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Cynthia Moore Chestnut

2020/2022

Nikki Barnes exits Democrats’ chair race, endorses Cynthia Moore Chestnut

Florida Democrats’ chair election down to 4 candidates.

The Florida Democratic Party leadership contest is down to four candidates, with reports that Nikki Barnes has dropped out and is endorsing Cynthia Moore Chestnut to be the party’s next chair.

Chestnut tweeted a statement from her former rival late Thursday night announcing Barnes’ withdrawal and endorsement for Chestnut.

“After seeing the results in Georgia it’s imperative that @FlaDems truly demonstrates that it’s prepared to trust black women. She is more than prepared to meet this moment. Join me in supporting her for Chair of the Florida Democratic Party.”

Earlier it was reported that Janelle Christensen is out. That leaves Chestnut, the chair of the Alachua County Democratic Party; Manny Diaz, the former Miami Mayor; Wes Hodge, the chair of of the Orange County Democratic Party, and Ione Townsend, chair of the Hillsborough County Party.

Barnes is a former member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida.

The election is set for Saturday to replace outgoing FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo. The Florida Democratic Party has not released details of how it will be carried out, or a list of confirmed candidates.

Much of the campaign reflects splits within the party, with Diaz rounding up many of the the establishment Democrats’ endorsements, and the other three gathering support from the progressive wing and from various coalitions such as Black Democrats who have been unsatisfied with the party’s direction and efforts.

Due to the arcane nature of FDP rules for elections, much of the voting clout rests with state committeewomen and committeemen from key counties, leaving much difficult to predict.

The last year was a bad one for Florida Democrats, and sets the stage for calls for major reform of the party.

Republicans trimmed Democrats’ voter registration advantage, as Democrats fell far short of their voter registration goals. Republicans then ran campaigns that won nearly all the close races in 2020 elections, expanding their majorities in the Florida House, the Florida Senate, and the Florida congressional delegation, and giving President Donald Trump Florida and its 29 electoral votes.

This came after the Florida Democratic Party sought Paycheck Protection Program money last spring, accepting $800,000 that was supposed to go to small businesses. It remains unclear how the party managed that, since the program was supposed to explicitly forbid money going to political parties, and Rizzo and other party leaders have declined to explain what happened. Under heavy fire from within the party and out, FDP leaders returned the money to the federal government. But Republicans made the matter into a campaign issue, hammering Democrats for it in fall advertising.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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