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Still Unanswered: What's the Florida Democratic Party Plan?

May 20, 2015 - 6:00pm

Last weekend the Republican Party of Florida unveiled its new and improved persona, promising the party would hit the ground running to ensure widespread victories for Republican candidates come 2016. The state party is trying to keep the winning beat going, in the last cycle having won every statewide office on the ballot including re-electing Gov. Rick Scott for a second term -- and sealing a majority in both the House and Senate.

But in 2016, there will be significant pressure on both parties -- specifically the Florida Democratic Party -- to show what theyre really made of. The question is, do they have a game plan?

If they do, they haven't been quick to show their hand.

Democrats havent held a lot of victory parties in Florida over the last few years. Their numbers have dwindled statewide since 1996 when Republicans took over control of the House. Their biggest win in 2014 was arguably with rookie congressional candidate Gwen Graham, daughter of the former governor and senator, who narrowly defeated incumbent Steve Southerland.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist seemed headed toward a win, but ultimately lost. The Dems came up short.

In order to win seats across the state (and possibly tip the legislative scales in their favor) the FDP is going to have to ramp up its efforts in a serious way.

The party is still taking its knocks. On a citywide scale, just this week incumbent Democratic Mayor Alvin Brown of Jacksonville -- called "a rising star" less than two years ago -- was defeated by former RPOF chairman Lenny Curry.

Still, the FDP can hope to jump on a shaky party, which is already seeing obvious divides through the Legislatures impasse on whether to expand Medicaid.

Only House Republicans would give themselves a vacation after denying 800,000 working Floridians access to health care, said FDP Chair Allison Tant after the House adjourned three days early last month.

Rumors have also swirled that the wounds within the RPOF from chairman Leslie Doughers overthrow in January still havent healed.

Some of the states brightest political operatives, who have experience working with the party, say its all fine and dandy for the RPOF to promote both its candidates and its policies via social media, but theyre behind in the game.

Theyre simply copying the strategy the national Democratic Party used in 2008, which sent President Barack Obama to the White House. And state parties? Well, some say they cant really do much to send a specific candidate to the White House.

"For all the chatter ... tweeting about it ... beating your chest ... in the modern campaign world, both state parties have very little impact on the presidential election, said Democratic political strategist Steve Schale.

Schale is no stranger to Democratic political success. He worked several House campaigns for Democrats in 2006, winning them nine seats. To Schale, the formula for a win in statewide politics is pretty old school: Democrats will simply have to recruit better candidates.

Functionally, you should be putting these candidates on the field every year, he explained. I dont know that my party has done that job at this point ... most people would say we [Democrats] are going to have huge opportunities over the next decade, but again, you have to elect [specific] people.

The FDP plans on outlining its game plan at its June 13 Leadership Blue gala in Hollywood. Voter turnout is, of course, higher in presidential election years, but will the FDP have what it takes to revamp its party?

One thing is for certain: the FDP will need to have a very specific game plan going into 2016 if its leaders hope to not repeat what turned out to be a disappointing-at-best election year in 2014.

Sunshine State News attempted to contact FDP spokespersons several times for comment, but they had not returned calls as of this articles release.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen

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