Opinion | How to Restore the Florida Democratic Party – Update Flor

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While Democrats across the country defied tradition, expectations and naysayers on Election Day, Florida Democrats were crushed.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a man whose unironic campaign slogan was “Keep Florida Free,” beat his Democratic opponent, Rep. Charlie Crist, by more than 19 points. The rout was a rarity in a swing state known for grinding races.

DeSantis won large majorities from nearly every category of voter: Latinos, women, men, college-educated, suburban, urban, and rural. Independents sided with the incumbent, as did voters age 45 and over.

The governor flipped eight of the 13 counties he lost in 2018 and improved his standing in all 67 of Florida’s counties. In Miami-Dade’s Latino vote, his numbers jumped 16 percentage points. Other Republicans also outperformed. Sen. Marco Rubio defeated Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat, by more than 16 percentage points.

Not a single Democrat will hold statewide office next year for the first time since the late 1800s.

“A complete collapse,” Kevin Cate, a Florida Democratic consultant, he said on social media during election night. “Either we reset or we die.”

The Florida Democratic Party has had a dismal record over the past decade, but has now hit rock bottom. Political activists I’ve spoken to tell me that the key wheels of political victory—robust voter registration, accurate voter rolls, grassroots hustle, permanent field offices, clever messaging—are either non-existent or on life support.

I was also told that the Florida Democratic Party does not have a reliable database of its voters and lacks sophisticated operations to identify would-be Democrats. Another concern: the state party’s overreliance on expensive foreign consultants who don’t understand Florida’s complicated mix of people, or on state strategists with outdated ideas.

No wonder Florida Democrats got steamrolled.

“If the political infrastructure isn’t built after this cycle, it’s inexcusable,” said Thomas Kennedy, a member of the Democratic National Committee and a Florida political activist. “We have to look in the mirror and admit our failures and move forward. These are serious problems.”

Some Florida Democrats rightly point out that this election season has been a particularly tough year for a number of reasons.

DeSantis is a juggernaut, but Florida itself is now a hot button for Republicans across the country, with Donald Trump anchored in Palm Beach and DeSantis eyeing the White House. Many newcomers headed here, heeding the siren call of zero state income tax and the too-bad-so-sad attitude toward low-wage workers, struggling tenants, and more.

It’s also true that the abortion issue hasn’t resonated in Florida like it has in much of the rest of the country, no doubt causing national Democratic groups to all but leave the state. In 2018, they spent $58 million. This year it was a farcical $1.4 million. But you can’t blame them. Why should Florida Democrats be taken seriously when the state party isn’t being taken seriously?

Now for the hard part: The Republicans deserved to win. After being whipped by President Barack Obama in 2012, the state GOP caved in and did the hard and expensive work of educating, identifying and turning out Florida Republican voters, especially Latinos.

Over time, the state GOP has done everything the Democrats haven’t, and its voter outreach strategies should be emulated. Local and state GOP organizers, following the Libre initiative plan to help Latinos with driver’s tests, citizenship and English classes, replicated the idea. The result is Republican Party loyalty and activism.

Not surprisingly, 58 percent of Latino voters, many of them Puerto Rican, voted for DeSantis.

Basic information is expensive. But ads, mailers and texts just aren’t enough. The Florida Democratic Party needs to convince donors it can right the ship by creating and executing a sustainable campaign plan, Kennedy said.

The party also needs to embrace a straightforward message of economic populism if it hopes to win back the working class and Latinos. And he must focus on recruiting young, quality candidates for local and statewide positions — another long-term strategy of Florida Republicans.

When it comes to the 2024 primary, Florida Democrats need to stop limiting it to registered Democrats and open it up to independent voters. Voters who did not identify with either major party now make up 29 percent and growing. By opening the primaries to everyone, the Democratic Party would not have to wait until August before the election to start running for independents.

“Voter depression among Democrats was a bigger problem than voter suppression,” Kennedy said.

The irony is that there is a winning playbook. It belonged to Obama and his organizers. Democrats cannot afford to cede Florida to the Republicans. It’s too big and too important, with 30 electoral votes in 2024, for donors to write off.

And with both DeSantis and Trump seemingly set for a showdown in 2024, I’d start rebuilding today.

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