Florida Democrats: A Map to the Path Forward

Around the state and across the Internet, a number of voice are chiming in with their ideas of what went wrong and/or how to do better.  Some of these ideas are good, some are bad, and some are a bit of each.

At The Political Hurricane, Dave Trotter lays out his ideas and commentary in two posts (here and here).  The first post is focused on geographic targeting/strategy.  Some of the thoughts contained with in this have merit, but the premise of the piece is lacking a fundamental understanding of campaigns and elections and how they effect communities over time.  His basic conclusion is not to waste time or effort on “North Florida” (which he defines to 17 specific counties from the panhandle to north central Florida), instead to focus on Democratic strongholds and the metropolitan regions surrounding the big cities of south and central Florida.  This is a very common strategic idea I refer to as “Terry McAuliffe’s idiocy.”  The Democratic Party used that strategy for a number of years, in whole or in part, through the Clinton era, up to the 2005 selection of DNC Chairman Howard Dean – he brought forth a more intelligent strategy we will call…”Howard Dean’s 50-State Strategy.”

  • The McAuliffe strategy/idiocy: Focus on the areas we have strength or the signs of future strength to create immediate gains and channel every dollar to those areas/campaigns.  The strategy has at its core that there is a finite number of resources/dollars available to Democratic campaigns and thus they must be horded to the highest priority races and all other races must be kept down out of mainstream attention.
  • Howard Dean’s 50-state Strategy: Focus is on fielding competent and capable candidates for every seat, everywhere – nothing goes uncontested.  Provide training, mentor-ship and wisdom to as many of these candidates and campaigns as is humanly possible.  Train staff and surrogates everywhere.  This strategy has a base premise that donors and resources expand as the quality and quantity of candidates and campaigns expand.  A person willing to give $100 to one great candidate will likely give $50 to four or five good candidates if engaged and activated.  More donors will be found and engaged as we expand the reach of our campaigns.

In the real world, the McAuliffe concept is far easier to wrap your head and hands around, it is easy to to tune out all the peripheral noise and focus your efforts on one candidate and community, particularly when that community is already inclined to support your message and values.  The Dean strategy takes far more work, has more challenges and takes more time to “pay off”.  This makes the choice similar to the standard politics of elected officials, short term benefits equate to re-election, long term strategies lead to greater chances of not being re-elected.

Long term however, the benefits of the Dean strategy are infinitely better and the negatives of the McAuliffe strategy become brutally oppressive.  Over the long term, neglected communities, places where Democrats don’t field viable candidates, local party orgs aren’t given the resources (money, training, visiting candidates/surrogates), these places rescind farther in to becoming Republican strongholds.  They become echo chambers of unchallenged ideology and rhetoric, phrases like “death panels” and “socialized medicine” take root and skew debates at the national level.  Margins of 60%-40% quickly fall to 70-30 or 80-20, making it that much harder to in larger overlapping districts or statewide.  Dominating apathy to the party brand becomes contagious, spanning outside the district to adjacent districts, people become less willing to admit they are Democrats, let alone show pride in those values.

On the other side. in the Dean Strategy, over time, the competition and challenged arguments/messages lead to small gains over time.  Given an opportunity, whether it be a local event (scandal, tragedy, triumph), or a national event/attitude, having a competent Democratic candidate running a solid campaign makes the district winnable.  National debates are able to rely less on cherry picked extremism, as there are fewer “echo chamber” enclaves that just parrot back the far right’s talking points on the given issue of the day.  The margins slide closer together, 70-30’s become 65-35s, 60-40 becomes 55-45, eventually with the right combination of candidate, campaign, events and overarching energy, they flip.  Democrats come out of hiding, they become more willing to display their values with pride.  They push back at local small businesses that openly promote intolerance and support candidates that push far-right ideology.  They become more likely to support local, state and national candidates and Democratic organizations.

So, geographically limiting our focus?  That is some of the right intention with the wrong action.  We need to stop selecting candidates designed to cater to those “more conservative regions”  and instead select the best Democratic nominee based on their ability to communicate Democratic values, without shame or defensiveness.   They should be proud to support tolerance, education, women’s rights, the environment, workers and all of the other causes and values that make us Democrats.  Then those candidates should focus on rallying the bases in Democratic strongholds before moving out and campaigning in the more marginal and Republican base communities.  There should be a full time, paid FDP staffer in (or responsible for) every one of the 67 counties.  Not one staffer responsible for organizing the 17 north Florida Republican counties as Mr. Trotter laid them out.  You can have more for larger counties, but each county should have one organizer, one voice, working hard for every Democratic vote in the county, doing the full time administration of the County DEC, of planning and coordinating FDP level events occurring within the county or promoting and coordinating travel to events for county dems to big events elsewhere.

I’m sure someone will respond to me something along the lines of “you just don’t understand how conservative it is out there…” — give me a damn break.  Go campaign in Utah county Utah (think the Osmonds and BYU) or western Iowa (oldest congressional district in the nation, 50% of Iowa’s geography, 10% of the people) or the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia (think Jerry Falwell).  I know red territory, few democratic activists have the experience and understanding of red territory I have.  I’m not impressed by your claims of how conservative it is.  I’ve been all over Florida too.  Do the work, put in the resources and effort and you will get results.

More conservative (or falsely moderate Democratic candidates) gain us nothing and lose us great deals.  There is no benefit. We need candidates up and down the ticket to stand up for the values of our platform.  Conviction and passion are what motivates supporters and wins elections, not artificial width of appeal.  They need to be unafraid of taking on attacks, they need to reject the premise of ludicrous Republican allegations.  They need to stand tall and speak loud.  They need to bring energy and enthusiasm.  They need to shake every hand and acknowledge their supporters.  They need to be party builders, before and after their election.  There is no substitute for good candidates.  Quality control is OUR RESPONSIBILITY.

So the title of this post was “a Map to the Path Forward”.  Here’s what my experience tells me – we the activists cannot just throw down a list of changes and demand they happen.   We cannot demand new leadership and expect that to magically work out.  We need wholesale change, attitudes and ideas, policies and procedures, but we need that to happen without losing access to the resources that provide opportunity to function at all.  Am I saying bend to the will of the big dollar donors and institutional players?  Hell no.  One of the problems we have is donors/financiers dictating policy and action counter to the long term interest of the party.  We need to bring as many of those players along with us, they need to want to come with us.  We need to make a case that these ideas, our ideas, will give them greater “bang for the buck,” that we will deliver the results they seek.

To do that, we need to recognize that we cannot draw or suggest the path Forward, only begin illustrating a map to that path.  We can do certain things on our own:

  • We can begin recruiting future candidates, up and down the ticket, bringing them in to the discussion and directing them to the resources, groups and individuals that can assist them in first determining if they should run and second giving them the guidance to build a strong foundation for their campaign should they choose to run.
  • We can provide resources online and off, that make the process of building and executing a campaign, at a variety of levels, far easier.
  • We can provide positive and constructive coverage of these candidates, assisting in the promotion thereof where warranted, both online and off.
  • We can avoid being the tabloid journalists that are dominating the political media landscape, both in Florida and Nationally, by providing fact based coverage on things that matter, rather than material better suited in a supermarket rack or on a roll in a bathroom stall.
  • We can assist our local Democratic organizations, DEC’s, Clubs and others in organizing, promoting events and where applicable encouraging and assisting with the use of technology.

We can and we must do these things.  We must lead by example.  We must do the work, within the whatever limits our “real lives” allow.  We must be the ones we have been waiting for.

UPDATE (9:00pm 11/8/10):  In my haste to post this and get out of the Panera Bread I was working in, I neglected to say something very important:  Dave Trotter’s postings at The Political Hurricane have been constructive and positive additions to the discussion of improving the state of the Florida Democratic Party and cause, for that I thank him and hope he will continue to contribute to the discussion, whatever direction we take from here.  The quality of discussion is increased when dissenting views are brought forth and considered.

4 Comments

 Add your comment
  1. Honestly, I agree with a lot of what you say in this article, I actually do. My beef isn’t about ideology at all. In fact, in my first post in my series, this is what I said in the 3rd paragraph.

    “While some people are going to mention political ideology, which is a theme being heard throughout the nation, I am going to stay away from that fact, except in very few cases. These series of articles are about the nuts and bolts of the FDP, not about liberal vs. conservative.”

    Even though at one point, I do explain that we have to “convince” voters in North Florida compared to just getting them out in South Florida, I still say that numbers are the most important factor.

    In the case or targeting, I am purely talking about numbers. Out of the 18 (not 17, my bad) counties that I mentioned, there are a total of 253,676 voters. Statewide, we have 11,217,384. That is only 2.26% of all registered voters. Therefore, it isn’t an issue of someone being liberal or conservative as much at it is about if we should spend thousands of dollars in an area that only yields 2.26% of the vote.

    In addition to that, all of these counties combined only added 35,799 voters between Nov 2001 and Nov 2010. Pasco County alone, not exactly one of our state’s “super-counties”, added 72,320, with a grand total of 297,933, which is 44,257 more than the 18 counties combined.

    So, if you look at the big picture, purely on a statistical basis, let pit the 18 north Florida counties against Pasco all by itself:

    Pasco has more voters, they have more potential for new voters as the county is showing growth, which means there is a possibility of more State House and Senate seats there as well, they are in one media market (Tampa-St. Pete), and with the amount of people within a smaller geographical area, organization on the ground level would be easier.

    North Florida has less voters, shows a lot less potential for growth, is in three media markets (Tallahassee, Gainesville and Northeast Florida, aka Jacksonville), will have less ground organization and if there is a ground operation, it will be a logistical nightmare because of the shear size (over 14,000 square miles).

    The numbers just don’t add up in north Florida to have this make any sense. That is why I say we abandon north Florida.

    I think a perfect campaign to make my case is Pat Quinn here in Illinois (where I am now, but to be back in Florida soon). Quinn was expected to lose by around 5% to 7%. He only concentrated on the high population counties. Out of the 102 counties in the state, Quinn only won Cook, St. Clair (E. St. Louis) and Alexander (Cairo). The other 99 counties he lost. Obviously, comparing a state with one population center to multiple population centers can make a difference, but the targeting of the larger areas still makes the point. If Quinn spent more time downstate, he would have lost.

    Finally, on the 50-state strategy, I think it does, and doesn’t work. Take a look at Utah. You worked on Ashdown’s campaign, I worked on Van Dam’s campaign (dreaded word…MARCIE). Anyway, both candidates faired about the same. And this year, Sam Granato faired the same as well. In fact, Matheson had a close race.

    Therefore, while the DNC spent money and added additional staffers to Utah, there hasn’t been any result that shows that there is a trend in Utah. All the Senate candidates the last six years have stayed around 28% to 32%. In addition, the Utah State House now has the lowest amount of Democrats since 1984, with only 16. The State Senate has the lowest since 2002 at 7. And a good candidate for Governor, Peter Corroon, was destroyed by Gary Herbert. Again, like the Senate candidates, Corroon was at 32%.

    Therefore, I don’t see how Utah (a state that Dean talked about quite a bit when he was DNC Chair) will ever been anything less than a very strong Republican state, even with the DNC sending addition resources to the Utah Democratic Party.

    That is just my take, and I will have more to come. Thanks for the debate though. I think this is something that the Florida Democratic Party is missing.

    • Utah is a terrible example if your case is to prove the 50-State Strategy doesn’t work.

      A) the 50-state strategy ended in early 2009, all paid staffers associated with it were terminated with the new term of Tim Kaine – anything beyond 2008 is irrelevant.

      B) the 50-State strategy was never fully funded and implemented fully. In Utah, it provided one additional staffer at the state party level full time, and a couple additional junior staffers during peak campaign time. This is far from enough to offset the steepest odds in the nation, and one of the largest states geographically. Yes, Utah is the reddest state in the nation.

      C) The US Senate race and the associated candidates were fighting very limited campaigns, mostly focused on the greater Salt Lake region (progressive stronghold), and neglecting the vast majority of the state’s geography (roughly 45% of the state population, with 55% inside the Salt Lake metro area). This is more akin to your proposed strategy than mine, and yet not at all. The notion of comparing a campaign that raised and spent $6+ Million against one that raised and spent $250k is absurd. Particularly when you know due to the dynamics of fund raising, nearly half of that $250K is raised in the last 3-6 weeks.

      C) Utah had a great success in part due to the 50-state strategy, in 2008, aided by the Young Democrats of Utah (which also received some partnership funding from the YDA before that program died), the State Speaker of the House was defeated by a Democrat in his bid for re-election. They still hold a strong majority in the state legislature, but we took out their top leader in the assembly, that is a big deal.

      I’m not sure how you can talk about correcting the problem without addressing ideology or philosophy, and the lack of incorporating logistics in to the discussion of “eliminating 18 counties” is a large oversight. Within the region of those 18 counties are Leon, Alachua and Gadsden, all strong performing Democratic counties. If you cut off those 18, you don’t think the attitudes from those counties will infect the attitudes towards Democrats in those three strongholds? Or the panhandle which you didn’t count but have essentially disconnected from the rest of the state.

      We need to build infrastructure everywhere, we need to field candidates everywhere, there is no community small enough that we can just amputate it. We have votes we should be collecting everywhere, the second we decide it isn’t worth asking for, we lose it and a half dozen more in other communities go too.

      Again, to expect to make tremendous gains in the reddest communities overnight (or in one or two elections) is pretty foolish. It takes time and work. A few scandals can help speed things up, or a major event (or collection of events), four or five decades ago, Utah was a Democratic stronghold, that flip did happen pretty much overnight – abortion, Watergate backlash, Religious persecution issues, etc.

      Campaigns narrow their focus over time, eventually settling on a GOTV universe that is comprised of entirely people that are likely to vote for their candidate by a margin of 3 to 1 or better. No one is asking the campaign for governor, Senate, etc to spend resources on the whole of Dixie county, but they should be doing what they can to get their identified supporters out to vote. If stopping at a coffee shop while driving from Leon to Hillsborough works out, they should do that.

      The state party on the other hand, should have infrastructure everywhere, making sure there is a place for young people, new to voting and the process, to go to get involved. A place that activists and all ages can channel their energy or stay connected to the process in whatever way they wish, whether it be meeting in a small group a couple times a month to make calls, or organizing a progressive book club.

      The logistics of how dedicated to each of these small counties a staffer is can be debated, but the cost is insignificant in comparison to the millions upon millions blown on TV during the (end of the) election cycle – ads that are more often intended to reduce their turnout than increase ours. The impact of organizing and developing supporters is far greater over time. We just need to make that investment and give it a chance to pay off.

      The 18 Counties you are throwing on the chopping block account for 51,325 real votes cast for Alex Sink for Governor. 40% of the votes cast in those counties to Scott’s 55%. Run a better campaign and maybe you move that 44/52 – every vote counts, over time, even that block of 18 counties is winnable.

      Asides:
      Clinton’s Dept of Interior Dept did us no favors with some bungled actions regarding Utah’s parks and water.

      Carroon is Howard Dean’s cousin, that’s one of the reasons he talked about Utah, he visited frequently.

      Jim Matheson isn’t a Democrat, he’s an obstacle for Democrats to overcome.

  2. Utah was never a Democratic “stronghold”. As someone who studied political history at the University of Utah, the Democrats did have some good years during Cal Rampton. But the margins for the House and Senate weren’t very solid. And, eventually, we lost those margins all together.

    First, I didn’t include Gadsden, Leon and Alachua. I specifically said in my post that I didn’t include those because I feel we do need to target them.

    Still, I wrote a whole entire response, but I just deleted it because I can put it together in a more simplistic way. Lets say that we won all the counties that I mentioned by 58% to 42% (a flip of the results), Alex Sink would have still lost. That shows how insignificant these counties are. We would have spent all that time and all those resources in 18 counties that didn’t help.

    On the other hand, if we just increased Democratic GOTV by a mere 1% in Broward, Dade, Palm Beach, Orange, Hillsborough and Duval, we offset the loses in the other 18 counties. Again, a lot less work for the same exact result.

    Also, you said that I don’t address the lack of logistics…huh? I mentioned time after time that these 18 counties are a logistical nightmare! So, I have said it time and time again.

    Finally, lets say that you were to have these “county staffers” start work today, and they work until Election Day, ok? I figure that they would cost about $2,000 a month (because I don’t see anyone taking the job for less), So, $2,000 a month over 18 counties, times 24 months….$864,000 for one election cycle just for these counties? Really? And statewide, we are talking about $3,216,000. Really? Seriously?

    In addition, I’m sure the larger counties like, let say, Brevard, will be extremely thrilled that they have the same amount of staff support as a county, like Lafayette. Brevard nearly has 100 times more voters than Lafayette. Therefore, how does this problem get solved? Do you give Brevard more staffers? Ok, then you are looking at maybe another $1 to $2 million added to the total bill. So now, we are nearly at, or over, $5 million!

    Really?

    • Really, yes.

      I said those counties were within the 18 counties…this doesn’t happen on an island, you can’t warp from one democratic hot spot to the next. You could, in theory jet from a to b to c…but that is even more inefficient.

      You did nothing to address the aspects of “bleeding” attitudes from neglected regions. Again, you are not taking the long term impacts of these actions in to proper consideration.

      The one staffer per county idea is absolutely utopian, but it is something we should be starting from and working backwards to more reasonable plans.

      The 20,000 votes may not seem significant to you, but given that the race was decided by less than 100,000 out of 5 Million…they all count. And they have a tendency to be contagious, leave a region neglected and they leave your party in a hurry.

      Utah wasn’t ever a Democratic stronghold? Maybe not on the order of Massachusetts, but through much of the 60’s and 70’s it was dominated by Democrats, Governors, Senators, Congress, majorities in both houses of the state legislature… The Democrats did alright for awhile there…

      Hey, if you don’t dig the 50-state philosophy fine, advocate for whatever you wish. I just won’t agree with you, that’s how it goes some times.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

3 Trackbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Florida Democrats: A Map to the Path Forward -- Topsy.com (Pingback)
  2. Quick Hits » Florida Progressive Coalition Blog - (Pingback)
  3. Rebuilding the Florida Democratic Party: Part III – Local Parties « The Political Hurricane (Pingback)