Jason Pizzo isn’t hopeful about flipping Senate seats, but sees a path to Governor in 2026
Jason Pizzo at UCF. Photo by Jacob Ogles

Jason Pizzo at UCF
The Miami-Dade Democrat is meeting with college students statewide, encouraging them to engage state government.

State Sen. Jason Pizzo expects to lead the Democratic caucus after next year’s election. But he’s under no delusion he will lead a majority.

“We’re not flipping any Senate seats next year,” he said, adding that while he could “bulls**t” people for the next six months, the statement is true.

The Miami-Dade Democrat is in the middle of a tour of Florida colleges and universities, meeting with young voters and leaders and trying to engage them in the political process. There, he has found civic-minded students largely naïve to the process, but eager for change.

During a stop at the University of Central Florida, many asked him about how to shift the direction of policy away from punishing institutes of higher education.

Pizzo advised them to be patient, but also to personally lobby lawmakers. He encouraged students not to be intimidated by elected officials, and rather ask them to make personal commitments to consider their constituents’ points of view.

Madison Moore, UCF student government Attorney General, said she appreciated the advice. “Next Legislative Session we will be going up there to advocate for the student body,” she said. “It’s great to hear his perspective.”

Students also shared concerns about the insurance crisis driving rents up in Central Florida. Some raised federal issues like the insolvency of Social Security. Many raised concerns about the severe restrictions on abortion passed this year, asking if there was any chance lawmakers would roll back the laws.

Pizzo said the best way to fight back on culture wars may be constitutional amendment fights. If voters statewide weigh in next year on restoring abortion rights and legalizing adult-use marijuana, Pizzo said that will likely urge college voters to the polls. He expects both measures would pass, and would drive Democratic turnout.

But he also encouraged students to understand the structure of local government. He asked many if they knew who their own Mayor was. One offered the name “Buddy” but could not must Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s last name and another offered the name Kathy Castor, a Tampa Congresswoman with no relation, but a similar name to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.

At a visit to a campus in Tallahassee, Pizzo said he asked if anyone knew the name of the local state Senator. Several students confidently answered Ron DeSantis, the Governor of Florida, with one correcting them to say Marco Rubio, Florida’s senior U.S. Senator. The correct answer was state Sen. Corey Simon, a Tallahassee Republican.

“I’ve said over the past couple of years that all three branches that are supposed to be independent have collapsed into one,” Pizzo said. “I could have asked, who is the Supreme Court Justice, and with conviction like this, they would have said Ron DeSantis.”

Pizzo discussed the importance of advancing helpful policies regardless of credit, even discussing recruiting Simon to help with a food insolvency bill in the upcoming Session, even though Simon’s seat may be the most competitive state Senate seat in Florida next year.

That speaks to the priorities of the No. 2 Democrat in the Florida Senate, where Democrats remain a super-minority. Pizzo expects to lead the caucus after the 2024 elections but isn’t counting on flipping eight seats to secure a majority.

He does anticipate a path to open for Democrats to increase the party’s influence and power. He suggested the Republican-controlled Legislature may indeed have pushed too far with recent culture war priorities in service of DeSantis’ presidential ambitions. As those dreams falter, he hopes to see Republicans wrest legislative control back where it belongs, but knows that’s up to them.

In 2026, when Pizzo should be wrapping up his tenure as Senate Democratic Leader, he will likely run for Governor.

“But it depends on who’s going to run on the other side,” Pizzo said. “If Matt Gaetz is running, I run.”

Pizzo believes Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican and U.S. Congressman, could win a crowded Republican Primary, one where DeSantis is out due to term limits.

“They have a couple of candidates who I think would be very tough and very effective,” Pizzo said. “(Attorney General) Ashley Moody is probably the best chance.” He notes Moody quietly received 37,000 more votes than DeSantis in 2022.

But if Gaetz could win a Primary while Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson and U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds split most of the Republican vote, Pizzo thinks a solid Democrat could rally independents and moderate Republicans disgusted by Gaetz’s personal scandals.

“I like somebody like me against somebody like that, with NPA soccer moms who won’t vote for somebody who was, you know, having sex with 17-year-old prostitutes,” Pizzo said. “I would rather somebody else do it. I just don’t think anybody else can get him to him like I can. I would like him on a debate stage. And most of the texts I get from my Republican Senate colleagues are Pizzo v. Gaetz. They want to see that, too.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • George

    October 27, 2023 at 1:32 pm

    So basically anyone who is asked to donate to Senate Dems under Pizzo’s watch are wasting their money. Nice of him to be so candid before donors invest in that operation.

    • Mary

      October 28, 2023 at 9:15 am

      Pretty sure that’s been the case for decades, George. The Dems they’ve got now just call more attention to their irrefutable uselessness and lack of support among everyday voters.

      • George

        October 28, 2023 at 9:42 am

        Nah. This lack of trying is new. I expected more from Pizzo to be honest. He talks such a big game.

  • Todd

    October 27, 2023 at 3:27 pm

    I guess Pizzo is only willing to put up a fight when it’s easy. Otherwise he’s gonna sit back. This guy is no leader.

  • Claire

    October 27, 2023 at 10:57 pm

    Cue the reality check: Jason is fabulous. Florida is lucky to have him. And he’s a bit of eye candy. You’re all welcome.

  • Mary

    October 28, 2023 at 9:05 am

    As if some creepy old single man like Pizzo who’s spending time lurking around college campuses is going to become the first democrat elected as Governor in 30 years. Especially if he runs against a well-funded Republican with existing statewide name ID and popularity. That’s funny.

    • George

      October 28, 2023 at 9:34 am

      The fixation on college kids is a little weird but let this guy waste his time. Yawn.

    • Abrams

      October 28, 2023 at 12:39 pm

      Pizzo is not single. He has a wife named April according to his Wikipedia page.
      But to your point, he is being very poorly advised if he thinks he has a shot at being elected Governor in 2 years. He would have to start campaigning now and this college tour thing is not enough to kick start the momentum he’d need to launch that effort. If Pizzo focused on being a more inspirational leader to his dwindling party and let his ego and future ambitions take less of a starring role, he might have a chance in 6 years. But definitely not in 2026.
      With so much going on in the country we don’t have time for politicians like Pizzo who do nothing but sit around conference tables and luncheons, griping about what should be and why they can’t be an agent of change under present circumstances, before announcing their next trip to a conference table where they rinse and repeat.
      Both parties need to move closer to the middle to engage the NPAs but there is no way 2026 is going to result in a democrat taking the Florida Governor’s mansion. Not gonna happen.

  • Samantha

    October 28, 2023 at 12:07 pm

    Pizzo is an embarrassment. An idiot who believes himself to be the smartest guy in the room, despite being proved wrong over & over again.

  • Stacey's Mom

    October 28, 2023 at 3:18 pm

    Is this really how elected officials are spending their time right now? We have real problems to be fixed here and this weirdo is just road tripping around college towns to do what, exactly? Position himself as a candidate for Governor? This must be a joke. Nobody his age, with a real job and family commitments, has time for this. Plus he’s been elected for like, a decade.
    If he’s never bothered to visit these schools or show interest in their issues until now, that says it all. He’s using these college kids as campaign props. And it is creepy, as others have already said. That creepy grin in his photo gives me the heebie-jeebies.

  • Mike

    October 28, 2023 at 7:50 pm

    Agreed that Pizzo is taking some bad advice here.
    Ashley Moody also didn’t have a real opponent, unlike DeSantis who was running against a popular incumbent Congressman who previously held statewide office for several years, including Governor, Attorney General and Education Commissioner. And 2022 was right in the thick of the “culture wars” Pizzo is relying on to divide voters, and even then we saw a huge surge in GOP support. The odds of 2026 elections being impacted by issues that were debated in 2022 are very slim. Like pretty much zero.

  • Nelson

    October 28, 2023 at 8:01 pm

    If Charlie Crist – who used to be an NPA himself – couldn’t sway enough NPAs to vote Dem over DeSantis in 2022, there is almost no chance Pizzo (a no-name state legislator from blue Broward/Miami-Dade with no fundraising to show for his current lower-tier campaign and solidly liberal policy positions since getting elected) would have a shot in hell of doing better in 3 years. Pizzo is daydreaming. The Dems need someone less liberal- leaning who has run statewide before or with existing statewide name ID. Not this guy. I didn’t even know who he was until this story showed up in my news feed. And even after reading it and googling Pizzo, I have no idea what he stands for or what legislation he’s passed to earn the trust of Florida voters. From my research he hasn’t done much besides complain that DeSantis is a big bad monster. Boo hoo. Weak sauce.

  • Claire

    October 28, 2023 at 9:51 pm

    Jason Pizzo can do anything he puts his mind to. If you skeptics don’t believe that, then you don’t know him.

    • Beryl

      October 29, 2023 at 11:14 am

      Maybe he needs to put his mind on staying away from Senator Book. Apparently these two are messing around. Not a good look for either one of them.

      • Claire

        October 29, 2023 at 4:22 pm

        You know what’s funny, Beryl?
        As unfair and unfounded as your comment is, if Senator Pizzo ever heard such a rumor he’d say, “That’s an insult to Sen. Book.”
        That’s how big of a person he is.
        (And, he would be right. 🙂 )

      • Mark

        October 31, 2023 at 2:55 pm

        It’s too late for that. Pizzo might be thinking he doesn’t have any personal scandals of his own to worry about. He thinks he’s untouchable. But I have a feeling that comment of his won’t age too well.

        • Morgan

          October 31, 2023 at 3:29 pm

          That’s what happens when you are dealing with an egomaniac. How he conducts himself in Tallahassee, especially around women, is nauseating. Doubtful Sen. Book is the only notch in his belt.

  • Amy H.

    October 29, 2023 at 9:08 am

    I don’t want anyone in charge of making decisions for me and my family if they are going to colleges to talk to my kids about marijuana and abortion. Hard pass on Pizzo.

  • Gary H

    October 29, 2023 at 9:14 pm

    How does Pizzo think multiple Republicans running for Governor’s seat divides the Republican vote? Regardless of nominee, it’s improbable to think that people who supported a primary candidate that did not get the nomination would suddenly flip to Pizzo. After the Gillum and Crist campaigns for Governor, Pizzo is the best the Democrats can offer? They will once again learn the hard way if Pizzo is the candidate.

    • Claire

      October 29, 2023 at 11:14 pm

      Yes. Jason Pizzo is the best the democrats can offer. Because he is the best candidate any party could offer. And I don’t know for sure but it sounds like Pizzo is being quietly cheered on to run by the Republicans he serves with.
      I know he is the best choice to lead Florida and can win over Republicans who bother to give him a chance.
      I am a Republican. And in spite of the “D” behind Jason Pizzo’s name I will be voting for him, regardless of who else is on the ballot.

  • Thomas

    October 30, 2023 at 9:40 am

    Pizzo cannot pull this off. Even if he could I am already turned off. He’s the incoming minority leader and already selling out his party with his lack of effort to flip seats. Read the room, man. People want a leader who leads them to something better, not who steals the spotlight and throws cold water on those who made him leader.

    Pizzo is also banking on too many factors holding constant or drastically changing for the next few years. If Republicans split votes and Gaetz wins the primary, the numbers say Gaetz will win. That’s been the outcome of the past several elections in Florida. Democrats don’t connect with everyday people anymore. They are too busy talking about things like sex changes, pot and abortion. Pizzo’s own words show that’s not changing any time soon.
    As far as Gaetz’s personal life goes, I don’t think the scandals Pizzo is betting on ever turned out to be more than an accusation. Who in politics hasn’t had fake news spread around about them? Pizzo should know better. From some of the comments on this story it looks like Pizzo is living in a glass house. He definitely doesn’t have my vote.
    Oh and I’m an NPA who voted for Crist.

    • Scott S.

      October 30, 2023 at 2:36 pm

      Gaetz is not going to win the primary because he’s not running. When Trump gets elected Gaetz will have too much clout in DC to come home and play executive. Byron Donalds would have a much better chance anyway. Or someone like Will Weatherford. Any Republican who gets past the primary will whoop Pizzo’s you-know-what by at least 20 points. It’s mind blowing that Pizzo thinks he could even come close after how badly the Dems got beat in 22. Is Pizzo really this egotistical or is he just in denial?

Comments are closed.


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