Special to the NNPA from the Florida Courier
1. State Democratic leadership believes that Black political support is an entitlement and refused to invest serious money in long-term registration and turnout activities. The numbers tell the story. Democrat Charlie Crist lost by a little more than 1 percent (66,000 votes of 5.7 million cast). The Florida Democratic Party, its candidates and associated entities spent approximately $137 million during the 2014 campaign cycle. They still lost the races for the governor’s mansion, the Florida Cabinet and a supermajority of the seats in the state House.
A preliminary Florida Courier review of 2014 Democratic gubernatorial expenditures indicates that less than one-half of one percent of the total Democrats spent went to long-term Black voter registration, Black-focused advertising, Black “get out the vote” (GOTV) drives in South Florida’s tri-county area. Almost no money was spent with Black-owned businesses – caterers, printers, etc.It’s a law of political physics that to win Florida statewide, every Democrat MUST run up the vote count in South Florida: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Those three counties are three of Florida’s largest by population, have the largest number of Democratic voters in the state and have high-density Black populations.
Instead, Crist, the state party, Black politicians and sympathetic unions such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) never put together a cohesive, collaborative GOTV plan that included Black community institutions like churches, Black-owned media and small business owners. Democrats lost in Black South Florida by relying on general market television commercials, making last-minute church “drive-bys” featuring either Crist or Black elected officials, and “Souls to the Polls” mass voting on the Sunday before Election Day.
Democrats and their leadership refused to bring all the stakeholders to the table early to get input on a winning strategy, something that should have been done years before Election Day. They refused to invest in success by hiring qualified local Black campaign and media consultants and paid campaign workers who know and respect Black Floridians.
Florida Democrats spent dollars to turn out White voters and pennies to turn out Black voters. That’s the most important reason why they lost. It seems that they would rather lose than pay Black people for the hard political work only we can do in our own communities – a problem they also have nationally.
2. Democrats “lost’’ South Florida. U.S. Census data says there are about 952,000 voting-age Black voters in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Statewide turnout is estimated at less than 50 percent on Election Day vs. Barack Obama’s 75 percent in 2008 and 72 percent in 2012.
Overall election turnout was 41 percent in Miami-Dade, 44 percent in Broward, and 49 percent in Palm Beach. Democrats’ winning turnout number in the three-county South Florida area was 47 percent. That’s an additional 66,000 Black voters of the 952,000 available in South Florida.
Blacks are almost 17 percent of the state’s population. If Democrats had invested $5 million – less than four percent of the $137 million they had in the bank – in voter registration and GOTV activities (rallies, meetings, neighborhood solicitations, advertising, promotions, parties, etc.) just in South Florida, would Crist have gotten the one percent he needed to win? We think so.
3. Crist inherited the dysfunctional 1980s-era Florida Democratic “machine,’’ rather than bring the GOP’s culture of “win at all costs” to state Dems. Crist didn’t bring a winning GOP team with him when he became a Democrat. Instead, he refused to exert his will over the party as its statewide standard bearer and retain consultants and vendors who helped him win campaigns in the past. The current set of Democratic consultants, especially those handling Black-owned media, has lost election after election for almost 20 years. Crist should have permanently dumped them all.
4. With regard to Black voter turnout generally, it was same tactics, different election cycle. Crist’s campaign theme? “I’m not Rick Scott. Be very afraid of him.” Crist and the Democrats did not try to create election messages that would inspire and motivate Black Floridians, their most loyal base. Even when Democrats did something right, they did it at the wrong time, such as sending direct mail and making “robocalls” to people who had voted either by absentee or early vote, and advertising in a few hand-picked Black newspapers a week before Election Day. On the media side, Black-owned radio, especially Haitian and Caribbean stations in South Florida, were virtually shut out from advertising, as were Black online media and influential Black bloggers around the state.
5. Black politicians can’t turn out Black voters for anyone other than themselves. Democratic leadership wants to put the burden of turning out Black voters on current and former Black elected officials, most of whom have no strategic training and experience in elections other than their own – and virtually no financial resources. Black politicians both in and out of office should quit embarrassing themselves, resist such pressure, refuse the few dollars they (and their friends) may be offered, and refer the Florida Democratic Party to qualified full-time Black political and media consultants who can get the job done.
6. State Democratic leadership refused to support Black statewide candidates. Two statewide candidates could have served as effective surrogates for Crist if Democratic leadership would have invested funds in sending them around the state. House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, a South Florida native, was defeated in the primary by George Shelton – who should have been pushed aside by state leadership to allow Thurston to get into the primary. Thad Hamilton, a candidate for state agriculture commissioner, is a military veteran with an outstanding track record. He was completely unknown among Black Floridians.
Thurston, Hamilton, or both could have made the case effectively to Black Floridians on Crist’s behalf.
7. Barack Obama vaunted “ground game” was ineffective. Obama’s operatives “shot game” at Florida Democrats – and the party bought it. Veterans of Obama’s successful campaign – including some being paid up to $20,000 per month – had state Democrats believing that Obama’s success in Florida could be replicated without him on the ballot, and without local Black political involvement. Longtime Black operatives here like Lucius Gantt told Florida Dems two years ago that an Obama strategy would fail in 2014. It obviously did.
8. Crist and Democrats banished Obama from the state. They made a calculated decision that bringing Obama to Florida would anger likely Crist voters (mostly Whites) who had soured on the president. Obama is one of the best political campaigners in modern history. He covered South Florida like a blanket in 2008 and 2012. Would an Obama parade through Black South Florida’s streets and a large rally or two in Miami – even without Crist – have energized an additional four percent of South Florida’s Black voters Crist needed to win? We think so. But on the other hand…
9. Obama had no incentive to rally Florida’s Black voters. The president has a deserved reputation of only helping politicians who can directly help him. Florida’s elections had no effect on Obama since a U.S. Senate seat was not at stake. So if Obama had come to rally his Black voter base and Crist beat Scott, the benefit of having a Democratic governor in Florida would go to Obama’s “frenemy,” Hillary Clinton, not Obama himself.
10. The GOP’s legal and regulatory voter suppression tactics worked by disqualifying hundreds of thousands of people of voting age. Florida Democrats have been whittling away at voter registration, early voting, and restoration of ex-felons’ voting rights ever since the GOP captured control of the Florida Legislature in 1996.
The strategy bore fruit during the disputed 2000 presidential election of George W. Bush (who won Florida by 537 votes) before Obama’s election energized Black voters in 2008 and 2012. Voter suppression has borne fruit twice for Scott as indicated by the fact that an estimated 111,000 Black Floridians are ex-felons who were unable to vote last week. That’s about twice the number of voters either Alex Sink or Crist needed to beat Scott in 2010 and 2014.
Over the past four years, Scott and the GOP have made it more difficult to legally conduct voter registration drives and restore civil rights. Expect such efforts to continue.
11. Democrats are now GOP-lite. Nan Rich, Crist’s nominal competitor in the primary, is a diehard Democrat who never had a chance to be the candidate of the party she effectively served for two decades. The fact that Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat, was the immediate gubernatorial frontrunner months before he even publicly announced his candidacy lets you know everything you need to know about of the condition of Florida’s Democratic Party.
They picked a candidate that at one time supported or opposed almost every major issue. Scott’s commercials showed Crist, in his own words, for and against the Affordable Care Act, Obama, Bill Clinton, the 2008 stimulus money, abortion – even for and against Democrats and Republicans. What do Democrats stand for these days?
12. School choice may have carved off votes from Black churchgoers. A growing number of Black churches own and operate moneymaking charter schools. The charter school system is being used by the GOP to justify defunding public school systems. That puts Black churches at odds with the teachers’ unions, who are big-money Democratic Party supporters. During the last month of the campaign, the Scott campaign effectively used school choice as a “wedge” issue to carve off usually dependably Democratic Black church votes. In fact, Black churches and Republicans have linked up to fight a lawsuit filed by teachers’ unions and school boards (supported by Democrats) alleging that Florida’s school choice laws are unconstitutional. Stay tuned.
13. Enthusiasm for Amendment 2 did not translate into additional votes for Crist or other Democratic candidates. More than 5.8 million Floridians cast votes for or against legalizing medical marijuana. The Democratic Party-backed legalization amendment was expected to turn out younger, Democratic-leaning voters. Republicans opposed Amendment 2 and tried to keep it off the ballot. Almost 3.4 million Floridians voted “for” the Democrat’s position with regard to Amendment 2, but 600,000 didn’t bother to vote for Crist. It’s questionable whether the amendment improved youth turnout.