Last week, Pam Goodman, the candidate for Florida House District 89, a targeted seat for the Democrats, dropped out against Republicans Bill Hager. Honestly, Goodman’s withdrawal from this race isn’t a shock at all. While she says that the reason for her dropping out of the race was her husband’s health, she would eventually have to answer for the scandal that her and her husband were involved in during her time at The Limited, Inc. Once Labor Day arrived, her candidacy would have sunk like a brick in water.
After Goodman dropped out of the race, the Democrats replace her with former Florida House Speaker Tom Gustafson. Unlike Goodman, Gustafson does have a legislative record. He could easily take the position from day one and, hopefully, be effective. Now all we can do is wait and see what happens in this race. But again, in a district that the Democrats had a chance of competing in, they have figured out a way to mess it up.
This incident in House District 89 really does expose a problem that some local Democratic DECs and the state party have regarding candidate recruitment. Either, they don’t put their recruited candidates through a vetting process or they don’t have any quality candidates that can step up to the plate and be competitive.
The first time that I notice that the Democrats had a recruitment problem was in 1994. When Hugh Rodham was eventually selected as the Democratic candidate for the US Senate, the writing was on the wall that Connie Mack would easily win the election. When I was working with other Democrats at the time, they liked Rodham because “he was Hillary Clinton’s brother”. It seemed if that was the sole reason that anyone should support him. Of course, looking like a dead ringer for Pablo Escobar, especially only months after the notorious drug dealer was gunned down on a rooftop in Medellin, Columbia didn’t help either. While Mack was expected to win, Democrats really did think they had a chance with Rodham because of his “Clinton connection”. As a result, Connie Mack beat Rodham by the largest margin for a Republican over a Democrat statewide in Florida’s history (even to this day).
The next time this problem was exposed was with the recruitment of Janet Reno and Bill McBride for Governor in 2002. Of course, Reno was the Attorney General under Bill Clinton, which in any case would hurt her in a general election match up against Jeb Bush. Personally, I feel if Reno were the nominee, there would have been record turnout by Republicans in a mid-term election. Even with this hanging over her head, Reno was involved in federal politics instead of state politics. While she did serve as State’s Attorney in Dade County, when she ran for governor, she was nearly a decade removed from that position.
McBride was a Tampa attorney who was rich and pushed by the good ole boy system in Tallahassee. He was the “moderate” choice for the Democrats. With no political campaigning experience previously, Jeb Bush destroyed McBride in their nationally televised debate moderated by the late Tim Russert. The Democrat’s poor choice yet again led to another Democratic defeat.
In that race for Governor, the only person that was truly the best candidate to run for the position was third place Daryl Jones. Jones was an accomplished member of the Florida Legislature. Yet, his debate gaffe of him trying to do his best imitation of Bob the Builder (which any political consultant should have been fired the minute they recommended that he do something that crazy) automatically made him look like the child among two grown ups. Still, even with that gaffe, he was still the best candidate for the position.
The next race where we see this failure of the Democrats in Florida was the recruitment of Betty Castor for US Senate in 2004 to replace Bob Graham. Unlike Rodham and McBride, Castor was an accomplished politician, especially in the field of education. She served as Florida’s Education Commissioner until 1994 and then became president of the University of South Florida. She had the resume to run for this office. The only problem was that Castor had been out of politics for 10 years and hadn’t run for a political position in 14 years. Surely the Democrats could have found some new blood to run for this position. But nope, they went back to the well, dusted off an candidate from year’s past, put them on the shelve. Mel Martinez would go on to win the election in a very close race.
These are just a few of the examples where the Democrats have failed when it comes to candidate recruitment. While most of these people are good people and have great intentions, they were just the wrong candidates. The State House 89 race continues to expose these problems, even at the local level, with candidate recruitment. In a state that is very apolitical as well as highly transient, bringing up candidates from decades past as well as those that are unpopular on the national stage doesn’t help. While the transient nature of our state has slowed down compared to years past, there is still that apolitical sense in this state where the electorate rarely know their candidates.
The Republicans understand this. That is why they have a farm system where they start raising their Marco Rubio-types from high school, to State Representative to Speaker of the House to U.S. Senator to, maybe, the Vice Presidential nominee. The making of Marco Rubio is something that has been a two decade project. And as we see, the reward pays off.
Democrats just don’t have a system in place in which they can do this type of candidate training. Their past selections show that they have trouble finding young talent and turning it into success. We might finally start seeing that trend change in Central Florida with Darren Soto, Joe Saunders, Jason Henry and Ricardo Rangel being the new faces of the Democratic party. All are diverse as well as young. These are the people we need to harvest to run for US Senate in the future, and not 10 years after they have already been out of office.