- Candidates running for the Florida Democratic Party Chair debated strategies to rebuild the party’s infrastructure, increase engagement with diverse communities, and regain the trust of disenchanted voters.
- The four candidates discussed investing in communities of color and youth voters, enhancing infrastructure, year-round campaigning, and maintaining “boots on the ground” relations.
- Members of the state Democratic leadership will vote for the next chair on February 25th.
Candidates vying for the position of the Florida Democratic Party Chair outlined their visions for the party’s future during Thursday night’s debate after experiencing significant losses in the 2022 elections, which saw the Florida Dems fail to win a statewide election for the first time in more than 150 years. During the debate, candidates discussed strategies for rebuilding the party’s infrastructure, increasing engagement with diverse communities, and regaining the trust of disenchanted voters.
Former state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Annette Taddeo floated the idea of reinvesting in communities of color and the youth voter bloc, which she claims drives election results. In pitching her idea, she referenced the predicted nationwide red wave during the midterm elections that failed to pan out everywhere except Florida.
“That [failed red wave] was thanks to many of the communities of color, black and brown, but especially black, as well as youth, who showed up in huge numbers. That didn’t happen here,” said Taddeo. “This is something that I have actually been warning the Democratic Party for years about. Our lack of investment, our lack of being present all year round, not just during election time in communities of color, and with our youth.”
Broward Democratic Party Chair Rick Hoye touched on similar matters, claiming that the party lacked the infrastructure that enables it to meet members of the community. Hoye went on to explain that the state Democratic Party failed to recognize “bread and butter” issues and allowed false statements to go unaddressed.
Hoye said that under his administration, the party would hone in on voter engagement, year-round campaigning with a plan to build the party bench, and re-enrolling Democrat voters for mail-in voting methods.
Nikki Fried, the state’s former Commissioner of Agriculture, stated that the party needs to focus on establishing the necessary resources, not fundraising, in order to grab the attention of voters.
“We can give each party a million dollars but if voters don’t want to register we can’t do anything,” she said.
Meanwhile, President of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida Dr. Carolina Ampudia seeks change at the grassroots level, wanting to take the party in a direction that embraces community service and the maintenance of “boots on the ground” relations.
“What I want to do with the party is transform it into a community of service so we can really understand what’s going on and form really strong ties,” said Ampudia.
Fried also brought attention to the fact that Republicans control the House, Senate, and Governor’s Office in the state’s capitol, effectively blocking any meaningful policy championed by Democrats from gaining traction. She stated that the only way to counteract the growing Republican dominance is to bring Democrat voters to the ballot boxes.
“Elect Democrats. It’s the only way we’re going to take back our state,” said Fried. “It’s the only way that we make sure we have people fighting all of the insane things happening in Tallahassee and create a free state for everyone.”
Party infighting was further discussed, as tensions between the younger, more progressive Democrat lawmakers and those considered to be establishment politicians have swelled in recent months. Hoye bucked the notion, claiming that the party is in no position to harbor fights behind closed doors.
“We are not in the position to be arguing and fighting with each other internally because we have not delivered victories in decades,” said Hoye. “That’s the only way forward. I don’t want to create an environment where anyone feels like they’re not at the table.”
Similarly, Taddeo proclaimed that the tensions lead to failure, and that party leadership has to reach an understanding that what may work in one region of the state may not be effective in another.
“We have to understand each other and understand the fact that there are going to be different points of view,” she said. “What works in North Florida doesn’t necessarily work in South Florida. We need to make sure we have people from those communities working to help us connect with voters.”
Fried, who has been at the center of the party infighting, spoke a message of unity, claiming that without a consolidated vision, the party will fail to regain lost territory.
“We are tearing each other apart, whether on social media or behind closed doors. Each of us plays a role. We have to come to an understanding that if we, in fact, are going to serve the people of the state and get more Democrats elected we need to start respecting each other’s lanes. There’s no right or wrong, just a Democratic Party,” Fried said.
Ampudia, sticking to her message of community outreach, referred to the Democratic Party as one that spans a wide range of political ideologies, and that the state Democrats would benefit from making strides to reach both ends of the ideological spectrum.
“The democratic party is supposed to be a big tent party. I actually think we have not done enough to reach all corners of that big tent,” said Ampudia. “It’s important to reach every group and every aspect of ideological diversity. What we need to do is find the strengths of every group.”
The Florida Democratic Party finds itself at a crucial crossroads in 2023, as it faces a long recovery from historic losses in the midterm elections. The new chairperson will face numerous challenges including boosting voter turnout, improving fundraising efforts, and implementing long-term planning strategies. It will be crucial for the new leader to prioritize these issues and work towards building a stronger and more holistic Democratic party in Florida. With the next elections fast approaching next month, the stakes are high and the eyes of the political world are on the Sunshine State.