Rebuilding the Florida Democratic Party: Part I – Geographical strategy.

Since 1994, I have been thinking about ways that the Florida Democratic Party can improve. There have been many mistakes that the FDP has made, which has led to a huge GOP landslide in a state that is easily a “toss-up”.

Throughout the next few days, I will be doing a number of different articles which I will discuss some of the changes that I feel need to be taken to make the Democratic Party in the State of Florida more successful.

While some people are going to mention political ideology, which is a theme being heard throughout the nation, I am going to stay away from that fact, except in very few cases. These series of articles are about the nuts and bolts of the FDP, not about liberal vs. conservative.

Today, we are going to be looking at the geographical targeting of the Florida Democratic Party.

During the last few days, I have attacked the FDP for being in some sort of “fantasy land” when it comes to targeting North Florida in both local and statewide races. And, as we learned two weeks before Election Day, LG candidate Rod Smith said “we are going to win Dixie County.” And, as some of you know, my response was “who cares.” (Note: Sink/Smith lost Dixie County by 14%. If Sink/Smith won 100% of Dixie County’s votes, they still would have lost).

Therefore, where should Democrats be targeting?

First, we need to totally scrap the entire idea of targeting North Florida. And there are two very fundamental reasons that we need to stop targeting these insignificant counties.

Before I get into these counties, let me go ahead and list the counties that I am talking about. They are Levy, Dixie, Gilchrist, Bradford, Union, Baker, Columbia, Lafayette, Suwanee, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Wakulla, Franklin, Liberty, Gulf, and Calhoun Counties. So, yes, a total of 17 counties. I am not adding either Leon or Gadsden Counties because I think these are the only two counties in North Florida (that aren’t along the Atlantic coast) that we should be targeting.

Anyway, the first reason we shouldn’t be targeting them is logistics. As you can see, trying to create any type of GOTV effort, or even simple precinct walks throughout this region is a logistical nightmare. In total, the counties that I mentioned are just a little under 14,000 square miles. On the other hand, Broward County is 1,320 square miles, only 8% of the size of this North Florida region.

Secondly, the votes that are won in this region by Democrats are not nearly enough to help a candidate statewide. For example, if a statewide Democratic candidate were to see a 20% swing in each of these counties, which, in the case of Dixie County, would be a 49% to 44% victory for the Sink campaign, it would only add .4% to a statewide candidate’s total vote. Basically, even with this unheard of swing in the North Florida electorate, Alex Sink still would not have won the Governor’s race.

On the other hand, lets say that the Sink campaign decided to do a little more work in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. In this case, the Sink campaign would have to see only a 2% increase (4% swing) in their votes to equal the total of a 20% swing in all of these North Florida votes.

Therefore, there is less work to do. There is less land to cover. There is less of a logistical nightmare. And, in addition, the number of registered voters in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties are increasing at 33% and 16%, respectively. Many of the North Florida Counties see either no change or even a loss in overall voter registration numbers.

And in addition, targeting Broward and Miami-Dade Counties would be more of an effort of GOTV and getting the base out. The people who would be targeted already agree with the liberal political ideology and, therefore, you don’t have to debate them to convince them. In North Florida, Democrats would have to work more on trying to convince the voter “why” they should vote Democrat before they even worry about trying to get them on the polls on Election Day. Again, less work for both the party and the campaign.

Also, with the North Florida electorate being substantially more conservative than the rest of the state, what kind of candidates will this spawn if we continue on this pre-1950’s election strategy? We can tell by the election data that in many of these counties race plays an extremely important part. Is that the type of candidates we want representing the Democratic Party?

The idea of North Florida being a player in Florida politics is dead. Ever since the election of Bob Graham (and some even say earlier), North Florida hasn’t been as much of a factor in the statewide vote. Yet, we still concentrate on this region.

Why? Well, we still have some people in power in the FDP that are from this region that just don’t want to give up power. They know if the FDP strategy changes from North to South Florida, they are up shit creek without a paddle.

This is one of the things which make Republicans stronger than the Democrats statewide. The current success in the Florida Republican Party has its roots in Central Florida. Therefore, they have never had to target a region that is politically obsolete. Instead, they are able to target an area that is growing. The success of Dan Webster throughout the years is an example of GOP success in politically significant areas.

So, if not North Florida, where should the Democrats target?

First, lets look at South Florida. Miami-Dade has shown a strong trend toward the Democrats as of late. The recent election results, which gave the Sink campaign a large margin in Miami-Dade, is a very good sign. One of the only concerns that should worry Democrats is that voter registration has been stagnate over the last 10 years, around 44% for the Democrats. Still, even with the stagnate numbers, the Democrats lead the Republicans, who have seen an amazing 7% drop in their voter registration numbers, from 38% to 31%.

Another county that Democrats should continue to target is Broward County. While, like in Miami-Dade, Democratic voter registration numbers have stayed the same in the last 10 years (around 52%), Republican voter registration has dropped significantly from 30% to 24%. And with a 16% increase in registered voters throughout the county, this continues to be a place where Democrats should stake their future.

Outside of South Florida, two other counties that should be targeted sooner rather than later are Orange and Pinellas Counties. First, we will look at Orange.

In 2008, Barack Obama had an unheard of 19% victory in Orange County. Democrats had won the county in the past, but not by this amount. But usually, when the Governor’s race rolls along two years later, the county usually switches back to the GOP. But not in 2010. Alex Sink won Orange County by 11%.

In addition to good election results on the statewide level, voter registration is starting to favor the Democrats heavily as well. In 2001, there was less than a 1% gap between the Democrats and the GOP. Now, the Democrats have a 13% lead over Republicans in registered voters.

The problem with Orange County is the neglect of the Florida Democratic Party to recruit quality candidates and specifically target Florida House and Senate Districts that Democrats have a fighting chance in. And if they do decide to target a race, it is usually too late to make any difference.

For example, the once “strong Republican” west Orange County now has Democratic Party registration advantages in both State Senate 9 and State House 41, which includes Republican strongholds like Bay Hill, Dr. Phillips and Windermere. If the FDP works with the local Orange County DEC to make a serious run at some of the closer legislative races in 2012, there could be a huge tidal wave for the Democrats in the near future.

Pinellas County is a bit different from Orange County. First of all, the number of register voters in Pinellas only increased by 8%, while Orange County increased by 53%. In addition, the Democrats only hold a 2% lead in voter registration. Still, the most recent election results in both 2008 and 2010 shows that there is a very positive trend.

Like Orange County, Pinellas usually votes for the Democrat in Presidential elections, but revert back to the GOP in midterm elections. But again, Alex Sink had a strong showing in Pinellas, with a 6% victory in the county. If Democrats can continue this positive trend, this is easily a place where voters could make the difference in close elections.

These are both counties that need to be targeted now. But what about the future? Are there any counties that the GOP are still strong in, but Democrats could possibly catch up in the next ten years?

Yes…and that county is Seminole County.

Yes, I know, Seminole County is the home of Bill McCollum, John Mica, Lee Constantine, Marvin Couch and other Republicans that most of us despise. Still, even with these folks running the show in Seminole County, there are some recent numbers that give us hope.

First of all, Democratic voter registration has increased by nearly 2%, while Republican voter registration has fallen by 7%. More people are registering as “independent”, but the important factor is that they aren’t registering with the GOP as much anymore, which used to be an almost automatic in this county.

Second, both the election results in 2008 and 2010 should give Democrats confidence. While the Republicans did win in the 2008 Presidential race as well as the 2010 Governor’s race, the margins, compared to the past, have been cut substantially. George Bush beat John Kerry by 14%, a pretty good ass-kicking. But McCain only beat Obama by 3%. What is even more impressive is that Rick Scott, a candidate that looks like he would be tailor-made for Seminole County, only won by 7%. Yes, that isn’t as close as Obama, but the trend is looking really good. Therefore, Seminole County should be a long-term goal for the Florida Democratic Party.

These are just a few of the fundamental changes that the Democratic Party could institute statewide. North Florida is dead. It doesn’t matter anymore. Dixie County doesn’t matter anymore. On the other hand, all of the big counties do matter. And that is where we should be putting our efforts, especially in South and Central Florida.

Part II: Changing the Leadership in the Party.

5 thoughts on “Rebuilding the Florida Democratic Party: Part I – Geographical strategy.”

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  3. Bobby Buccellato

    Thank you so much for this blog and this series.
    I hope someday you can make a change in the party.

  4. Fortunately Karen Thurman resigned since then, but the FDP continues to do nothing about the apathetic leadership of the South Florida County DEC’s which perform no discernible function in getting democrats elected. Has the FDP just written county DEC’s off as irrelevant ?

  5. Dave Trotter

    Who knows. Honestly, I think we have to ask if they have become irrelevant. It is an honest question.