Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith has claimed the November 6th legislative election results were of a “historic” nature. This statement difficult to understand when in both House and Senate the party merely returned to its pre-2010 election levels. The real cycle where Democrats stemmed the tide of past elections was in 2006, where a much greater percentage of targeted seats were won than this year.
The reality is that the Democrats in the State Legislature picked up a total of three seats that were not directly influenced by the “Fair Districts” Amendment that many activists claim had not worked. Furthermore, Florida’s Democrats left almost a dozen pick-up opportunities presented by Fair Districts on the table with poor targeting and even poorer allocation of resources.
The opportunities presented by Fair Districts were not taken advantage of by the Democrats. We are not quite sure how House Victory arrived at the specific districts they chose to target this election cycle. If one thing was fairly obvious it was that several good pickup opportunities that were obvious to outsiders were not exploited. Take HD-59 for example, a seat where the Democrats had a good candidate in Gail Gottlieb who was well connected and had a decent fundraising base. The district voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and has been trending more Democratic. Yet little effort was made in this seat. Look at HD-114 and HD-115 in Miami-Dade County where Ross Hancock and Jeffery “Doc” Solomon ran as self-recruited Democratic nominees. In both seats Alex Sink ran AHEAD of Obama’s 2008 total and this year that trend continued with Obama running stronger than Sink had. Hancock was an exceptionally good candidate knocking on doors for months and almost upset Erik Fresen, the ethically challenged Republican incumbent, despite being outspent 20-1.
On a completely new legislative map, where almost as many seats should go Democratic as Republican, the FDP choose to not contest seriously many pick-up opportunities. Incumbency has advantages no doubt, but those advantages are negated to a certain extent when sitting members must run in new terrain. One such example was HD-63 where 2/3 of the district was new to Rep. Shawn Harrison and Mark Danish won despite the indifference of the Tallahassee based FDP leadership. Another example was Rep. John Wood whose district shifted north and eastward and could have been upset by Karen Welzel had any effort been placed in the race from Florida’s Democratic leadership. Wood’s defeat combined with that of Chris Dorworth would have crippled the GOP Leadership, but instead Wood hung on thanks to the indifference of the FDP towards the race and the district.
Overall, the cycle was good for Democrats but should have been much better. While the Senate maps are clearly still a partisan gerrymander, the House maps are not, despite how much Florida Democrats jump up and down claiming it is. Florida’s House Republicans drew a fair map, conforming with the constitutions and giving the Democrats access to over 60 seats and a potential majority. Republicans retreated to rely on large money advantages and the control of big lobby groups to hold seats where they are at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, the Democrats decision making and poor targeting helped the GOP in this effort. The Democrats effort in 2006 when compared to this year was more impressive. The two Senate seats the Ds gained this year were essentially handed over in reapportionment. That year, Democrats behind Charlie Justice defeated favored Republican Rep. Kim Berfield and returned a seat to the Democrats that had been held by the GOP since 1992. It was especially symbolic as it had Charlie Crist’s Senate seat and he was elected Governor the same day. Senate Victory also over performed that year in the race against Rhonda Storms with a very strong candidate in Steve Gorham. This year, the Democrats took a winnable seat in the Tampa Bay area (SD-22) and opted not to even contest it.
Successful businesses and sports teams tweak around the edges even when things go well. When things are consistently poor or underperformed in the norm they make wholesale changes not only to leadership and staff but to strategic thinking and planning. These changes are made with improving results in mind. As we approach January and the Florida Democratic Party election, one candidate Alan Clendenin has offered such a plan. His opposition which represents the status quo forces that have failed time and time again have no plan, and have selected as their stalking horse someone who we are being told will allow the “staff and consultants to run things.” Haven’t we had enough of that? Based on the actions of these forces, you have to believe that they feel grassroots activists are so ignorant as to the political realities statewide because they do not live in Tallahassee that they can say or do anything and maintain control of the party.