Should untested politicians like Wasserman Schultz and Nelson try to control the FDP?

The famous Chiles-Nelson confrontation, where Senator Chiles publicly humiliates Nelson at his own press conference (Credit: State Archives of Florida).

The famous Chiles-Nelson confrontation, where Senator Chiles publicly humiliates Nelson at his own press conference in 1990 (Credit: State Archives of Florida).

As has been mention a number of times on this blog, as well as the tradition Florida media, both Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Senator Bill Nelson are leading the fight to have Tallahassee socialite and lobbyist Allison Tant as the next chair of the Florida Democratic Party. Time after time, we have stated that while Mrs. Tant is good at fundraising, she doesn’t seem to be have any skills whatsoever when it comes to actual elections or party organization.

While Mrs. Tant shows very little experience in actual electoral politics and organizations, how much experience does Wasserman Schultz or Nelson have? While many of us have looked up to them, mostly for being the DNC Chair and the only statewide Democrat elected, they have been able to ride the gravy train into Florida politics. Basically, these two have never had a tough election challenge in their political career.

Therefore, the questions must be asked…do we want battle-hardened veterans to run our party or do we want it to be turned over to those that have never had to break a sweat to gain electoral success? Obviously, the former is the logical choice.

First, let’s look at Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Never, in her entire political career, has Wasserman Schultz been seriously challenged in an election. Her first electoral win came in 1992 in a highly Democratic and Jewish district, where she had a six-way primary with very weak opposition. In fact her opposition was so weak, she was able to get 53% of the vote and actually avoid a runoff.

Since that election, as well as being the DNC Chair, Wasserman Schultz has failed to show any interest in elections outside of south Florida. While she does visit some districts from time to time, DWS hasn’t really made any sort of electoral strategy for Democrats to win on the Congressional level. Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen has been more instrumental in federal politics in Florida in 2012 than Wasserman Schultz ever has been. But in addition to this, DWS has rarely, if ever, shown any interest in Florida state politics outside of south Florida. Therefore, while she might hold a high position, her history regarding electoral success is strictly confined to south Broward and north Miami-Dade Counties.

Now let’s look at Bill Nelson. If anyone has been given an extremely easy road to victory, it has been Nelson. Yet, for some reason, people put Nelson high on a pedestal.

Much like DWS, Nelson has rarely had to fight for his seat. Unlike DWS, who has the advantage of having an extremely easy district to win in, Nelson has the “luck of the draw”, always having weak opposition to run against him, and usually being elected by being “not the other guy/girl”.

In Nelson’s first race for Congress, he ran against ethically challenged candidate, and former Senator, Edward Gurney. As expected, Nelson won. From that point on, a number of other token Republicans would continue to take on Nelson, giving him victory after victory.

Once Nelson decided to actually make a tough electoral choice, he decided to take on popular US Senator Lawton Chiles for Governor in 1990. Not only did Senator Chiles destroy Nelson in the primary, by a staggering 39% margin, but he belittled Nelson everywhere he went. In the debate between the two candidates, Chiles attacked Nelson left and right while Nelson just sat there and smiled. For anyone that wasn’t around at the time, it was very reminiscent of Alex Sink’s debate performance against Rick Scott, when Sink just smiled and didn’t fight while Scott attacked her time after time. In addition, Chiles publicly humiliated Nelson at Nelson’s own press conference, where he accused Chiles of financial cover ups. This episode didn’t make Nelson look like a viable statewide candidate.

Then 1994 came along. With Republican Tom Gallagher running for governor, Nelson was able to slip in as Treasurer with token primary opposition as well as weak opposition from Republican Tim Ireland. In his reelection bid, Nelson would go up against Tim Ireland again, and win again. Nelson outspent Ireland 3-1 and wasn’t expected to  lose. Therefore, obtaining his statewide position was quite easy.

In 2000, Nelson ran for US Senate against Bill McCollum. McCollum was considered to be very “right-wing” at the time, and his constant witch hunt against President Bill Clinton didn’t make him popular with the electorate either. In a poll conducted on October 25th by CBS News and the New York Times, McCollum had an approval rating of only 30%, much worse than our current governor. Therefore, while Nelson did win, he only beat a candidate with a 30% approval rating by only 5%. Not to impressive.

His next two opponents were Katherine Harris in 2006 and Connie Mack IV in 2012. I think we know why he won these, so I won’t go into it. Even Roll Call called Bill Nelson the “Luckiest Candidate of 2012” in which they stated “what makes Nelson so lucky is that Mack was the third consecutive mediocre Republican he faced. The Democrat first won his Senate seat by defeating former Rep. Bill McCollum in 2000, and then was blessed with the controversial Katherine Harris as his opponent in 2006.” Therefore, it isn’t just us saying this, it is the national political media as well.

Basically, these two politicians that have been trying to control the outcome of the Florida Democrat Party chair’s race have never been tested electorally. At a time where the party needs people who are experienced in winning tough races, these two should be the last people that we listen to when trying to pick the chair of the Florida Democratic Party. We need to bring in people who are battle-hardened, who come from areas of the state where elections are bi-partisan and are fought in the trenches. Whoever is the next chair needs to take a “hands on” approach to the position and can’t just be an armchair quarterback controlled by people who have never had to make an honestly day’s work when running for political office.

Unfortunately, that is what Tant, Nelson and Wasserman Schultz offer us.

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4 thoughts on “Should untested politicians like Wasserman Schultz and Nelson try to control the FDP?

  1. ” But in addition to this, DWS has rarely, if ever, shown any interest in Florida state politics outside of south Florida. ”

    This statement is incorrect. She has made numerous endorsements outside the area. She’s campaigned for Democrats across the country in person. She worked with Rep. Tim Ryan or Ohio to help recruit “40 under 40” for the 2006 and 2008 cycles.

    “Her first electoral win came in 1992 in a highly Democratic and Jewish district, where she had a six-way primary with very weak opposition. ”

    Again, not true. She walked the district which is why she won.

    Still your points are well taken. DWS and BN have gone now 18 years without a tough race. Nelson’s last tough race was in 1994 against Tim Ireland when he had far greater name ID.

    I am surprised with all the local knowledge you have you have not pointed out the number of DWS strategic non endorsements of Dems. Like all our congressional candidates except Ron Klein who faced off with incumbent Republicans in south Florida and her unwillingness to back Democrats in competitive local races even when asked. She also has done ZERO to help the local party organize. She may be a good national Democrat but is a lousy South Florida one.

  2. Actually, you made my point. You said she has helped across the nation. But I am specifically talking about Florida. That is why I said “Florida state politics”. Even that was supposed to be more geared toward Tallahassee politics. But I think it could also work toward federal politics in Florida as well, which is why I mentioned Van Hollen. I guess I should have cleared that up a little better.

  3. Didn’t Nelson have a competitive state legislative career? I am guessing not but it might be handy to mention it for your argument. Even if he did its almost 40 years removed.

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