Following criticism from within its own ranks over its efforts to engage minority voters, the Florida Democratic Party says it plans to spend millions organizing in black and brown communities and advertising in African-American-owned publications ahead of the 2020 election.
Over the next 18 months, Democrats in the nation’s largest swing state say they’ll spend $4 million on efforts to drive up the vote in African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods. That includes a previously announced $2 million voter registration drive, but also a grassroots organizing effort and a six-figure ad campaign in black-owned newspapers, including the Miami Times.
The first ads ran last week and encouraged people to call their local school board members in opposition of a new law that allows classroom teachers to carry guns after going through state-approved training. The ad warned that “Florida Republicans passed a bill that could put thousands of guns in schools.”
Democrats also intend to advertise the consequences of a bill passed this year that requires convicted felons to pay or seek forgiveness of fines, fees and restitution before they can have their right to vote restored. Gov. Ron DeSantis has not yet signed the bill into law, but has said he won’t veto it. Democrats call it a poll tax.
Ads are expected to run in the Capitol Outlook, Florida Sentinel Bulletin, Jacksonville Free Press, Orlando Times, Weekly Challenger and Gospel Truth, among other publications.
The party, which felt that it tried to train too many staffers on short notice last summer, is also hiring dozens of Florida college students — a majority of them bilingual and almost all of them minorities — to serve in field positions beginning this summer to register and engage black and Hispanic voters in metropolitan communities. FDP Executive Director Juan Peñalosa said the party wants to “invest earlier and have more conversations and talk to people where they are, and not just before an election.”
The pricey roll-out comes after the Florida Democratic Party faced sharp criticism from activists in some of the state’s largest and most diverse regions over its efforts to engage minority voters. Within weeks of Democrat Andrew Gillum’s loss to DeSantis, the party’s elected treasurer, Francesca Menes, resigned and blasted Democratic leaders on Facebook for ignoring minority voters and leaders on the party’s executive committee.
“There were no resources poured into black communities for infrastructure,” Menes, who is black, told the Miami Herald at the time. “It was basically: here are your token black folks.”
Now, the party is teaming up with Gillum to register voters and spending millions more on outreach to minority communities.
“I think this is taking lessons learned from 2018 and doing a better job,” said Peñalosa. “In 2018, we had some challenges. We had a late start because of turmoil in the Florida Democratic Party. The one thing we all agreed on is we didn’t start outreach to communities of color soon enough.”