The Sarasota County Democratic Party, like Democrats throughout Florida, suffered difficult losses in the General Election.
Daniel Kuether, the newly elected chair of the Democratic Executive Committee, said he wants to correct problems with the organization, but also noted plenty that went right. The county had the fourth-highest turnout in Florida. A dedicated vote-by-mail ballot chase could soon be emulated throughout the state.
“We’re really trying to build on some of those foundations,” he said. “But what need to do as well is get much more involved in the community.”
He takes over the party after JoAnne DeVries, the longtime chair, chose not to seek re-election. Kuether won 85 votes out of 125 cast by DEC members.
The win makes Kuether the first openly gay leader for the county party. He’s also 33 years old and determined to activate more young voters in a county that has four notable college campuses.
The party for the first time looked to a General Election with a Democratic-leaning County Commission District. But after a divisive Primary for District 2, Democratic nominee Fredd Atkins lost to Republican Mark Smith by 373 votes out of nearly 38,000 cast.
While Atkins has a history in the region as the City of Sarasota’s first Black Mayor, Kuether said the party as an organization failed to engage the Black community in Newtown and North Sarasota. As a result, some of the most critical precincts there had among the lowest turnout in the county.
Kuether lost his own County Commission race in District 4, but that was a different contest. Republican Joe Neunder was the favorite in deep red south Sarasota County. Still, Kuether said the party could gain ground with moderates and swing voters. He sees a huge opportunity to get voters to split tickets and consider voting for Democrats rather than supporting all Republican boards for both county government and for the School Board.
“We will all admit a certain level of agreement, whether Republican or Democrat, that things need to change locally,” he said. “We can put aside national politics and statewide politics and discuss issues like red tide and development and infrastructure.”