Democrats just concluded their most successful Florida election cycle in more than three decades, not just delivering the state to President Barack Obama and re-electing Sen. Bill Nelson, but also picking up state House, state Senate, and Congressional seats.
But don’t get cocky, Florida Democrats. In many respects, 2014 is more important for the vitality of the party than 2012.
As you prepare to elect a new state party chairman there’s every reason to worry heading into the new election cycle, even against vulnerable Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
You won’t have the massive Obama grassroots machine registering and turning out tens of thousands of new voters. Or a lavishly funded TV campaign like Obama’s. And if past is prologue, Florida Republicans will have far stronger turnout than Democrats.
“Democrats have a long history of not coming out to vote in the non-presidential election years. We’ve seen that four times in a row,” Alex Sink, the 2010 Democratic nominee for governor and potential 2014 candidate, said in a Political Connections interview on Bay News 9.
“The big question I believe for Democrats in the next election is how much of that energy and enthusiasm that we had during this presidential election can carry on to the 2014 races,” Sink said. “I think it’s probably going to be unfortunately very difficult.”
On Jan. 26 in Orlando, Democratic Party leaders will elect a new leader to succeed former state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua, who took the helm of the state party after a GOP wave left Democrats holding just one of Florida’s six statewide offices, Nelson’s Senate seat.
Against that change of leadership, there is no more important question facing the party than whether it can take advantage of demographic changes in Florida and come even close to following the model set by the Obama campaign.
“We’re at the threshold of a new Florida, and we’ve got to seize that opportunity,” said Alan Clendenin, an air-traffic controller and union organizer in Tampa running for party chairman against Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, a Miami-Dade County businesswoman and former candidate for Congress and County Commission.
“Demographics are on our side, the issues are on our side, the wind is at our back, and we just can’t screw it up,” said Clendenin, 53, whose extensive “Rebrand, Rebuild, Recruit” plan for the state party includes decentralizing to create at least five “regional hubs,” more emphasis on low-dollar fundraising, and a “bottom-up” structure for grassroots organizing.
A key to Obama winning Florida’s 29 electoral votes was his strong performance among African-Americans, Hispanics, and voters under 30 — overwhelmingly Democratic groups that tend to show up in much lower numbers during off-year elections.
“The question is how do we take what is the Obama coalition and translate that to a Democratic coalition that outlasts Obama,” said outgoing party chairman Smith.
Consider that in 2008 the Florida electorate was 42 percent Democratic and 39 percent Republican. Two years later, when Scott narrowly beat Sink, it was 45 percent Republican and 39 percent Democratic.
In non-presidential years, the Florida electorate is invariably older, whiter, and much more Republican.