Florida Democrats Need To Study The GOP Rise More Closely


Throughout the 1980s many Democrats held what amounted to safe legislative seats. With no term limits and overwhelming advantages of incumbency, many Democrats voted to the left of their constituents on key economic issues while towing a more moderate line on hot button social issues. Democrats survived for a long time where they shouldn’t have. Republicans though began a disciplined multiple year approach to turning the state around.

The Republicans began running candidates in these seats even without hopes of winning. The knew incumbents eventually retire, and seats eventually come open one way or another (this was before term limits). At the time Democrats were comfortable in their majority. Comfort bordering on arrogance, as many opportunities to grow the party, reach out to new voters and blood let new leaders was passed up in favor of a business as usual approach.

Democrats often faced the very same Republican candidates in multiple elections, performing worse as time went on. Eventually the Democrats arrogance which led to a poor top down organization and enforcement of the voting rights act as applied to legislative districts spelled the end of Democratic legislative hegemony.

Since the GOP takeover of the legislature the Democrats have won the majority of votes in three of four Presidential elections in Florida (after losing nine of the previous eleven presidential elections in the state ) and significant portions of the urban and suburban landscape have changed in the state. These demographic changes have in most cases favored a shift towards the Democrats.

But Florida’s Democrats have been reluctant to learn from history. They have deemphasized the issues that matter to most Floridians while clinging to a 1980s model on issues and campaign methods. They have done little to mimic the tactics of the Republicans who were able to pick up a total of 36 House seats(almost a quarter of the entire body) and 9 Senate seats between 1992 and 2002.

The Democrats failure is even more appalling when you consider that in the term limits era, legislative seats a open at a minimum once a decade. That certainly wasn’t the case when the GOP chipped away at the Democratic majority. So many of the Republican candidates who eventually became legislators were initially sent on suicide missions against sitting Democratic incumbents. But by running a campaign, finding their voice on issues, and learning how to raise money they became more potent candidates when the opportunity to win actually arose.

The Republicans worked to move beyond their base of seats in southwest Florida,the Space Coast and on the Treasure Coast, pushing aggressively into the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas and eventually entirely flipping Miami-Dade County, whose emerging Cuban-American electorate had been viewed with arrogant contempt by state Democratic party leaders.

The state as a whole is more Democratic today than it was in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Republican horseshoe has been broken up with patches of blue throughout Central Florida. But Florida’s Democrats seem reluctant to embrace the tactics of the opposition that worked so well against them in the 1980s and 1990s. The Democrats have not learned the recent history of elections in is state, or worse yet haven’t even bothered to study its history.

Until the Democrats fully analyze the mistakes of the past and the success of the opposition, change will be elusive.

7 thoughts on “Florida Democrats Need To Study The GOP Rise More Closely”

  1. U expecting miracles?????

    Our party is led by lazy, spineless bastards.

    I would just work around them at this point.

  2. This is one of the few worthwhile articles on this anti North Florida site.

    But you are spot on here. Spot on. Good job.

  3. The party sucks….but better policy than the Rs. I think they think if you can’t beat them join them. We are dealing with their mess for far too long!

  4. To me those that run the Democratic Party in Tallahassee are more interested in holding power that actually growing the party. They are threatened by anyone with new ideas or those who know history. I speak from experience on this.

  5. GatorDemocrat

    Look, the FDP, DECs, and most “elected” (actually, elected in primaries with 10% turnout) state democratic legislatures are a joke. They don’t actually want to win elections because if they did, they would not be as incompetent as election results have shown them to be since the Republicans took the Legislature in ’96 and the executive branch in ’98. Most democratic legislators are lobbyists for municipalities, counties, etc or work for companies that do business with the state. In other words, our “fearless” Democratic state legislators are only there to lobby the Republicans to give business to their employers or clients. What the state party really does is provide sinecures for politicians too chicken to run in tough races (see Thurman, Karen) or too incompetent to win despite multiple attempts to do so (see Maddux, Scott and Smith, Rod). The DEC “leaders”, state legislatures, and party functionaries do NOT want to go for the whole damned pie by seriously contending in all major races, but all they want to do is maintain their little pieces of crumbs to pay their personal bills. Seriously, why should anyone trust our leaders when they are so unimpressive and unable to maintain significant employment in the private sector.