Democrats seem seldom, if ever, prepared for wave elections. The last time the Democrats ran a full complement of candidates in potential winnable legislative seats was in 2000, and from that experience a theory developed that the party had spread its’ resources too thin.
Many Democrats have theorized that putting candidates in races that appear to be unwinnable in May or Early June is a poor use of party resources. These leaders of the party scream about voting rights when it serves their purposes but have no problem giving Republicans pass after pass in elections where Democrats represent almost half the voters in a district. In both the 2002 and 2004 election cycles, the Libertarian Party of Florida fielded almost as many legislative candidates as the Democrats. That alone is an indictment that Florida wasn’t a competitive two party state at the legislative level.
The 2002 election began a period for the Democrats distinctly lacking in ambition. Beginning in 2002 many seats, including open ones with Democratic potential, were left uncontested and the GOP was permitted to grow its legislative majority.
In 2006, when a Democratic wave swept the nation, several GOP held seats weren’t seriously contested by the Democrats, yet almost flipped. Seats in Pinellas County, Palm Beach County and Southwest Florida almost flipped despite few resources made available for candidates. While 2006 based in historical trends appeared it would be a good Democratic year nationally, nobody quite knew at the time of qualifying how good a year it would be. That year the Democrats lost 13 House races by less than eight percentage points, and only two of those races were actually targeted by House victory. That year House victory won almost every single race it targeted, a credit to the staff and incoming leader Dan Gelber. However, had more serious candidates been recruited at an early stage or more assistance been available for Democratic candidates, results could very well have been different.
The Democrats picked up six seats on Election Day 2006 (the record states seven, but HD-36 where Scott Randolph trounced party switching Sheri McInvale should not count because it had not elected McInvale as a Republican), but the lesson was that there could have been many more pickups, and the legislative margin would be closer today as we attempt to use Fair Districts to claw back towards parity in the House.
The lesson of 2006, which was the most successful legislative cycle (on the House side) for the Democrats in the last two decades should be clear in 2012. However, these lessons have not been learned by the party leadership.
But 2006 speaks loudly as to what a wave can do or almost do. Under that premise it was important for as many Democrats to file for legislative seats in 2012 as possible. In 2004, despite polling as badly if not worse than Barack Obama is currently in Florida, George W. Bush’s turnout efforts yielded results in suburban/exurban areas, allowing the GOP to pick up seats and hold others where the Democrats had sought to make gains or hold open seats. Using the same theory, the Democrats should be counting on a huge turnout spike in 2012 thanks to Barack Obama’s popularity with the liberal base of the party.
Districts such as those held currently by Republican Reps. John Wood, Mike Horner, Peter Nehr, Pat Rooney and Eric Fressen all are seats where Barack Obama either ran within a few percentage points or actually won by several points in the case of Rooney’s seat. But in each of these seats, the candidates that are challenging incumbent Republicans were either recruited locally or by themselves, with little or no direct interest from the state party.
The opportunity costs of the Democrats strategy are mounting at an even more staggering rate than the party’s losses statewide. While the dye may well be cast for 2012, the lessons of 2006 and other “wave elections” need to be applied to all future candidate recruitment and district targeting.