Is 2014 a “hold” or “gain” year for Florida Democrats?

Yes, it is barely over two weeks since Election Day 2012, and it is already time to talk about Election Day 2014.  While presidential year-elections are easy to determine because of high turnout by both parties, it is a bit harder to predict mid-term elections. While Democratic turnout in mid-terms are dismal, Republican turnout fluctuates. Democrats did better in 2006 because Republican turnout was poor and independents were more moderate. In 2010, Republicans dominated because they were able to turn out their voters by a 10% higher margin than in 2006.

Of course, it is hard to tell what the case will be for Florida Democrats. Will it be 2006 or 2010? Still, no matter how it looks, Democrats have to work on getting their turnout increased in 2014 and not rely solely on how Republicans perform.

With all of that being said, what should the Democratic strategy be in 2014? Should Democrats look to retain the seats they currently have or should they venture into other seats that were close in 2012, but the Republicans won slightly? This is the “$64,000 Question”.

Let’s look at the State Senate. During the 2014 election cycle, the even number seats will be up for election. Of those seats, there are really only five races that have the possibility of being competitive.

First, let’s look at Senate Districts 8 and 34. In both of the races, it can be argued that the losing candidates (Bruno and Bogdanoff) were the best candidates that their party could field. Therefore, is winning these seats now impossible for the non-incumbent party? In District 8, yes. But in 34 there is still some hope for the Republicans. One could argue that in order for Maria Sachs to lose, her 2014 opponent would have to be Ellyn Bogdanoff yet again.  Therefore, these seats should be somewhat safer for the incumbents.

The next two races to look at are Senate Districts 20 and 24. The Democrats didn’t field the best candidates in these races, yet they were able to keep them a bit closer than expected. In Senate District 20, the most important observation isn’t what happened in the Senate race, but instead what happened in House District 65. Carl Zimmerman captured this north Pinellas seat, thus showing a shift in the electorate. Many thought that Democratic gains would happen in south Pinellas. And while Dwight Dudley did win, others like Josh Shulman and Mary Louise Ambrose couldn’t. This Democratic trend in north Pinellas should be a big red flag for the GOP. While it might not hurt Latvala 2014, it will not help him either. This is where quality candidate recruitment will come into play.

In Senate District 24, Tom Lee didn’t pull off an impressive win either. True, the nasty Republican primary might have left a few scars, but was it the reason that Lee only won by just over 8%? Even though this might be the case, it should be expected that the Republicans will do better in the mid-term elections in this district. Therefore, while the numbers might look good, the fact that this race will only ever be contested in the mid-terms will be the biggest blow for the Democrats.

Finally, let’s look at Senate District 22. This is the race, if any, that the Democrats should focus on. The fact that they gave this seats to the Republicans is a pure shame. But all of that can be forgiven if the Democrats can recruit a quality candidate. Honestly, any Democrat should be able to pull off a victory against Jeff Brandes. But will the Democrats actually recruit in this district? If they don’t, many will be calling for the head of the new FDP chair as, again, it would be a tragedy.

Therefore, out of the Senate seats, there is only one seat that the Democrats need to hold on to, and that is Maria Sachs’ district. If the Democrats want to attack, they can do it in both Pinellas seats, with Brandes seat being the main target. All other senate seats up for election are already pre-determined.

Now let’s shift over to the House. While the Democrats can do a full-on assault on two Republican Senate seats while only having to defend one, the strategy in the House might be a little different. Democrats really need to consider if they want to put more efforts into defending their current gains in the House or if they want to start expanding the electoral map and targeting close Republican-held districts.

In 2010, Democrats did the former. They put a lot of resources into the campaigns of Janet Long, Bill Heller, Luis Garcia and Joe Abruzzo. While Democrats lost the Long and Heller seats, they retained the Garcia and Abruzzo seats. Even though the 2010 election resulted in a net loss, the national wave made these results inevitable. Therefore, it is hard to blame the Democrats on their strategy, as they did everything they could to retain these seats.

But in 2012, things are a little different. The electoral map is a little different. There are a lot more seats up for grabs in the Florida House than there were in the last 10 years. Therefore, Democrats can make a play in some of the seats that were close in the last election.

First, let’s look at what the Democrats need to hold on to. Like 2010, there are only a handful of seats that Democrats should worry about: Mike Clelland, Mark Danish, Carl Zimmerman, Linda Stewart and Larry Lee.

In Mike Clelland’s seat, this is one of the two that the Democrats might expect to lose. Much like Mike Flanagan replacing Dan Rostenkowski in 1994, just to be defeated (ironically) by Rod Blagojevich in 1996, Clelland might just be seen as a replacement until the Republicans find a candidate. In this case, Democrats will have a very tough decision. Should they not spend as much in a race which will heavily favor Republicans, or do they stand by their man and throw a ton of resources in his direction? This will be a tough one to determine.

On the other side, we have Mark Danish. Danish was outspent 15-1, yet still defeated Shawn Harrison by 1.1%. True, it might have been a close election, but would it have been as close if Danish was well financed? The reason that I picked the district to go Democratic is because it is now a Democratic district. I never understood those that said that picking Danish was an “upset”. With both Sink and Obama winning this district, as well as a 7% Democratic voting registration advantage, Democrats purely have the edge. If the Democratic Party works hard to retain this seat and Mark Danish wins reelection, they will retain this seat for the next 10 years.

Larry Lee’s District 84 is in the same boat as Mr. Danish’s seat. With voter registration advantage as well as electoral trends favoring the Democrats, Lee should be able to hold on to the seat for eight years with the right funding from the Florida Democratic Party.

In the case of Linda Stewart, the numbers might look worse than they actually are. Both Obama and Sink won her district, but voter registration is split between Democrats and Republicans. On the other hand, independents make up 23% of the voters. These are usually Hispanics and vote Democratic anyway. Therefore, like with Lee and Danish, just a little bit of a push should help her win reelection.

Finally we come to Carl Zimmerman. He actually won by nearly 6%, which I think was a surprise to many. He was also outspent by Peter Nehr 5-to-1. But looking at his district, both Rick Scott and John McCain won. As far as voter registration, Republicans hold a 9% margin. In reality, this district is nearly as Republican as Mike Clelland’s district. Therefore, do Democrats take the same approach as they do with Clelland’s district? It is a tough call, but if Democrats plan to win both the Clelland and Zimmerman race, they need to start pumping resources into these candidates now.

In reality, only two seats seem to be threatened for the Democrats. Therefore, the question that needs to be asked is if House Victory and the Florida Democratic Party want to pump nearly $300,000 into District 29 and 65 in order to have a 50-50 chance of retain them? Or, do the Democrats start attacking some of the marginal seats where they can make gains that could offset the loses by these two races? According to my numbers, 15 to 18 seats are considered “toss ups” that Republicans won in 2012. Are these seats, which actually have more favorable numbers than District 29 and 65, the real Democratic targets for 2014?

In my opinion, Democrats need to move forward on candidate recruitment and start targeting these toss up races. As much as I am a fan of both Mike Clelland and Carl Zimmerman (both who I think will do a fine job in Tallahassee), I just don’t see them winning reelection. And if they do, the FDP will have to spend nearly $750,000 to win these seats. The Democrats are in a position of making gains in the House, but they must act wisely in their decisions.

5 thoughts on “Is 2014 a “hold” or “gain” year for Florida Democrats?”

  1. Lewis in Lauderdale

    We SHOULD pick up seats. That of course means we probably will not thanks to the usual situation.

    1- Late start
    2- Bad candidate recruitment
    3- Poor fundraising
    4- No long term commitment to actually trying to incrementally win back the House or Senate

    So we probably lose Zimmerman, Clelland and Danish or Lee while picking up one low hanging seat and finishing on 42, and touting how they don’t have a “super-majority.”

    We are losers.

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