Hillsborough County Democratic Party Chair Ione Townsend will have discussions with her team Thursday on whether she plans to run for Florida Democratic Party chair, bringing her one step closer to a decision.
The statewide position is up for election in January. Outgoing FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo, who has held the seat since 2017, is stepping down after Democrats’ poor performance in November, although she will retain her role leading the Palm Beach County Democratic Party after securing that vote Tuesday night.
Townsend, who will also likely remain chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party being decided in a vote Wednesday night, is considering the position amid a wave of several local successes.
“Every seat is contested in Hillsborough County,” Townsend said. “We didn’t leave one seat uncontested.”
Townsend was first elected chair of the Hillsborough Democratic Party in 2016. Under her leadership, the local Democrats saw a shift in party control of the county, especially in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Townsend oversaw the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners move from a 5-2 Republican majority to a 5-2 Democratic take-over in just three election cycles.
The former nurse practitioner credits her strategic reorientation of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party to focus on reaching those outside of Tampa, where only 28% of party members reside, she said.
“We started recruiting precinct captains to the unincorporated part of our county and started knocking on those doors,” she said. “We flipped a lot of precincts blue in unincorporated Hillsborough County. And that’s when we started winning more elections.”
The county party, recognizing that 64% of all Democratic voters reside in the unincorporated parts of Hillsborough County, was also successful in turning the county’s Tax Collector Office and Temple Terrace City Council blue. In 2018, this approach flipped Florida House District 59 blue with former Rep. Adam Hattersley taking the seat, which Democrats held onto this year with newly elected Andrew Learned.
Townsend is proud of her efforts in Hillsborough, saying the local party has moved from a club-like organization to a small business, raking in almost $750,000 in donations in the last two years.
“Our donors are very happy with the success that we’ve had,” she said. “It’s a tough job, you know. We’ve gone from sort of a club to a small business … It’s not an easy job.”
The new chair will have to get to work after a statewide poor performance from Democrats. Incumbent Democrats lost multiple races for the state Legislature and two congressional seats. President Donald Trump also topped Democratic presidential nominee and now President-elect Joe Biden in the state by just over 3 percentage points.
Townsend, if she chooses to run, will be up against former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who has courted widespread support in his bid to take over the FDP. She will also face Cynthia Moore Chestnut, who leads the Alachua County Democratic Party, and Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida Chair Janelle Christensen. Nikki Barnes, who has served as a Democratic National Committee member, is also eyeing the job.