Incoming Senate Minority Leader Jeff Clemens announced Thursday the creation of a new campaign to help get more Democrats elected to the Florida Senate in 2018 and beyond.
“Flip Florida Blue” will set out initially to invest resources to win the special election in Miami-Dade’s Senate District 40 seat formerly held by Hialeah Republican Frank Artiles, who resigned from the seat in disgrace in April after admitting to using racist and sexist language to two black Democratic legislators. That primary election takes place next month (July 25), with the general scheduled Sept. 26.
The next goal is ambitious: Clemens says there are 6-7 targeted Senate Districts in the 2018 cycle they hope to flip, adding to the current roster of 15 Democrats in the 40-member body. One of them will undoubtedly be SD 18, which could see a rematch between GOP incumbent Dana Young and Democrat Bob Buesing. Last fall, Young won the race by seven points, with independent Joe Redner getting nine percent. Redner said that if Buesing mounts a campaign in 2018, he will not run for the seat.
“Senate Victory and my predecessors have, over the last several years, made steady progress, going from 12 to 15 Democratic Senators,” Clemens said. “Now, however, I think there is a great sense that the political and media landscape has evolved, and we need to hit reset on how we approach our campaigns and their communications,” said Clemens.
The ever-irreverent Clemens, who plays in a U2 cover band when not in the Legislature, expressed in the news release the top priority of the campaign is to “help keep Democrats from getting their asses kicked at the polls.”
“There are millions of people in Florida who think both parties suck, and we have to be clearer as to why we suck significantly less, and in fact, why voting for Democrats is a choice people can actually feel good about,” Clemens said. “Public education, clean water, justice, equality, and the ability to climb that ladder to a great job are the hallmarks of a Democratic government. Compelling communications, unfortunately, have not been the hallmark of every Senate Democratic campaign. We’re working to change that.”
The announcement comes seven months after Senate Democrats announced the creation of an “Affiliated Party Committee” that would operate outside of Senate Victory, the official committee housed within the Florida Democratic Party charged with electing Democrats to the Legislature’s upper chamber. That move was made in anticipation that Coconut Grove real estate developer and Democratic Party fundraiser Stephen Bittel would take over as chair of the FDP, which happened in January.
Although Clemens talks about “steady progress,” he admitted in January that the total net gain of only three seats was a disappointment following the redistricting of every Senate district before the 2016 election.
“Yeah, you can’t sugarcoat it. It was disappointing,” Clemens said of the results of last November’s election. “And there were seats we really felt were going our way and four weeks out; all the polls started to slip from us.”
In addition to winning SD 40 and up to seven seats next year, Flip Florida Blue’s third priority is to turn the Senate blue and take over the governor’s mansion in 2018.
Florida Republicans took over the Legislature 20 years ago, controlling the governor’s mansion for the past 19 years.