Here’s how — and why — Florida Democrats found candidates in every legislative district this cycle

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Democrats made history qualifying candidates for every seat. Now what?

It was a risky endeavor for Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried to proclaim she will run a candidate in every congressional and legislative district. Up until the qualification deadline, even some of those closest to the recruiting process remained skeptical it would get done.

But as paperwork cleared on a House District 114 candidate, the task was complete. The party thrust into super-minority status in the House and Senate less than two years ago had fielded a candidate in 120 House Districts and 20 Senate Districts (21 counting a Special Election in Senate District 24).

“Democrats made history in Florida today,” Fried said. “This is unprecedented. Since control of Florida flipped in the mid-‘90s, no party has contested every seat in both chambers of the legislature. For the first time in at least 30 years, Florida Democrats are contesting every congressional and legislative race in Florida.”

That hardly poises them to retake the Florida Legislature anytime soon, however.

The vast majority of seats where Democrats struggled to find candidates were in heavily Republican districts. Some involved in recruiting openly acknowledge many have no shot at winning.

And critics scoff at the number of candidates who live outside districts where they are running. The law only requires legislative candidates to live in the district once they take office. But some of the candidates live hundreds of miles away.

“Having someone who lives in Tallahassee but (running as) a candidate in SD 39, does nothing to help a party,” said Evan Power, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. “Just another attempt by Nikki Fried to generate publicity while losing elections. The Republican Party of Florida will remain focused on winning while Nikki Fried and the Democrats are focused on participation trophies.”

He referenced Charles Lewis, a Tallahassee Democratic who on June 13 shifted from a run for a Panhandle House District to a Miami area Senate contest where Democrats still wanted a challenger to incumbent GOP Sen. Bryan Avila. That’s not the only example. Venice Democrat Lisa Stortstrom this year will challenge incumbent Rep, Toby Overdorf in an Atlantic Coast district.

But for many Democrats involved in the process, the effort isn’t merely about wins and losses, but about broader engagement between the party and voters.

“Democracy means being able to choose between candidates, and having choices when you go to vote,” said Margie Stein, a Naples grassroots organizer.

She has helped candidates even in low-priority races to raise money for qualifying fees, often with costs covered by the dedicated Blue Florida political committee.

Grassroots efforts nearly filled every legislative seat in Florida in 2020; one House candidate failed to qualify over a notary issue.

That year, there had been tension between the state party, which was focused on battleground districts, and the candidates in longshot districts. In 2022, there was no concerted effort to run candidates in every district, and Democrats sent historically small numbers of lawmakers to Tallahassee the next two years.

This year, the party dedicated resources and staff to qualifying a candidate in every seat.

Florida Democratic Party Candidates and Campaigns Director Danielle Hawk, who coordinated efforts between the state party and local groups, said it was important to the party to contest every race.

“It’s critical to have candidates running in every race to give Floridians a reason to show up and vote on Election Day,” she said, “and we fundamentally believe that the bottom of the ticket will lift up the top of the ticket.”

A greater synergy seemed to be discovered with a mutual understanding of each group’s role. The state party still plans to dedicate the greater resources in battleground districts, but grassroots activists focused on finding candidates largely in districts that, by the numbers do not appear competitive for Democrats.

In some cases, candidates were recruited at all. And there were moments, particularly amid intra-party divisions in Miami-Dade County, that it appeared no candidate would be found even in districts where Democrats should be competitive.

Even on the morning of the qualification deadline, some seats had no candidates filed in South Florida. But political forces pushed to the last hour to fill slots. The last piece fell into place when Matthew Bornstein, a candidate who considered challenging GOP state Rep. Vicky Lopez in House District 113, filed papers on qualification day to redesignate as a House District 114 candidate. That lets him advance to a general election against GOP incumbent state Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera in House District 114 in the Coral Gables area.

“From the ruby red precincts to the bluest of blue ones, it’s critically important that Democrats field candidates and run real campaign programs in every corner of Miami-Dade,” said Shevrin Jones, the newly elected chair of the Miami Dade Democratic Party. “Candidate recruitment is an integral step toward building a strong bench at every level of the ballot and ensuring our elected officials are representative of the communities they serve.

“I applaud our partners on the ground who played a huge role in this work as well as the candidates who have stepped up to run. It will take all of us organizing and talking to voters through the election if we’re going to deliver for reproductive rights, protect Floridians’ economic and retirement security, and build stronger, healthier communities.”

Stein worked closely with 90 For 90, a national organization that launched in an effort to run Democrats in every district in Virginia and has since expanded efforts to other states. Fergie Reid, the group’s founder, discusses the philosophical principle, but also said Democrats need to run everywhere as a matter of strategy. If Democrats aren’t running throughout Florida, how can they even argue they have solutions for voters? That’s an especially important concern during a presidential election year, he said.

“Is America a ‘small d’ democracy or is it something else?” he said. “It might turn about to be something else if (Donald) Trump wins election. But for now it is a ‘small d’ democracy, and hopefully voters are enfranchised to vote. (Gov. Ron) DeSantis is doing things to make sure voters are not fully enfranchised. But that doesn’t stop us from giving every person, in every district in Florida, a person to vote for. We are enfranchising every Democrat all throughout Florida, if they are in an R+50 district or a D+50 district, which is why we do it.”

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].


  • Ron Ogden

    June 15, 2024 at 8:15 am

    ““Democracy means being able to choose between candidates, and having choices when you go to vote,” said Margie Stein, a Naples grassroots organizer.”

    The angry and defeated Democrats of the Old South came up with the term “yellow dog Democrats” to define their idea of Reconstruction-era democracy. It seems not much has changed.

  • Michael K

    June 15, 2024 at 8:25 am

    Good. One-party rule is destroying Florida.

    We need legislators and a governor who represent ALL people, and those who work for the PEOPLE, not lobbyists.

    We need a governor who puts the people’s best interest first – not his personal ambition.

  • tom palmer

    June 15, 2024 at 8:53 am

    At least this shows there are finally signs of life in the Florida Democratic Party. They may not be able to unseat many incumbents, but term limits in coming years could turn around and bite the Republicans who championed term limits to make it easier to oust Democratic officials in the ass.

    • Ricky Bobby

      June 16, 2024 at 5:12 pm

      Can we impose a term limit on Debbie Wasserman-Schultz? Sign me up.

  • Elvis Pitts "The Big Voice On The Right" American

    June 16, 2024 at 4:25 pm

    Good evening Florida’s Sage Patriots,
    Relax your Political Sphincters at this news of the Dook 4 Brains Leftys having lots of Candidates.
    What you are not being told about is “THE TRICKLE DOWN THE BALLOT EFFECT” which references The 08IDEN SadMinistration having effed up everything they toutched since day one.
    We are 100% looking at a Sage Republican SuperMajority in both Florida and Nationwide.
    Lets face it Dook-A-Crats most of you will be GraveYard Dead before there is another Dook-A-Crat in The White House.
    Thank you,
    Elvis Pitts American
    *but wait if as a Dook you realize the futatiality of your political position and ….. sssshhhh ….. secertly cast your vote for Trump you will, one and all, expereince the healthfull benifits of desired sphincter relaxation for the rest of your lives*

  • John Kasley

    June 17, 2024 at 12:16 pm

    If we do no more than prevent the GOP from claiming 100% or unanimity , it’s still worth going through the process. We might be in for some pleasant surprises.
    This can force GOP candidate to have a platform, and respond to the press.

  • JD

    June 17, 2024 at 1:53 pm

    Hey Evan Powers – we cannot hear you over your DUI. “Only the Best People”

Comments are closed.


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