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Duval DEC Chair Daniel Henry

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Duval went for Joe Biden, but Democrats have downballot work to do

There’s a reckoning afoot.

Daniel Henry, the chair of the Duval County Democratic Party, presided over Joe Biden carrying the county, the first Democrat to do so since 1976.

However, the legacy was a mixed bag.

Though Biden was able to parlay a registrant advantage of roughly 40,000 into a 3 point win, the Democratic presidential nominee had no coattails. The party lost in a countywide clerk of courts race along with winnable races for Jacksonville City Council and state House.

“Nothing’s a sure thing in Duval,” Henry said, noting that the long-term strategy for the party, which 2020 was part of, was to “expand the registration gap” over Republicans.

Part of the need to do that, Henry said, is that Democratic registrants are more likely to be “low propensity voters,” while Republicans tend to dominate with super voter types.

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While those low-propensity voters can be turned out for hot-button elections such as the one just concluded, responding to “federalized” messaging, they are less likely to know what is happening for Democrats down ballot, contended Henry.

“Every other race was drowned out,” Henry said, leading to a “drop off” and undervotes.

This has real world consequence for candidates like Jimmy Midyette, the lawyer who ran for clerk of courts in a bid to bring back courthouse weddings shuttered when LGBT marriage became the law of the land under President Barack Obama.

“A lot of voters may not know about that [clerk of courts] position,” Henry said, noting a “large influx of newer voters.”

Midyette offered overt critiques of the city’s political establishment, and in turn they buried him under a barrage of negative ads that he called “toxic” and untrue, but that hurt his margins compared to the top of the ticket.

Republican nominee Jody Phillips, meanwhile, was the beneficiary.

“Republicans are more likely to vote the entire ballot,” Henry explained.

Henry acknowledged that the 2019 campaign, when Democrats didn’t field candidates for Mayor and Supervisor of Elections, may have helped with that Duval disconnect.

But the issue was that no one wanted to run.

“Candidates decide to run, if they’re ready to make that next leap,” Henry said, noting party officials “spent time trying to recruit” people, but to no avail.

But with those positions being open in 2023, Henry expects Democrats to throw in.

He expects an “upward momentum” in registration, with “demographics continuing to change,” that will help flip districts like HD 15, a D+3 area on the Westside that Rep. Wyman Duggan, a Republican, won by eight points.

Super voters in heavily Republican Ortega made a difference there against first-time candidate Tammyette Thomas, but the Republican Party of Florida also spent a lot of money targeting Democrats and NPA voters.

New development on the Westside is favorable for Democrats, Henry said, noting that new maps may change the calculus in 2022 regardless.

While Duval Democrats negotiate turning their plurality into control of government, the issues are starker for Democrats elsewhere in the state.

Chair Terrie Rizzo is under fire after Biden lost the state, and the party looks to be headed for another one of its reckonings with the future.

“There’s a stark difference between where we performed well and we didn’t,” Henry said, noting the collapse in Miami-Dade.

Regardless of who chairs the party, Florida Democrats need to do a better job engaging voters of color, Henry noted.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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