Senate Democratic Strategy Continues To Fail

With last week’s announcement that Brian Scarborough, the well-funded and and promising Democratic candidate, had dropped out of what could have been a competitive Senate election, another seat was essentially conceded to the Republicans. This has become an all too familiar pattern in the recent history of Florida legislative elections. In many cases Democrats do not even compete in the toughest situations. This is partly a bi-product of partisan gerrymandering, but also partly the fate of a party without a strong electoral strategy and a long-term vision for competing in marginally unfavorable districts. The Clay to Alachua seat that Scarborough has abandoned does perform well for the Republicans, with John McCain carrying 53% of the vote in the district. However, it is a seat that Democrats have run well at the local level and even in some statewide races. Clay County is one of the most Republican counties in the southeastern United States but Alachua is the state’s most liberal county (behind possibly Leon) outside the southeast portion of the state and to not have a clear plan B in this area is unforgivable.

The Democratic Party has been caught off guard too often with well-funded candidates in competitive districts dropping out State Senate races within a few months of qualifying. By my recollection and without doing any hard research this is the fourth time a highly touted candidate has withdrawn so late in a competitive seat since the GOP takeover of the body in 1994. While the GOP has had a few similar situations, they always have had a plan B, something the Democrats consistently lack.

Moreover, the number of GOP incumbents who have been left unopposed in Senate elections has been staggering since the late 1990s, as have allegations that the Democrats had vowed not to contest certain seats. As a minority party this is no way to shape a debate on issues and values. While the Democrats continue to believe they are somehow behaving tactically in continuing to give the Republicans minimal opposition in the vast majority of seats across the state, they are in fact doing a disservice to the state and its voters.

The Democrats are either bent on continued self destruction or have been incompetent in senate races for upwards of 20 years. It is fair enough to blame the redistricting of 2002 for the Democrats’ failures of the past decade, but prior to that the Democrats had already allowed the GOP to run rough-shot over just about every competitive district in the state, and with the exception of the 2000 election cycle when well-funded candidates were put in multiple open competitive seats, the party’s Senate strategy has been a complete failure. The 2002 redistricting did pack Democrats into a small number of districts, but it also left several seats where the GOP performance was between 50 and 53%. This was done so that the Republicans could maximize the number of seats it held in the chamber, rather than truly protecting many of its incumbents, Yet only once in the decade (Charlie Justice’s 2006 victory over Kim Berfield in an open Tampa Bay area seat previously held by Jim Sebesta and Charlie Crist) did the Democrats actually pick up a Republican-held Senate seat. The even more damming statistic is that that was the only race which the Republicans were remotely close in over the decade.

While the Democrats, under Leaders Doug Wiles, Chris Smith and Dan Gelber, continued to recruit good candidates for competitive State House seats, the upper chamber has been marked by a strategy of defeatism. Despite a new map that gives the Democrats opportunities to compete in several Republican-leaning seats, the party still does not have its act together. While it is certainly true the Republicans have institutional advantages and were rewarded by the Supreme Court for defying the will of the voters who passed the Fair Districts Constitutional Amendment, the Democrats appear to be doing the bare minimum to take advantage of changing demographics and voter attitudes in the state.

One has to wonder even if the Fair Districts Amendment had been properly enforced by the Supreme Court, would the Democrats have been able to take advantage of favorable districts. After all, recent history has taught us that if a Senate seat is remotely competitive the minority party will find a way to gift it to the Republicans.

25 thoughts on “Senate Democratic Strategy Continues To Fail”

  1. I do agree with much of this articles thinking but much of the blame must be put on the Senators themselves who have become too cozy with lobbyists and specific political consultants who lobby. These Senators and consultant/lobbyists are altogether too busy making deals with the Republicans and being buddy buddy with them to truly run aggressive, partisan campaigns against them.

    You even admit in this article that the House has been very different. Should that not tell you this is in fact the problem of the members themselves and their allied consultants not the pastry itself. You are right but your outrage is completely misdirected.

  2. Wouldn’t that be Smith’s seat were he to run for Senate again as was rumored? Just saying !

  3. Pingback: Florida Democrats’ strategy for winning State Senate seats continues to fail | Saint Petersblog

  4. This is why after the election the Ds will be in the same place they are now and it will be the same bs for all of us. Nothing will change for the better and we have both parties to blame, lots of money and simply just a lot of ego with not much upstairs with the vast majority of them..

  5. Excellent piece but I agree with the above comment that this is the fault of incumbent and former Senators not the FDP. Senate “Victory” not so swell either. We need people from south Florida who aren’t lobbying and know how to run winning races to take it over. Eric Johnson perhaps?

  6. Eric has been running most of the campaigns that is the reason why we have not won one general election since he has been involved. Eric is not even a Republican. He is currently helping Bogdanoff, Crist to get back in the swing of things and Stacey Ritter. Who are you kidding. How has the last decade gone for South Florida? Awful.

    We need the Democrats to get clean. Where is Ron Klein?

  7. Eric Johnson would be a fabulous choice to run the Senate campaigns. That will give us the imagination and creativity needed to win some if these elections that we have not been winning. He led Deutch to victory over Slosberg and Ring over Graber in Senate races and has done a great job for other candidates. Most of the Palm Beach delegation was elected with his help. Kevin Rader and Joe Abruzzo will be the next!

  8. Yes MS..he only can run campaigns against D to D through threats.
    See what they are doing with Sach s now against Bogdanoff. He was the cause of the 2010 loss in South Florida. He lost every race…He sucks!

  9. Lee that is totally disrespectful of the leading Democrat down here. He would NEVER support Bogdanoff and is in fact the lead consultant for Sachs. Eric Johnson does not make threats. He gets the best Democrats elected. Rader is a better democrat than Bernard. Abruzzo better than Laxer if she runs, Deutch better than Slosberg, Ring better than Graber and so forth.

  10. Not true!! Why do you think Laxer is running? We all want to but she is not. You are so threatened by her. Eric is helping Bogdanoff. He helped Crist and he helped JEB don’t kid yourself!

  11. Again the Democrats are their own worst nightmare because they are just like the Republicans…corrupt. Look at PBC. What until the October surprise

  12. In this particular seat you would think the fact that Gainesville were in the district would mean lots of Ds would be prepping to run, give it a shot. You cannot win seats that simply lean Republican if you don’t make the basic effort.

  13. See, this is where I disagree with those in south Florida. When it comes to a statewide election, yes, I think we need to have someone that can maximize the vote in that region, and run a south-central Florida electoral strategy.

    But when we are talking district-by-district, I think that we need someone from Central Florida to run things. Besides the Bogdanoff seat (which we can still win), it is the rest of the state that we are doing a half-ass job. Districts 28, 20, 22, 15, 8, 7 and even 10 could be won by Democrats. We win those, as well as the Bogdanoff seat, what do we have? A one seat Democratic majority in the Senate!!! All of those districts are north of Sarasota and that is what we need to concentrate on!!!!

    The only benefit of concentrating on south Florida is if we are trying to get the Cuban districts, which could even give us a larger majority. The Senate is winnable, but we need the organization and have the balls to make it work!!!

  14. Keep in mind Gainesville is surrounded by areas not too hospitable to liberals. Even under fair districts it is easy to draw compact looking districts that include not only Gainesville but rural and suburban Republicans. District 7 was a well thought out partisan gerrymander.

  15. But still, it is competitive. Democrats always take every slightly marginal seat and say “ah, screw it, we lost”. This one could have been won.

    Like a metaphor from my old hockey days….”100% of the shots you don’t take don’t go in”.

  16. The article is good except the very strange theory that Chris Smith did well as House leader. He’s the incoming Senate leader and is doing as poor a job as he did as House leader. It was the election cycle he was the leader where we got taken to the cleaners and lied to candidates about mail/money etc also. How terrible a leader he was. We lost six seats that year and regained most of those under Gelber. Smith is doing an equally bad job as Senate leader.

    Also note Smith who endorsed Jeb Bush in 1998 was recently awarded the Champion of Business awards by Associated Industries president Tom Feeney. That in itself may indicate he is throwing races.

  17. Does Senate Victory have anywhere close to the funds to compete in multiple races? Usually no.

  18. Pingback: Sunburn for 5/17: A morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics | Saint Petersblog

  19. How about the new St Petersburg area seat. We are tripping all over ourselves to produce a good candidate while the GOP has all coalesced behind a single strong candidate.

    It is criminal how many Republicans are consistently unopposed. Really unbelievable.

  20. Yeah, it is sad in Pinellas. What has happened in that county? I was involved in the YDs there in 1994 and it seemed very well organized. We had a number of elected offices from there, and good ones at that. Lars Hafner, Mary Brennen, Peter Rudy Wallace, Doug Jamerson. What happened?

  21. Do any other readers see the irony that everyone laments not having candidates in these sorts of areas while the panhandle districts never have any shortage of potential and interested candidates? We took two of four statewide nominees from Tallahassee last election!

  22. First, comparing state senate and statewide constitution races is like comparing apples and oranges.

    Second, the panhandle nominees didn’t have primary opponents. And in the general, they preformed worse than the non-panhandle candidates (Sink and Gelber). All the constitutional offices are held by non-panhandle people.

    So, the point is…..?

  23. Concerned Palm Beach Democrat

    Eric Johnson has no ideology. Maybe he would not work for a Republican, but he’s hardly a good Dem either.