Florida Democrats grapple with uncertain future after midterm wipeout

Democrats in Florida are facing an existential crisis after a red wave in the nation’s once key battleground state.

The scale of the Democratic wipeout in Florida is hard to fathom. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) won landslide victories in Tuesday’s election, and Republicans hold supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. For the first time since Reconstruction, no Democrat would hold statewide office in Florida.

The election results have only intensified the infighting and self-discovery that have long plagued the state Democratic Party. The question on the minds of many Democrats is not whether they can bounce back in the next few years, but whether they can remain a viable political force.

One Florida Democratic operative said, “We need to get our s— together.” “But there is an element involved in bringing in fresh faces and proving that we can be competitive – at least we are building sustainable infrastructure. It just didn’t happen in this cycle. Need a plan.”

Florida’s transformation into a red state has been taking years. Democrats have been forced out of the governor’s mansion since former President Clinton was in the White House, and the party’s once yawning voter registration had been eroding for years.

In 2008, when former President Obama first carried Florida, there were about 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. As of September 30, 2022, there were approximately 300,000 more registered Republican voters than Democratic voters.

Even before Tuesday, Democrats were already pointing fingers in anticipation of a tough election night. Several members of the party called on state Democratic Party chairman Manny Diaz to resign after the midterms. Diaz has reportedly indicated that he has no plans to step down.

Meanwhile, Diaz issued a memo Tuesday in which she called on national democratic groups to spend so little in Florida this year — about $1.35 million in 2022 compared to about $59 million in 2018.

But party members and activists say Democrats’ political woes in Florida are due to complex and long-standing factors.

In conversation with The Hill, a half-dozen Florida Democrats pointed to weaknesses ranging from the incompetence of party advisers and the apathy of national Democratic groups to the party’s aging and low political infrastructure.

“I think the party needs new leadership, but the right leadership,” said Thomas Kennedy, a Democratic National Committee member from Florida who has called for Diaz to resign.

He further said, “Our tendency, including myself, is to go after the party chair because the party chair is the leader and the responsibility rests with him.” “But what also needs attention is a whole class of advisors who basically use the party as their own personal ATM.”

Kennedy also pointed out what he said was the Democrats’ lack of a long-term strategy in Florida. In contrast, Republicans had spent years building a lasting political presence in major communities, particularly in heavily Hispanic parts of the state.

“We need more presence in the community. We need to have field offices. We need permanent offices in our core areas where we’re not organizing just months before an election. Republicans have been doing this for years.

State Sen. Annette Taddeo (D), who lost a bid this week for the 27th Congressional District in Miami, Florida, offered a similar diagnosis to her party’s challenges, telling The Hill that Democrats would do the “grunt work” needed to build. have failed. A winning alliance.

“We know what needs to be done, because we did it in ’08 and ’12 with Obama,” she said. “It takes grunt work. And grunt work is registering voters. Grun work exists all the time in minority communities, not just during elections. Grun work is building the infrastructure, the party from the ground up.” Is. “

“Republicans copied Obama’s playbook in Florida: be present at all times, register voters, work to help them,” Tadeev said.

In fact, that strategy appeared to be paying dividends for Republicans on Tuesday. DeSantis and Rubio both managed to carry Miami-Dade and Osceola counties, two heavily Hispanic areas that have been sources of Democratic strength in the state in the past.

DeSantis also won another Democratic-leaning county, Palm Beach County, while Rubio came within 2,100 votes of winning there.

In the end, DeSantis defeated his Democratic rival, former Representative Charlie Crist, by a whopping 19 points, while Rubio beat his rival Rep. Val Demings (D) by more than 16 percentage points. By comparison, Rubio won his last election by less than 8 points. DeSantis barely scored a win in 2018 when he defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum by less than half a percentage point.

“I knew the margin was going to be big,” said a Florida Democratic strategist. “I was expecting maybe a 6 or 7 point win for DeSantis. Maybe 5 points for Rubio. But 19? I think everybody was surprised by that.”

The election results offered surprising split screens in other battleground states. While Democrats faced a brutal political climate and the threat of losing their House and Senate majorities, the party largely outperformed expectations. Many tight races are too close to call, but it is clear that the so-called red wave that Republicans had long predicted failed to materialize in much of the country.

There were more immediate challenges for the Florida Democrats. DeSantis, a star among conservatives nationally and the future Republican presidential candidate, has largely outlasted Christ throughout the campaign, pulling in more than $200 million for his re-election bid. Krist, on the other hand, raised about $31 million.

At the same time, Democrats have struggled to effectively counter Republicans’ messaging on high-profile issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic. DeSantis’ laissez-faire approach to the outbreak and defiance of federal health officials was a major factor in the political escalation in the first place.

“There was no Democratic campaign at all,” said Democratic pollster Fernand Amandi, whose firm advised Obama on successful Hispanic outreach efforts in his two presidential campaigns. “Not that he started six months before the election. They weren’t campaigning six weeks before the election.”

Reflecting on the past decade in Florida politics, Amandi said that Democrats had become increasingly complacent after Obama’s 2012 victory in the state, adding that the party “went to celebrate Obama’s second inauguration and never didn’t come back.”

But it was the 2018 midterm elections that “broke the back of Democrats.” While the Democrats made some modest gains in Florida that year, they fell short in the competition for governor and saw former Sen. Bill Nelson, who was then three-term incumbent by the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott.

Meanwhile, the Democrats won elections nationwide, winning 41 seats in the House and a majority in the lower chamber.

“Florida was the only state in 2018 that did not succumb to the blue wave,” Amandi said. “And I think that for a lot of National Donors and National Democrats, it was a bitter defeat that led to the bets for bluer pastures in the state.”

The 2022 midterms, he said, cemented Florida’s status as a red state.

However, some Democrats said there is at least some reason to be optimistic, even as they acknowledged it would take years for Florida to fully rebuild its political functions.

With former President Trump expected to announce a 2024 White House bid as early as next week and DeSantis seen as a potential — if not likely — Republican challenger, Democrats say the GOP’s potential infighting amid There is an opportunity to break into Florida.

“Anarchy is a ladder,” Kennedy said. “The fight between Trump and DeSantis, with DeSantis probably running for president, could happen a lot.”

Taddeo also said that top Democrats are interested in helping the party reinvent itself in view of the midterms. He fielded a call Friday from Bill Clinton, who offered his help rebuilding the Democrats’ crumbling political structure in Florida. Still, he noted, there are years of work ahead.

“This is a long-term plan,” Taddeo said. “What do we think we can do in two years? What do we think we can do in four? We need goals for two, four, six, eight, 10 years. It’s going to change overnight.” Not there.

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