Since the close of the candidate qualifying period on Friday we have heard lots of creative spin from Florida’s Democratic leaders. We have heard what amounts to misrepresentation of the truth coupled with cleverly passing the buck to blame external factors or Republicans for the failure of the party.
In seven out of the last eight election cycles, Florida’s Democrats have performed woefully in the candidate recruitment department for the state legislature. In a few of the cycles the Democrats have not even been trying.
13 House seats where Obama won over 45% of the two-party vote in 2008 were left uncontested by the Democrats. A further six seats that fit this category were filed during qualifying week by Democratic candidates who were recruited locally or chose to run on their own. Two seats that previously had Democratic candidates that fit this category lost them during qualifying week. In those districts the Democrats failed to recruit a replacement candidate.
On the Senate side the failure to field a candidate in Senate District 22 is beyond words. The Democrats have disenfranchised their own voters in one of Florida’s largest cities, Saint Petersburg, by failing to qualify a candidate in this seat. The State Senator for a seat carried by Barack Obama and Alex Sink will be selected in the GOP Primary. This primary between Reps. Jim Frishe and Jeff Brandes is being contested based on internal Tallahassee Republican leadership politics. For whatever reason the Democrats chose to disengage completely in this district, and once the primary was closed by a write-in candidate approximately half the voters in the district were effectively disenfranchised.
The Democrats rightly are voicing criticism of Rick Scott’s antidemocratic voter purge efforts. But as a party, when you do not field candidates in competitive legislative seats you are engaging in another form of disenfranchisement, one that denies Democrats in many districts the basic right of voting for their representatives to the state legislature.
When you examine the state even further you see a number of districts who have been filled by Democrats that are not capable of raising money or garnering enough local community support to effectively challenge their GOP opposition.
Only two serious Democratic House candidates with major institutional backing were signed up during qualifying week: Liz Alpert in House District 72 and Pamela Goodman in House District 89.
Redistricting is used as an excuse but the facts remain what they are. In the five cycles under the last Democratic map, the party lost 32 seats, and in the five cycles contested on the GOP map the Democrats have lost just four seats. It is certainly true that the 2002 redistricting solidified Republican incumbents in many marginal districts, but blaming that for the GOP hegemony over the state and the Democrats inability or perhaps unwillingness to compete in many places is like blaming President Clinton for the Iran-Contra scandal. The Democrats excuses have no grounding in historic reality, but they do serve to deflect attention and criticism away from those who created and perpetuated this mess onto others.
Often times when asked about why winnable seats are not contested you get answers from Democratic operatives like “oh he/she is so popular,” or “he is a nice guy,” or ” it’s tough to beat a Republican woman with a man.” These are state legislators, generally they aren’t even known by the majority of their constituents, but many Democrats operating in a legislative bubble mistake popularity in Tallahassee for popularity back home. That’s where the nice guy argument comes from as well. Those popular on the Tallahassee cocktail party circuit tend to get less aggressive challengers. While many Democratic leaders would never admit to this I have seen it to be true on several occasions over the past fourteen years with the exception of when Lois Frankel and Dan Gelber were Democratic leaders. Not so ironically, our candidate recruitment was stronger and House Victory efforts more organized under those two leaders.
Democracy depends on an exchange of ideas and a vibrant two party system. The Democrats are not only failing themselves but they are failing Floridians.