- The Florida Democratic Party is facing a crossroads in 2023 after significant losses in the midterm elections and a need to reclaim political power in the state government.
- Republicans hold a supermajority in both the state House and Senate, with record-breaking levels of fundraising from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who defeated his Democratic rival Charlie Crist by nearly 20 points.
- The state Democratic party faces issues with voter enthusiasm, consistent messaging, and a lack of a plan, and has continued fundraising woes, lagging behind state Republicans.
- The party is facing pressure to elect a new leader who can make the right choice, break the cycle of having a new chairman every two years, and demonstrate to voters and donors a commitment to change.
The Florida Democratic Party (FDP) finds itself at a crucial crossroads in 2023, as it faces a long recovery from historic losses in the midterm elections and must reclaim political power in the state government. With the state’s growing political significance and the next party chair election quickly approaching, 2023 promises to be a decisive year for the future of the Florida Democratic Party.
But huge questions loom. How will Florida Democrats come back from one of the most decisive defeats in its history? Where do Democrats even start to rebuild? Is fundraising the main problem? Messaging? Lack of quality candidates? The next Chair of the Florida Democratic Party faces a difficult task, starting with convincing party faithful that they’re up to it.
A trail of electoral carnage
As the FDP’s only competitor, the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) exceeded its previous sky-high expectations on midterm election night last November, positioning itself to hold a supermajority in both legislative chambers. At the final whistle, state Republicans hold 85 seats in the Florida House and 28 in the Senate, emerging victorious in nearly every competitive race.
En route to attaining the supermajority, Republican newcomers ousted a series of established Democrat lawmakers including Loranne Ausley and Janet Cruz.
Moreover, state Democrats severely lagged in bringing in fundraising dollars.
Gov. Ron DeSantis raised a record-breaking $217 million for his re-election campaign, surpassing any previous gubernatorial candidate seeking re-election in United States history, according to OpenSecrets data. Meanwhile, his Democratic rival, Charlie Crist, raised just $31.6 million.
In the gubernatorial race, DeSantis won 62 of Florida’s 67 counties on his way to defeating Crist by nearly 20 points.
The fundraising woes persist, however, as Florida Politics reported earlier this month that the Republican Party of Florida held a $9.2 million fundraising advantage over Florida Democrats in the time between midterm elections and the end of the calendar year.
The gubernatorial race encapsulated the most pressing issues facing the state Democratic party — voter enthusiasm, consistent messaging, and a lack of a plan.
Worse, the issues aren’t new, if Leon County Republican Party Chairman Evan Power is to be believed. He claims that the past inflow of national party dollars has helped keep longstanding Democrat issues out of the public eye, and recent election history backs his claim.
Since 2002, Republicans have won 30 statewide elections, while Democrats have taken just six during that same timeframe.
“The Florida Democrats’ weaknesses have been covered in recent years with the sugar-high of national money,” Power says. “Now, without it, they are on the verge of extinction. They need to find themselves, and quickly, or it may be decades before they are relevant,” Power said.
The display of a disastrous election cycle was not without consequences; Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz abruptly resigned in early January following months of inward pressure to vacate the position.
“After much reflection, I regret to inform you that I have chosen to retire as FDP Chair, effective immediately,” Diaz wrote in his resignation letter. “It has been a pleasure and honor to work with you, and, rest assured, I will continue to fight with you to get Democrats elected.”
In the leadup to midterm elections, Diaz faced criticisms from national party official Thomas Kennedy, who demanded Diaz relinquish his role after the midterms concluded because he endorsed John Dailey for mayor in Tallahassee, among several other localized races.
Kennedy also told Politico that his dissatisfaction ran deeper, lamenting the lack of presence the Democrats hold in Florida.
In a show of party fracturing, Diaz fell short in acknowledging his own deficiencies as the party chairman. Upon his exit, he criticized activists, party members, and even a local union for not doing enough to register voters or increase voter turnout in November.
Democrat opinions vary about the path forward
Now, the state party is faced with electing a new leader, and the pressure is on to make the right choice.
“As we reflect not just on the results of the 2022 midterms, but the last 30 years, Florida Democrats must start to act and think differently,” Former Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried told The Capitolist. “It is imperative to the future of our state, as democracy only works when there are checks and balances, that Florida Democrats get this next chapter right.”
Fried specified that the current party discourse is largely focused on preventing the same mistakes from occurring and how to use this down period as a means to build back stronger and more prepared for future election cycles.
“We must demonstrate to our registered voters, our residents, donors, electeds, and potential candidates, that this time is different,” continued Fried. “That we aren’t just going to repeat the same mistakes we have been making. We must try something new.”
State Senator Shevrin Jones spared no feelings, laying out that the party was in dire straits in Florida.
“This is more than just a consummation process. We’re in trouble at the state,” he said in an interview. “Whoever takes on this role, we are going to have to make sure they have a plan. I’m talking about an all-out long-term game plan on how to rebuild Florida.”
The Florida Democratic Party has established a dysfunctional cycle of bringing in a new chair every two years, which sends the wrong signal to national donors that they aren’t committed to course correction.
To fix this, party activists say, Democrats must establish stability and consistency in its leadership and decision-making processes. The party must also focus on building a strong coalition of supporters and donors at the local, state, and national levels. Most importantly, though, Democrats need to develop and execute a plan for funding their operations and investing those dollars well, while at the same time showing a commitment to transparent and responsible management of those financial resources.
Is there any Democrat candidate who can deliver?
As of January 30th, just three party members have announced their candidacy: Former state Senator Annette Taddeo, Broward County Democratic Party Chair Rick Hoye, and political consultant Alex Berrios. A fourth candidate, Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, dropped out of the race last week, citing pressing matters in Leon County.
Some view Taddeo as an early frontrunner for the February 25th election, gaining heavy traction after picking up a series of endorsements from nine state Democrat Senators, including Lauren Book, Jason Pizzo, Lori Berman, Tracie Davis, Tina Polsky, Darryl Rouson, Linda Stewart, Geraldine Thompson, and Victor Torres. All cite her experience and leadership skills as key factors in their decision.
“Having worked alongside Annette, I can confidently say she is the best person for the job and I look forward to working alongside her to help rebuild what has been lost so that Democrats can effectively defend the rights and freedoms of Floridians all across our state,” said Book.
But support from lawmakers — who have little sway in the chair election process — does not necessarily mean that Taddeo is backed by those state party leaders who will actually cast votes.
For that, Taddeo is taking her case to social media, where in a roughly three-minute video posted to her Tiktok account, Taddeo explained that the party is at a critical juncture, needing to be entirely reconstructed from the bottom up in order to find success in the current Florida political framework. She says that as Chairwoman, she would make efforts to regain the Democrat Party’s statewide voter registration advantage — which it lost for the first time ever last year — and implement grassroots campaign operations under shared values.
Questions arise, too, regarding Taddeo’s status within the party. Having been active in state politics since 2008, she seen by some as part of the Florida Democrat establishment. Given the rhetoric regarding the need for change, electors may look to someone entirely new.
Matlow might have been that figure, but has since bowed out of the race, situating himself as a potential candidate for future elections.
Meanwhile, Berrios’ candidacy announcement drew mixed reactions from Democrat lawmakers given his role in organizing voters. The Founder of Mi Vecino, an organization dedicated to registering voters, concerns surrounding the party’s failure to draw a respectable voter turnout arose, as well as past workplace controversies.
“Absolutely not,” said Rep. Angie Nixon on Twitter following Berrios’ candidacy. “This. Is. A. Hard. No.”
The remaining candidate, Hoye, has led Broward County’s Democratic Party since 2020, maintaining the area as one of the few remaining Democrat strongholds in Florida.
In the most recent gubernatorial race, Crist received 15.3 percent more of the vote in Broward than DeSantis. In the 2020 Presidential election, 64.6 percent of voters broke for Joe Biden, where he defeated former President Donald Trump by nearly 300,000 votes.
“I feel that I am uniquely qualified to move our party forward after the disappointing losses that Florida Democrats have incurred since President Obama won the state twice,” said Hoye in a statement.
As part of his platform, Hoye is focusing on electing Democrats at local levels, building a broad base to strengthen the party from the ground up.
The new chairman 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.