Florida Democrats had a good night on Tuesday. But with a few tweaks and better planning they would have had a blockbuster night. Bad decision making about targeting of races coupled with an inability or unwillingness to reallocate resources strategically based on circumstances damaged the potential for a watershed moment.
With the advent of Fair Districts, Florida Democrats are back in the legislative and congressional game. As we saw on the Congressional level, Democrats picked up 4 new seats in Florida, while other states with complete Republican control like North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania drew maps that were heavily gerrymandered.
In the House, the new map has fewer than 60 secure Republican seats. A TPH calculation in April found that the GOP only has 55-57 solid or strongly leaning seats, so the opportunity will present itself that if the Democrats target and recruit well, a makeover of the House is possible.
But Tuesday while rewarding for Florida Democrats was characterized by missed opportunities. We have for months advocated the Democrats spend money in HD-63, HD-114, HD-115 and more recently noted how strong a campaign Carl Zimmerman was running in his third attempt to defeat Rep. Peter Nehr in HD-65. Yet the FDP steered clear of these seats and choose to target four central and southern Pinellas seats and in only one did they have a good candidate (Dwight Dudley). Dudley is a potential superstar, but the other three campaigns were lackluster, and suffered from overly optimistic early projections.
Here were the flawed targets of House Victory:
HD-66, HD-67, HD-69, HD-89, HD-120
Here are some races the Democrats could have targeted but did not:
HD-24, HD-41, HD-53, HD-59, HD-63 (Dems won anyway), HD-65 (Dems won anyway), HD-72, HD-114, HD-115
In each of the above listed seats, minimal attempts by the state party to fund the candidates all of whom were self recruited as well as organize the grassroots operation could have resulted in victory. In each of these districts the Democrats made no attempt to recruit candidates and lucked out that those who wanted to pursue office choose to run.
Mark Danish’s victory in HD-63 took place without the party’s direct help and largely on a low budget with volunteers staffing the campaign. I volunteered my time because for this reason, no candidate who had a better chance to win a seat in the entire state was getting as little from the party. The same can be said for Ross Hancock in HD-114 another candidate we strongly advocated and I did my best time permitting to help. Hancock lost to Rep. Erik Fresen only 51-49, despite being outspent by an estimated 20-1 ratio.
Danish’s district is instructive. When the new redistricting maps were approved, Shawn Harrison was thrown into one of the most difficult seats a Republican with right-wing voting record could be asked to defend. Yet, the party didn’t show a great deal of interest in the seat and Danish relied on volunteers, including old pro Marcia Mann to craft a winning campaign strategy. Other opportunities were lost that we failed to note. In HD-41 Karen Cooper Denzel ran a savvy grassroots oriented campaign that could have been successful with minimal party involvement. John Wood, a leading Republican was thrown into a tough district, a seat that Obama and Nelson were always going to run strongly in, yet the FDP showed no interest in targeting him.
Candidate recruitment was also badly flawed. The Pinellas seats that were targeted and lost (HD-66, HD-67, HD-69) suffered from poor campaigns and candidate recruitment. Additionally, the structure and organization for Democrats on the ground in Pinellas is weaker than in any other major urban county in the state.
While we can critique these mistakes by the Democrats, the reality is that the RPOF and its allies threw so much more money into these legislative races than the FDP did, that choices had to be made and while some were wrong, it goes with the territory when you are going to be outspent so heavily. Most importantly, if Mike Clelland hangs on in HD-29, Florida Democrats will have the most significant legislative race victory in the 16 years of GOP control. For this, the party deserves credit as do the activists, unions and others including this website that targeted Dorworth and promoted Clelland.