The Florida Democratic Party is the worst state part in America. Could it get even worse? How about if-- as is likely-- the party lets conservative billionaires start running the show... or run it more than they already do? Politico's Gary Fineout and Marc Caputo reported that Michael Bloomberg and Jorge Pérez are financing a party takeover bid by former on-again-off-again Democrat Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. Everyone agrees that current failed chair Terrie Rizzo has got to go, but is Diaz the best replacement?
Bob Lynch, a candidate for state rep in Miami-Dade, who was overtly sabotaged by the FDP, told me this morning that he's somewhat enthusiastic about Diaz... to an extent. "The positive part of this news is that there is some real money interested in Florida going forward. This is important with DeSantis and Rubio up in 2022. I’m a little skeptical though because Bloomberg spent $100mm here this year and democrats got crushed across the board. Many of his hires, like useless DCCC reject, Kyle Layman, are good at only one thing: Wasting other people’s money. So yes, this could be a good thing but it could also just amplify the problems with the Florida Dems to a much larger money burning scale. It really depends on who runs for Governor. If it is someone like Nikki Fried, who knows how to win statewide, partnering up with Manny and the money guys, this could be a really good thing."
Demonstrating his ignorance of Florida, Bloomberg sent Politico a statement saying "No one is better suited for Florida Democratic Party chair than Manny Diaz. Manny ran the largest city in the state and intimately knows the districts and communities that Democrats lost this cycle." Miami isn't even close to being the biggest city in the state, just the most elite and glamorous one one that gets all the attention from the media. Neither Fineout or Caputo noted that Jacksonville is a far bigger city:
St. Petersburg- 265,351
Will money solve the Florida Democratic Party's inability to do anything right? Aside from catastrophic losses in the state legislature and Biden's loss, the FDP and DCCC allowed two Miami-Dade congressional seats to flip blue to red. But both Democratic incumbents spent more than their Republican challengers. They are, by far, the two bluest congressional districts in the country with Republican representatives.
FL-26 (D+6)- New Dem Debbie Mucarsel-Powell raised $6,178,239 but she still lost to Republican Carlos Gimenez (51.7% to 48.3%), who only raised $1,946,504
FL-27 (D+5)- Relic Donna Shalala raised $3,405,420 to Maria Salazar's $3,126,831 and then lost her seat by about 10,000 votes, 51.4% to 48.6%.
A top Florida strategist told me this afternoon that "Bringing in someone from Miami-Dade, after their historic losses up and down the ballot, would be one of the dumbest things the party could do. Which is why they will probably do it. The party should not be run out of Miami Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach counties until they have proved they deserve it. They’re totally out of touch with the rest of the state, which outperformed this cycle and where the real growth opportunities for expanding the Democratic electorate lie. Giving the keys of the state party to a corrupt Miami Cuban politician is a recipe for disaster, corruption, and fraud. Manny knows a good con when he sees one and Bloomberg can’t spot one even if it is right under his nose. The party already wasted an enormous amount of money on Donna Shalala, Debbie Murcasel-Powell, José Javier Rodríguez, and Javier Fernández that cost the party wins in other parts of the state. Throwing even more money at Miami Dade won’t make a difference whatsoever. It will make a lot of people rich and will do nothing to counter the gains made by the GOP in South Florida."
Billionaires are always so sure money makes the world go round, but the 2020 elections proved it won't win elections without a lot more of the stuff the Democratic Party-- in Florida and elsewhere-- is lacking. And Politico Magazine published a piece by Miti Sathe, executive director of Square One, and Will Levitt, the organization's co-founder, It Wasn't Ideology That Sank House Democrats. It Was Bad Strategy. "It was weak strategy," they wrote, "based on bad polling information and poor decisions from the national party that left Democratic candidates in swing districts-- and candidates of color in particular-- unable to hold their own in the face of a massive, and massively underestimated, Republican voter surge. The fact is: If you’re going to win a campaign, you’ve got to campaign, which means getting in front of voters and meeting them where they are. And that was the one thing that Democrats running for Congress could not do this year, upon orders from the party’s campaign arm in Washington, DC. Every election cycle, the DCCC, along with the DNC and their biggest and most influential allies, wield disproportionate influence through the weight of their endorsements and their power of the purse. Often operating in concert, and inspiring big donors to follow, they decide which candidates are 'viable,' who is worthy of full financial support, how their campaigns should operate and which consultants they can hire. And this year, the direction set by D.C. Democrats proved to be a very big part of why House Democrats fell far short of a hoped-for 2020 blue wave, instead diminishing their hard-fought majority won in 2018. Their data was bad-- the result of polling that vastly underestimated how many Republicans would turn out to vote and how their ever-strengthening fidelity to President Donald Trump would cause them to back GOP candidates all the way down the ticket. Their understanding of very specific voter beliefs in very different local districts was even worse-- which is why Hispanic voters, lumped together into a non-differentiated, assumedly pro-immigration and anti-Trump bloc, provided the party with such disastrous surprises in south Florida and border areas of Texas. While the party isn’t solely to blame for using bad data, it should have known better than to use polls as the main indicator of future success and voter preferences. Indeed, 2016 had offered ample warning that polling was unreliable. And the messaging dictates coming from Washington-- delivered to all the congressional campaigns in conference calls and memos and advertising guidance from consultants-- frequently missed their mark. Democratic campaigns we endorsed and were in frequent communication with were told to hit the Republicans hard for their poor handling of the deadly coronavirus epidemic. Yet swing voters didn’t view their local GOP candidates or officials as complicit in the Russian Roulette that the Trump White House had played around Covid. And advice on conference calls we sat in on that encouraged candidates to run TV ads saying they were 'angry,' 'fed up' and 'frustrated,' was laughably ill-suited for candidates of color-- especially Black women-- running in nearly all-white districts." They didn't mention that candidates who allow the DCCC and DCCC consultants to dictate their campaigns aren't fit for office anyway.
One prominent Florida Democrat thinks Politico got sold-- and is selling-- a bill of goods. "The vote [for Party chair] is by county Democratic Party officials, and I assure you that none of them gives a shit about Bloomberg’s money. They know that none of it will ever reach them. The county party organizations are starved for resources, they’ve been promised 15 times that they would get something, and it never arrives. So they just don’t believe it’s possible anymore. Plus, they saw that none of the $100 million that Bloomberg spent last month reached them, and it had absolutely no effect on any local races at all. As far as local party leaders are concerned, that would be like being hit by lightning. It’s so pathetically easy to get Politico to write articles like this.
Guidance from Washington broadly understood by campaigns as a ban on in-person canvassing was the most damaging decision of all-- an error that compounded all the others. It seemed to make sense on its face. But it was also-- like the defiant lack of mask-wearing at Trump rallies is for Republicans—a form of Democratic brand messaging: They walk in the low-down footsteps of Typhoid Mary, we take the high road with Tony Fauci. Applied to campaigns all across the country, it backfired terribly. Instead of finding ways to safely campaign in swing districts and talk to voters, wearing masks and social distancing, in the weeks before the election-- as did Joe Biden’s presidential campaign-- Democratic campaigns had to rely on second-hand insights, filtered through the misperceptions of pollsters and politicos in far-off Washington, D.C. They had no option but to rely on polling data, which a more robust ground operation would have exposed as inaccurate: Nothing better gauges voter sentiment than meeting voters in person. And so they had to connect with voters through the largely impersonal means of TV ads, email blitzes and massive spends on social media.
Again, based on our experience working with congressional campaigns, meeting a congressional candidate on-screen just doesn’t work—and it especially doesn’t work for candidates of color, who are seen as “the Black candidate” or “the Hispanic candidate” or “that Asian candidate” when they’re seen on TV, but simply become “the candidate” when encountered in person. Lack of direct contact is what made it possible to apply the label of “radical leftist” to Midwesterner Lauren Underwood, who grew up in her almost 90 percent white district, shares the health, economic and safety concerns of her neighbors, but was depicted this year in TV attack ads that darkened her skin, made a caricature of her features and tied her to lawless “riots.” It’s also why Gina Ortiz Jones, despite her military service and long-time home base in south Texas, could be portrayed as a carpetbagger for owning a (rented-out) condo in Washington, D.C., and be painted as all but irredeemably “other” by attack ads that focused on her life with a female partner.
Now that party leaders in Washington are embarking upon (yet another) much-publicized “deep dive” into their failures, we’d like to suggest that they start with some tough questions: Why do we Democrats know so little about our Republican counterparts-- right down to where to find them and how to speak to them so we can conduct accurate polls? Why doesn’t our national party trust individual campaigns, especially the promising campaigns of candidates of color, to hire their own people and make their own decisions on messaging and strategy?
Our party leaders need to respect the judgment of candidates running in towns, suburbs and rural areas far outside of the Beltway. They need, in particular, to do a better job of listening to candidates of color, who are not currently well-served by the “top” professionals dispatched from D.C. to advise them. And they need to vastly loosen the reins when it comes to imposing potentially destructive one-size-fits-all national strategies on local Congressional races.
Washington is a top-down town, but today’s electoral landscape is a bottom-up, grassroots-driven world that both reflects and rewards diversity-- not just of candidates, but of ideas and strategies. Losing sight of that truth is how we fail to win elections.
One cerebral Democratic Member of Congress who I tried, unsuccessfully, persuading to speak with me about this on the record and in detail told me that "the Democrats have become a party about nothing. That’s what I think accounts for that swing [towards the GOP in House races]. I don’t feel any need to go further than that." Well, not surprising, but still disheartening.