Marc Caputo

Marc Caputo: Miami Democrats’ ‘no free rides’ for Republicans could be costing Charlie Crist

About a month before she became Charlie Crist’s running mate, Annette Taddeo announced she helped recruit seven new candidates to ensure that every GOP-held state House seat was under challenge in Miami-Dade County.

“It’s time that Miami-Dade Republicans got the message: No more free rides,” Taddeo, then the county Democrats’ party chairwoman, said at the time.

But now it looks as if the no-free-rides policy could be costing her and Crist.

The Republicans didn’t take her challenge lightly. Together, the six incumbents and one newcomer are out-campaigning their challengers in districts 105, 110, 111, 115, 116, 118 and 119.

That could benefit Rick Scott because it’s helping drive Republican turnout.

In the seven districts Taddeo highlighted, Republicans together are out-voting Democrats by 54 to 27 percent in absentee and in-person early votes cast as of Sunday morning. But in Miami-Dade County as a whole, Republicans have only a 42-40 percent lead in casting pre-Election Day ballots.

Put another way: the GOP holds a 2-percentage point early vote lead over Democrats in the entire county, but a 27-point advantage in these districts. Most of these seats were won by President Barack Obama in 2012, so they aren’t ultra Republican.

Running an effective get-out-the-vote effort costs money. The Republicans have it. The challengers don’t.

In the seven highlighted districts, Republicans have together raised almost $1.7 million to their challengers’ paltry $80,000. The Republicans have spent more than $1.3 million to their challengers’ nearly $44,000.

“Taddeo’s decision to put unfunded candidates against Miami Dade’s Republicans is costing her and Democrats dearly,” said state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who represents state House District 116. “Our get-out-the-vote efforts are robust and are ultimately helping Gov. Scott’s numbers in South Florida.”

Diaz, for instance, says his campaign has banked more absentee ballot votes this year than in 2012, a high watermark.

Put it all together and it’s a troubling sign for Democrats. But it’s a familiar one.

For some reason, Democrats disproportionately don’t vote in midterms compared to Republicans. It’s especially true in South Florida. If the turnout in the Democratic-heavy counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach in 2010 was just at the statewide average, Democrat Alex Sink would probably have won the election.

Miami-Dade has more Democrats than any other county (554,562). It’s anyone’s guess as to why Republicans — outnumbered by nearly 15 percentage points in Miami-Dade — have a 2 percentage-point lead over Democrats in early and absentee votes.

In the county, Republicans are outnumbered by those who are commonly recognized as independents. And had it not been for Miami-Dade and Broward counties, President Obama would have lost Florida.

In looking at those numbers, it made sense that Taddeo wanted to recruit candidates to challenge Republicans in the county. Before she made her announcement, three other GOP incumbents in districts 103, 114 and 120 were facing potential challengers. Taddeo wanted all 10 Republicans to feel the pressure.

Miami-Dade also comes with hometown bragging rights for Taddeo and Scott’s running mate, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who was the county’s elected property appraiser before Scott made him lieutenant governor.

Chances are Crist will win Miami-Dade by a large margin. Two crucial questions remain: How large will that margin be and how many voters will turn out?

One of the candidates Taddeo recruited, Juan Carlos Cuba, said he understood how tough it is to unseat Republican incumbents. But, he said, the party needed to start somewhere.

“We’re introducing issues to these races: Medicaid expansion, minimum wage, Bright Futures,” said Cuba, who served as Miami-Dade Democrats’ executive director under Taddeo. If the candidates don’t win, Cuba said, “We’ll be back in 2016.”

By then, Miami-Dade Democrats might reconsider the value of giving Republicans a free ride again.