There is no real party. We have hit rock bottom and it you want to talk about a ponzi scheme take a look at the local DECS, the DNC and the consultants minus Ashley Walker currently in place. There is no bench, no policy and just a great deal on non-sense and illegal doings among the “party” establishment.

    The party will only wake up when Obama looses in Florida (but wins nationally) and hopefully at that point the Feds will step in and clean house so Aronberg can just walk in without being tied to the corruption in PBC. It is going to be interesting to see how the local Congressional delegation and the state delegation will be affected not just in PBC but through the legal community. Until things are cleaned up the corruption will continue and both parties will suffer.

    With Weldon entering the race not much will affect Nelson. He will feed the base like West (who will win) and help GOTV for the Republicans. Those in Broward and Palm Beach will tow the line of moderates despite their right record. In PBC and Broward it will be interesting to see the trickle down affect of the Crist issue. Will he be convicted or will Eric Johnson & Wexler continue to spin his past because they have destroyed the Democratic party as we know it. Many are hoping the Aronberg will walk in the seat with the interium SA cleaning up the corruption. We will have to wait and see but at least Nelson will not be tied to much of this compared to the rest of the party specifically in PBC and Broward County.

  24. Has a plan ever been written in Palm Beach to maximize field operations since the death of the great Joan Joseph? One person held the whole thing together. Siegel a joke.

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