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Nikki Fried hosted Democrats for an election autopsy. Here’s what they say went wrong in 2020.

After losing ground in the Legislature, Democratic lawmakers want a path forward.

Florida’s top Democratic elected official hosted lawmakers at her home Monday, with masks and social distancing, to discuss how this campaign cycle went wrong.

In town for an organization session, Democrats arrived in Tallahassee in smaller numbers in both the House and Senate. And while Democrat Joe Biden won the White House, he lost Florida by more than three percentage points.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat holding statewide office, convened lawmakers at her Leon County home, where the floor opened for the surviving members of the Democratic caucus to dissect the failures of 2020 and offer a way forward.

That set the scene for an evening autopsy, where about 35 House and Senate Democrats decried a lack of help from the Biden campaign. They lamented how the coronavirus pandemic destroyed a ground game that delivered successes two years ago. And ultimately, they discussed the ways messaging that works in liberal Central Florida districts can destroy candidates in South Florida.

Lawmakers like Sens. Annette Taddeo and Tina Polsky and Reps. Joe Geller and Matt Wilhite arrived from the South Florida front. They shared how branding Democrats as socialists wreaked havoc in a community where many immigrant families fled from communist regimes. While Bernie Sanders Democrats may not want Venezuela-style socialist dictatorship, the ‘S’-word proves explosive on the campaign trail.

South Florida saw some of Democrats’ most surprising losses, including incumbent Sen. José Javier Rodríguez‘s narrow defeat against Republican Ileana Garcia.

Panhandle Democrats like Sen. Loranne Ausley and Rep. Ramon Alexander said assumptions can’t be made that high-minority concentration districts will embrace aggressively liberal platforms, and that many of those Democratic voters remain conservative on a number of issues. That means Democrats representing those districts need to be able to hold moderate views.

Progressive Central Florida lawmakers like Carlos Guillermo Smith and Anna Eskamani were also in attendance. They represent districts where a more liberal platform may thrive, though Eskamani has stressed she was able to win in precincts this year where President Donald Trump also won.

On that front, a lack of ground game by the state party spurred many grievances. Democrats, since the election, have said reluctance from the Biden campaign to knock on doors in a pandemic hurt candidates up and down the ballot.

And there seemed a feeling that was a Florida-specific problem, considering Biden was able to flip five states Trump won in 2016 yet lost Florida by a larger margin than Hillary Clinton.

Among the most controversial topics, lawmakers voiced mixed feelings about independent expenditures from outside groups. Some saw a complete lack of accountability with those organizations, many of which, by law, completely wall themselves off from communication with candidates or their campaigns.

A few felt these groups may well have provided the push that ensured their own campaigns were victorious. But a widely shared sentiment among lawmakers was that these groups consume limited resources available for Democratic causes, money that could go directly to candidate campaigns.

As far as positive steps forward, there seemed wide agreement that better coordination between campaigns, local Democratic Executive Committees and the Florida Democratic Party should develop. County leaders need to be empowered by the state party to make decisions and take action on the ground. Task forces within the party infrastructure should tackle some of these issues in the immediate future.

Generally, those in attendance say lawmakers came with their own ideas and open ears to hear the plight of others. While frustration at the election results proved glaring for all in attendance, there seemed to be an agreement there needed to be more cooperation in the future, not less. And everyone showed an appetite for moving forward toward solutions.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Ocean Joe

    November 17, 2020 at 10:21 am

    When you are confronted with a smear campaign you better smear back. The plan of “when they go low we go high” is nice, typically Democratic…but it doesn’t work. And they always go low.

  2. RayJay

    November 17, 2020 at 10:33 am

    Duval Dem’s benefited from the utter incompetence of the Chairman of the local Republicans.

  3. Ron Ogden

    November 17, 2020 at 10:33 am

    “Sanctimonious, supercilious, out-of-touch”: those are some of the words voters are using to describe the Democrats, especially the AOC types like Anna Eskamani. We heard this last time, too, as cooler political heads tried to describe the loss to Trump. Here’s a quote from a comment on a WaPo elegy yesterday:

    “Among the mostly White liberal students, there seems to be an inability to hear a divergent point of view. They quash all opposition, silencing any opinion other than their own and consequently, the students holding these dissenting opinions. There is only one way to do things, their way.”

    And you all Republicans divisive? The forces destroying America do not have roots in the Trump White House, they have roots in the spoiled little brats this culture has been producing for generations.

    By the way, why is Fried holding an after-action debriefing? I thought the power that be, the Lieutenant-Governor-in-waiting John Morgan, has already read her out of the party?

  4. just sayin

    November 17, 2020 at 11:06 am

    Democrats don’t go low? Joe Biden literally said that Romney wanted to enslave black people. GTFOH.

    Democrats lost because the predominately white, left wing of the party endorses terrible socialist policies that scare the more moderate minority members. Come back to the middle and you’ll get more votes.

    And acting as if Fried is some expert on winning Florida… she won Ag Commissioner, FFS. Against a pretty lousy candidate.

  5. Veronica P.

    November 17, 2020 at 11:26 am

    The simple fact of the matter is most Florida voters showed absolutely no common sense by voting for Trump. He is a man without any morals, he is corrupt, he is incompetent, and he has spent close to a year ignoring a pandemic that has killed more than a quarter of a million Americans.

    In my mind, the question should then be: Why would Latinos in south Florida vote against the widely feared, Republican made-up threat of socialism–but instead vote for fascism? The upheaval, chaos, and corruption that have defined Trump’s years in office rivals even the worst governments in Latin America and Cuba as well.

    I’d say the problem lies within the Cuban community’s mindset. They are an ethnic group that dominates the south Florida business and political landscape and no matter how corrupt the Republican party is, it would appear the party of Trump has found a welcome home among Florida Cubans.

  6. Nikki Weed

    November 17, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Did they light up?

  7. TED KRUZE

    November 17, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    Florida was a Democratic state from 1885 to 1998 – but, for the last 22 years – Republicans have ruled – and its close to becoming a ‘Red State’.

    The Democratic Party of Florida has NO CHANCE of achieving overall success in this state unless they first break the GOP stranglehold on the governorship and the Florida House and Senate.

    Every iota of money and effort – and with significant DNC help – has to go into getting majority control of the Florida Senate – in whatever way the party can do it. Only then will Democrats be able to begin breaking the GOP stranglehold on the state. Controlling the Senate will go a long way towards negating the GOP House and Governor – and at least give the Democrats a platform or forum from which to offer their take on things statewide. Right now – the Democratic Party of Florida is almost completely out of sight – effectively non-existent – and Wacko GOPs like DeSantis, Scott, Gaetz, Steube, et. al., have totally free rein (and reign).

    AND – the Dems also NEED A CHARISMATIC LEADER (and definitely not another Gillum type). Being a Democrat in Florida now is like a Babe Ruth baseball team of 13-year-olds taking on the FSU or UF baseball team!

  8. TED KRUZE

    November 17, 2020 at 1:38 pm

    To Veronic P.,

    Absolutely! Far too many ignorant GOP voters vote “anti-socialism” when, by so doing, they actually vote “for fascism”. Stupid. Illogical. BUT – up to 73 million people just voted that way! Doesn’t say much for the intelligence of nearly half of the American voting public.

  9. Ron Ogden

    November 18, 2020 at 7:32 am

    “Sanctimonious, supercilious, out-of-touch”: those are some of the words voters are using to describe the Democrats. . .

    Thank you, Veronica, for proving my point: “The simple fact of the matter is most Florida voters showed absolutely no common sense by voting for Trump.”

    You, too, Ted: “Doesn’t say much for the intelligence of nearly half of the American voting public.”

    Gosh, I just stand in awe of your intellect, you two. Wow! Aren’t we lucky that such stimulating minds live among us.

  10. just sayin

    November 18, 2020 at 9:22 am

    Liberals – Americans are dumb, lazy, and racist.
    Also liberals – But we won the popular vote! And we need even more people to vote!

  11. Jay Arbee

    November 18, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks for my minimum daily requirement of Schadenfreude…..With Nikki as the face of Florida Democrats I see the state getting redder and redder, every two years.

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