South Florida Democrats call for rethinking strategy
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Dead donkey
Historic pummeling has some rethinking on-the-ground strategy.

In South Florida, long considered a Democratic stronghold, the lopsided results for the other team come with a particular burn.

Palm Beach County broke for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis by nearly 3 percentage points, even though Palm Beach Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 106,000 registered voters in the county. In Broward County, almost 100,000 fewer Democrats voted than in the 2018 Midterms.

That the three South Florida counties — Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach — collectively added up to boost a Republican Governor’s margin of victory would have been unimaginable four years ago. In 2018, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum collected over half a million more votes than DeSantis did across those three counties.

For some Democratic Party regulars, the pummeling the party suffered last week has launched a search for solutions beyond national Democratic donors who abandoned Florida. Some Democrats are also refusing to accept that the newest flock of Floridians have altered the state’s politics permanently.

Discussions are underway about why that happened despite get-out-the-vote rallies and grassroots efforts to explain the stakes, which for some people became more urgent as DeSantis’ agenda has unfolded with unprecedented setbacks for Democrats’ priorities. That’s seen in the disappearance of two Black voter access congressional districts, the biggest rollback of abortion rights since the procedure became legal and added restrictions on discussions of LGBTQ issues in schools.

“I don’t know if people were just not engaged,” said Stephen Gaskill, president of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus. His organization funded a campaign headquarters in Wilton Manors to promote Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts.

“I don’t know if people were just not excited with our candidates. I don’t know if it was just a sense of being overwhelmed with the media on the other side that sort of suppressed our vote.”

The day before Election Day, $54.6 million had been spent on behalf of DeSantis’ campaign, compared to $17.9 million for Democrat Charlie Crist.

But spending alone can’t explain it. U.S. Rep. Val Demings outspent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in this year’s Senate race by more than $20 million, according to the last quarterly campaign finance report before Nov. 8. Demings’ vote totals, however, were only marginally better than Crist’s.

Bernie Parness, a Deerfield Beach City Commissioner and president of the Deerfield Beach Democratic Club, said he hasn’t seen worse county-level party organization — in the form of fewer materials to pass out and fewer lawn signs — in the 33 years he’s been involved in the Democratic Party.

He said he received nothing from the county party headquarters except a call late in the day on Election Day, asking if he needed any printed material to hand out.

“Normally I would have had thousands of cards to hand out on Election Day,” he said. “There was really no true organization. … I heard nothing from party headquarters until the very end.”

Rick Hoye, Chairman of the Broward Party Democratic Party, could not be reached for comment in time for this story.

Meanwhile, Diana Demarest, who has served as secretary to the Palm Beach Democratic Party and has campaigned for candidates for the past 20 years, said she believes Democrats’ strategy needs to change. Traditional, home-to-home canvassing is difficult in Palm Beach County because of the preponderance of gated communities, and she doesn’t see a lot of targeting happening in the materials arriving at her home.

To her, the overwhelming number of campaign postcards she gets prove to her that Democrats’ ground game outreach needs to change.

“They may be going on the same old premise that you reach out to the super voters who voted in the past three elections,” she said. “Let me tell you something, I’m coming to vote unless the earth explodes. I would have crawled over COVID-laden glass to vote. But I feel that way every election.”

Demarest, for example, would have them send abortion rights-themed mailers to young women, news about Republican plans for Medicare to retirees and literature about Democratic values to those with no party affiliation or low-turnout Democrats.

“Don’t text me, don’t call my house, it’s a waste of freaking money,” she said. “Target the people who don’t come.”

Gaskill, of the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus said the time is ripe for Democrats to reevaluate their strategy.

“We’d like to think this is the bottom and we can only go up from here,” Gaskill said. “And from that perspective, it allows us to rethink every aspect of the party. There’s definitely an appetite for change in the way we’ve been working.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

One comment

  • Charlie Crist

    November 16, 2022 at 3:51 pm

    The dregs of New York and New Jersey came here because they couldn’t cut it up north. Enjoy all the racist filth people. You earned it. Keep up drinking down that far right propaganda.

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