“The success of 2012 was because of the tremendous amount of work that was done from the ground up and we need to continue that,” said Taddeo-Goldstein, 45, who like Clendenin wants the party to continue working to improve vote-by-mail performance and aggressively reach out to the grassroots, especially minorities.
That’s a lot easier said than done. The Obama campaign spent millions of dollars building a massive get-out-the-vote machine that culminated in some 800 full-time staffers working out of more than 100 offices across Florida to help tens of thousands of volunteers push supporters to the polls.
In contrast, for at least a decade in Florida, newly elected state Democratic chairmen have had to focus on raising enough money just to keep the lights on. With no statewide officeholder in Tallahassee and a minority in the Legislature, special interests have little incentive to donate to Democrats, and Republicans have had an overwhelming financial advantage.
That makes 2014 potentially the most important election for Florida Democrats since the GOP ascendancy started in the 1990s. The prospect of winning the governor’s mansion and picking up significantly more seats in the Florida House could turn around the Democrats’ financial struggle.
The governor’s divisiveness, Democrats hope, also could energize voters who often skip off-year elections.
“The governor’s race in the state of Florida is going to be as hot as any presidential election,” Clendenin predicted. “We have a governor who is historically unpopular and who from day one has worked against the interests of the majority of Floridians. … Once we get that office, it’s going to completely change the trajectory of the party.”
Republicans dismiss talk about Scott’s vulnerability.
“The 2014 general election is still an eternity away in modern politics,” said state GOP spokesman Brian Burgess. “What we do know is that Rick Scott campaigned on fixing the economy and getting the state back on track, and that is ultimately what he will be judged on in 2014. It’s clear that he’s made significant progress and he’s still got two years to go in his first term.”
So far, only Clendenin and Taddeo-Goldstein have announced their candidacies for Florida Democratic chairman, though surprise last-minute candidates have emerged in the past. Party rules significantly limit the pool of contenders, with only county chairs and county state committeemen and committeewomen eligible.
Smith leaves the job with plenty of success to crow about, but then he took over in 2010 when it seemed hard to fathom Florida Democrats could sink any lower than they had. That won’t be the case for the next chairman.
“We’ve got some momentum, but you can lose it just as fast as we got it,” Smith said.