November 6th, 2012 will be remembered as the night of missed opportunities for Florida Democrats. As President Obama and Senator Bill Nelson swept the state, countless legislative candidates were hung out to dry by the FDP. Some like Mark Danish and Carl Zimmerman won anyway. Others like Ross Hancock, Karen Welzel, Milissa Holland and Gail Gottlieb lost close races largely because of the state party’s lack of interest in their candidacies.
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.
Targeting and candidate recruitment for 2014 needs to begin now, not after the 2014 Legislative Session. Party operatives need to be based much of the year in Orlando or Tampa not in Tallahassee. The goals should be to identify vulnerable incumbents and winnable open seats by February of 2013, and begin the process of either recruiting candidates in all districts OR backing already announced candidates who have demonstrated they will put in the work to get elected and have the necessary local contacts to succeed.
In many cases we can only assume the FDP determined targets based on scuttlebutt in Tallahassee among lobbyists and political operatives. As Florida’s urban areas become bluer and exurbs/rural areas become more red, Tallahassee thinking becomes more and more isolated from political reality for Democrats. The people who influence decisions aren’t spending nearly enough time in Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami or St Petersburg to make these decisions wisely. In the next cycle, we absolutely need to establish a permanent Democratic ground presence in the urban areas or empower DECs to recommend candidates, and monitor their progress once they file rather than depending on Tallahassee insiders to do so.
A preliminary list of targets for 2014 should be as follows:
- HD- 53
In some of these seats candidates who nearly toppled well funded GOP incumbents are thinking about running again. They should be given instant support and stopped from having a serious primary. Additionally, real empirical data should be applied to targeting not the random choices that have been traditionally made by House Victory.
We at the Political Hurricane intend to hold the FDP’s feet to the fire the next two years about targets. If this cycle proved anything it was that our instincts on the potential of several races (both won and lost by Democrats) were on the money while our concerns about some House Victory targets were also justified.