Midnight deadline looms for Ken Russell $5,000 Democratic voter registration challenge

Will Democrats running statewide heed the call? They haven't yet.

With the gap between Democratic and Republican voters in Florida shrinking, Miami Commissioner and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Ken Russell is calling on his fellow party members to chip in funds to help Democrats regain lost ground.

On Tuesday, National Voter Registration Day, Russell challenged Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and current U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Val Demings to join him in donating $5,000 to the Florida Democratic Party for a statewide voter registration push.

He later put them on blast on Twitter, where he challenged all statewide candidates to do the same. Crist and Fried are running for Governor while Demings and Grayson are running for U.S. Senate.

Two days later, with the midnight Sept. 30 deadline to report campaign spending looming, none of them has answered the call, he said.

“I’ve reached out to all of them on their social media, and no names mentioned, but I’ve at least been in touch with one other candidate directly who’s considering it,” Russell told Florida Politics. “It’s a small ask, and I think it’s a fun challenge to really get electeds and candidates to give back to a party. It’s a good gesture amongst competitors to find things we care about together before we get into a heavy Primary.”

Russell is running against Demings and Grayson to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio next year. He has been a Florida Democratic Party Board of Trustees member for several years. Over that time, he said, he has seen “a severe lack of involvement” from elected officials and candidates.

“And when things go wrong, everyone points at the party, but where are the electeds and the candidates when the party is trying to build infrastructure,” he said.

A significant part of the party’s so-called infrastructure, its voter base, is crumbling. Roughly a decade ago, Democrats held a 558,000-voter advantage over the GOP. That chasm has since shrunk to a crack, according to the Florida Department of State, which shows the distance between the two parties is now just 23,551 voters.

Longtime Florida Democratic consultant Steve Schale noted in his blog this month that between 2008 and summer 2021, the total number of registered Democrats in Florida grew by about 467,000 voters. Over the same period, the number of registered Republicans in the state grew by 1.07 million.

“Without a full-frontal, professional and accountable partisan effort to turn it around, sometime before the end of this year, there will be more Republicans registered in Florida than Democrats — that has NEVER happened before,” he wrote. “And, given their voters have higher turnout scores — this isn’t a great place to start.”

Russell said he has raised “probably half a million over the last two years” for the Florida Democratic Party through initiatives and campaigns. As chair of the party’s Municipal Victory Program, he frequently turns Zoom roundtables he hosts into fundraising opportunities. But a larger, concerted effort is needed if Democrats hope to keep and expand their now marginal voter lead, he said.

“This is a call to ask the candidates to jump in,” he said. “It’s important for us to be a team and not just for candidates to have all these expectations of the party to carry the load.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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