Democrats Need To Focus on Local Elections in 2013

Yesterday, longtime party titan Jon Ausman sent out an email discussing the need for Florida Dems to focus on municipal races this year. This is also a need at the local DEC level where the Democratic Party has failed to assert itself in these elections which represent the building blocks for future success. Party building has to be done at the local level in a bottom-up fashion, not a top-down one.

Local elected officials tend to be more able to raise money at a local level for the party and are closer to their constituency and thus help our statewide campaign efforts. Party building requires, like any building, a solid foundation. In politics foundations are built of people – be they registered voters, party activists, eager candidates or motivated donors.  Building the foundation necessary to begin and sustain a long-term resurgence of the Democratic Party requires creating a new backbone at the local level of committed activists, potential candidates, and major fund-raisers. This is best served by rolling up our sleeves and focusing on municipal elections throughout the state in 2013.

When Scott Maddox assumed the Chairmanship of the Florida Democratic Party in January 2003 he used his experience as Mayor of Tallahassee to put forth an idea that Mayors could be the easiest way to build a real bench for statewide races. The aforementioned Jon Ausman played a big part in this thinking, as at the time he was closely advising Maddox. In early 2003 Maddox and his new FDP staff spread out throughout the state to work in Mayoral campaigns. Elected were Pam Iorio in Tampa, Lois Frankel in West Palm Beach and Buddy Dyer, who was a former Maddox rival for Attorney General, in Orlando. Nat Glover in Jacksonville, another FDP target, was not elected. In each of these races the call was put out to activists across the state to join in and help, and in three of the races, I personally volunteered my time (Tampa was the exception).

Maddox claimed victory and convinced many party activists that these victories were a sign the party was rebounding and building a deep bench for future races. But the reality is that heavily favored Democrats had won in all three cities. In the case of Iorio she was well known throughout Hillsborough County. Dyer and Frankel were former high profile legislators who had both recently served as Democratic leaders in their respective chambers. Moreover, the GOP did little if anything to target these cities. In West Palm Beach for instance, Frankel defeated another Democrat, albeit an erstwhile one, in Joel Daves.

Winning big city mayor’s races were good for party morale but did nothing to boost the ticket during Maddox’s tenure as party chair. When Maddox threw himself into the Governor’s race in 2005 chaos ensued and the FDP moved on. The party under Maddox had taken a decidedly political turn, with the Chairman involving himself in factional disputes in local areas in order to benefit his own political career. But Maddox did teach Democrats, whose sole focus had been the State Capitol, that other races were worth targeting and winning.

Rod Smith took a similar focus in 2011 upon becoming party chairman. But instead of just winning the easy races, his FDP was able to orchestrate the shock of recent Florida electoral politics. Alvin Brown’s upset victory over the GOP establishment proved that the FDP’s strategy could bear fruit. Mike Hogan, a one-time House member, had many of his former legislative colleges campaign for him including Adam Hasner, Mike Haridopolos and Marco Rubio. Yet Brown won in a heavily Republican city.

It’s not just large cities like Jacksonville that require focus for our party but smaller ones like the multiple Bay County municipalities Ausman points to in his memo.  Ausman says:
“If we have allies elected to municipal office on 16 April 2012 in Lynn Have, Mexico Beach, Panama City, Parker and Springfield (all of which are in Bay County) then just maybe we can persuade more folks in Bay County to support the Democratic candidate for Congress in 2014. Now is the time to recruit candidate for municipal offices throughout Florida. Now is the time to train our CDECs and activists how to win low turnout, low-budget municipal elections. Now is the time for the FDP to help CDECs win those elections.”
This analysis is spot on. I have often told potential candidates through the years, winning a municipal race is easier than a legislative race if you are well organized and well connected locally. Unfortunately, the GOP on the local level throughout the state has controlled and manipulated municipal machinery in recent years. Focusing and winning these races are critical so, we can begin to build the essential “Farm Team” of local elected officials, and lay the groundwork for a successful campaign operation statewide outside of the capitol.
Focusing on local elections may or may not impact 2014 but certainly will impact 2016, 2018 and beyond. It is imperative as the party looks to rebuild it does so on the local level. While the current battle for FDP Chair has been an excellent opportunity for contrasting visions and ideas to be articulated, come January 27th, Florida’s Democrats will need to find focus regardless of who is the FDP Chair and municipal elections are a logical place to start.

15 thoughts on “Democrats Need To Focus on Local Elections in 2013

  1. Great thought. The down side as you know in Palm beach County there has been a glass ceiling for many years. Only those who pledge their allegiance to Burt, Weiss, and fellow pretend Democrats get to move on.

  2. Another pathetic appeal for Clendenin. The FDP IS FOCUSED ON STATEWIDE, AND FEDERAL RACES. THE LOCAL STUFF IS FOR LOCAL DECS. The faikure of local DECs to build a farm team, or help in local, county or sttate races has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FDP!!! When will you finally realize that? Your boy Clendenin will run a local party at the state level by focusing on this garbage. Let the DECs do what they do without interference from the state party.

  3. Ruth’s List Florida is actively recruiting and training pro-choice Democratic women to run for local, as well as state office. Our first candidate and campaign training will be held in SE FL on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2. This year, we are starting with a new workshop “YOU Should Run” to help potential candidates prepare to run for office by building their network and experience, pick a race they can win, and much more. “YOU Should Run” is Friday, 2/1 from 5:30-9:00pm. On Saturday, Ruth’s List is co-hosting an all-day workshop on campaign management, fundraising, messaging, and more on Saturday, Feb. 2. For details, visit our home page at under “Upcoming Events.” Hope you can join us! Watch for future dates in Pinellas County and elsewhere later in the Spring.

  4. Good article. Great points although I believe the author is stretching the truth saying he “volunteered” in three of the 2003 races. If I recall correctly he “volunteered” in two races to impress the Chairman and was paid for his work in another as a party contractor. Anyhow still a good article and something both chair candidates would be well advised to read and think about.

  5. Interesting, I didn’t know that House Victory and Senate Victory were run at the local DEC level. Thanks for the new information. Like they always say, “you learn something new every day” 🙂

  6. This is a great piece but the local DECs can’t even be responsible for their own board. In PBC Rizzo still has Siegal up her ass and Freedman character that Aronberg (love him) is investigating him for theft. Don’t forget our elected officials arm twisting DECs to vote for a woman who worked for Choice Point. These people are on drugs or simply running from the Greer trail which will hopefully lock some of these folks on both sides up. Let them clean house from the bottom to the top.

  7. With the garbage that Randolph put out regarding leadership vs grassroots should speak loudly to the voters. These people are out of control. They do not focus on any level. They just have Debbie screaming the talking points for Crist and Tanted, which I don’t know much about Tanted but Crist is just that. Word to the wise, quit while you are ahead.

  8. I was at the DEC meeting the other night, I can tell you this: People are pissed at all the elected officials and we are not taking CRIST. They screwed us in 2010 and they will not do it again.

    Terri GET SIEGAL out already. WAKE UP!

  9. The FDP really does nothing for Fed races. The DSCC, DCCC and OFA did all of the recruitment, organizing, money raising and GOTV. For the FDP to take credit for that is pretty crazy.

    I think the FDP should most def focus on recruitment and candidate development for all levels of government. Since we haven’t been focusing on that, we have been short on a bench. Regional political/ communication and fundraising teams should work hand in hand with the local DECs in developing strong Dem candidates on all levels and deliver region-targeted messaging and fundraising.

  10. I think that the FDP should concentrate primarily on state races, either for the legislature or constitutional offices. As you correctly state, the FDP should do anything in federal races (yet, they were highly involved with federal races this cycle).

    The question then becomes how do we recruit candidates for State House and Senate. Let’s face it, having a seat on the county commission makes more sense compared to having a seat in Tallahassee. The pay is crap, you have to drive hours away from home. Being a State Rep isn’t worth the hassle. If they made it a full time position without term limits, then I think that would change. Unfortunately, the success of a state party is tied on these legislative performances.

  11. How could they be heavily involved in fed races only raising 16 mill compared to 34 mill in 2008? The dscc and dccc did all of the recruitment, polling, funding, etc. Dem Party should focus on recruitment and candidate training for all. Even if the party can not afford to fund a race they should at the very least be a organization that teaches candidates how to run successful races and raise money needed to win.

  12. I’m just talking about conversations that I had with the FDP back in June when they said that 90% of what they were focused on was getting Obama elected and the other 10% was to get Nelson/Congressional candidates elected. Yes, I was shocked as well.

  13. Well Stephanie, I’m comparing it to the last year Obama was on the ticket and we had federal races at the top of the ticket and not state races. If outside groups spent money around the FDP, that’s another indication that the party is not providing the structure or the programs that our stakeholders want to invest in. Someone from the party should really answer why this number was so low.

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