Don’t give up on Florida: We can’t let it slip away from us — On the Record
ERIC BAZAIL-EIMIL: In my first article on this site, seven months ago, I came out of the gates that Democrats should not count out Florida just yet. Well, after some disappointing results in the state, Democrats are gearing up to do the exact same thing. Yes, Democrats were shellacked in South Florida. Yes, Democrats have continued to lose statewide. But, Florida is still not a red state. Instead, it is a state in which Democrats have been unwilling to make significant infrastructural investments and build sustainable energy behind their agenda.
In recent years, Democrats have taken the attitude that Florida can be won through inertia. That we don’t need infrastructure or compelling candidates to win, that with the force of the national ticket and the future of demographics on the side of the party, Democrats can prevail by sheerly manifesting it. But in reality, Florida is a tough state to win in, as should be painfully obvious to every Democrat in America right now, and it can’t be won by sporadically parachuting in top-level national surrogates weeks before a national election.
And let’s be crystal clear: Republicans have spent the last five years building a robust operation to hold onto the state and impede Democratic efforts. Give them credit; the president made holding onto Florida a top priority and worked night and day to curry favor with the state’s Latino voters. They had a better understanding of the ground and that made any efforts by the Democrats to change the tide an uphill battle. Democrats sounded the alarms for months leading into the election, especially when it came to the lack of energy in Miami-Dade and the pervasiveness of Spanish-language misinformation . A socially-distanced rally with Barack Obama and Kamala Harris in Miami Gardens wasn’t going to change that.
Progressive policies are still popular in Florida. Just look at the recent passage of the $15/hr minimum wage in this same election. Given the incredibly high margin for victory needed (amendments need 60% of the state’s voters to approve them), the fact that the amendment passed while Trump still carried the state by three points reflects the widespread appeal of a progressive agenda in the state. And as I touched on back in April, progressive energy around Andrew Gillum was almost enough to save Bill Nelson’s floundering Senate bid and elect Florida’s first Black governor. Therefore, the question is not whether progressives and Democrats can win in Florida, but rather how we market these ideas, and both national progressives like Ilhan Omar and state-level figures like prospective Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anna Eskamani are taking note of this.
This column and its focus will likely shift over the next few months. Honestly, I expected to talk about a Republican shellacking in Florida that would have created a huge power vacuum in the state’s GOP that would have begged the question: is the future Trumpism or more moderation? I expected to talk about a clear Democratic path to challenge Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Governor Ron DeSantis (R) in 2022 and perhaps some prospective primary drama on both sides between moderates and radicals.
Instead, I see a much more mixed picture emerging, and honestly a more interesting question to keep exploring. Rather than simply calling balls and strikes, this column will begin exploring the 2020 Democratic losses for the time being. We’ll talk about Cuban-American voters and how the Trump campaign exploited their fears to deliver a strong victory. I’ve already written about the Florida Democratic Party’s failures, but even if Chair Terrie Rizzo , there’s still a lot more work ahead on reforming the party internally. We’ll explore Florida’s inner political states more closely to see where Democrats and Republicans are gaining and losing in strength. And yes, we will do some 2022 and 2024 speculation, because now more than ever, the party needs strong leadership and the landscape is definitely shifting rapidly in the Republican and Democratic camps.
One disclaimer: I’m not interested in, and Florida Democrats shouldn’t be interested in, any panaceas from pundits and party leaders that have only visited Florida on a quick campaign stop and a Disney trip with the family. Florida is a complex state with a lot of dynamics, and I really do not have the patience to hear a politician from some urban enclave of America try to lecture us about using digital and other solely urban-friendly organizing practices across the board (especially when Florida is a much more rural state, has a much older population per capita, and doesn’t have consistent access to broadband internet). Similarly, I’m not in the mood for some white party leader patrician from a safe district to talk down to the organizers and leaders trying to clean up the mess they’ve created after hawking a message that fails to inspire voters.
Florida Democrats need to chart their own path. Just by being from this place, we know our state better than any million-dollar consultants ever will. Clearly, leaving Stacey Abrams to do her thing worked out for Democrats in the Peach State. I promise, Democrats don’t need help from New York, Washington, San Francisco and other parts. Let us litigate our issues internally and work to undo the damage done by years of malaise.
Follow along here, because I’m not throwing in the towel on Florida. Not now. Not ever.
Eric Bazail-Eimil is a second-year student in the School of Foreign Service studying Latin America and Africa as a Regional and Comparative Studies major. A native South Floridian and a proud Cuban-American, Eric’s column “The Florida Project” appears biweekly in “On the Record.”
Originally published at https://ontherecordgu.com on November 15, 2020.