The Florida Democrats’ terrible, horrible, no good, very bad summer (and fall) — On the Record
ERIC BAZAIL-EIMIL: If the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) over the last cycle had an equivalent in the NFL, it would be the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. And that’s probably an insult to the Falcons.
Picture it. Houston, Texas. 2017. The Atlanta Falcons famously reached halftime up 21–3 against the New England Patriots. Many assumed that lead was insurmountable. Then, out of nowhere, the Patriots made a comeback and the Falcons ended up losing the Super Bowl 34–28. It remains the greatest comeback in NFL history. And honestly, that’s exactly what’s happening to the FDP as we approach the November election.
Democrats walked into 2020 with a significant series of advantages. First, there was a seemingly insurmountable lead in voter registrations and a goal to register one million new Democrats. Second, they had an energized base, furious with the upset defeat of progressive gubernatorial candidate and former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Plus, with the passage of Amendment IV, granting all non-violent felons in the state the right to vote, Democrats were eager to capitalize on a major electoral shift in the state, given that many of the disenfranchised were people of color. Not to mention, Democrats maintained significant fundraising leads in key races.
These advantages were then only strengthened by the incompetence of Ron DeSantis and the reopening plans. Biden up by double-digits? New seats seemingly in reach to flip? It seemed the FDP would make significant headway in the Presidential, the House race and the legislative races and finally end the electoral malaise that it’s suffered over the last decade and a half.
And then, we reached halftime (aka: the summer). Here’s just a few of the wounds (both self-inflicted and unexpected) Florida Democrats have experienced.
First came a domestic dispute between Florida Agricultural Commissioner (and likely the 2022 Democratic frontrunner for Governor) Nikki Fried and her partner that resulted in police intervention. While Commissioner Fried, as a victim of a suspected abusive relationship, did nothing wrong, the event has nevertheless had political consequences for her. The resulting turmoil within her inner circle has caused her star to dim slightly in the eyes of Florida Democrats and some now question her ability to lead the FDP through 2020 and into 2022 as Florida’s only statewide-elected Democrat.
Then came revelations that State Representative Margaret Good, a Red-to-Blue candidate endorsed by former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden in her bid to flip Florida’s 16th Congressional District, just recently voted against banning child sex dolls during her time in the Florida House and took campaign contributions from a law firm that specifically defends child sex predators. This, coupled with ethics violations and previous national ire over a video was posted by a campaign supporter on Twitter, has stacked the odds even further against her.
Then came additional revelations that Lorrane Ausley, a candidate for State Senate running to defend a seat Republicans are eyeing, comes from a former slave-owning family that to entrench segregation and exploit Tallahassee’s Black residents. Enthusiasm for her bid has naturally soured as a result.
And then, last but certainly not least, confirmed COVID-19 infections significantly in the state following Hurricane Isaias, giving Desantis and Florida Republicans cover to re-open the state nearly completely. With cases not yet rising to meet the trend, it looks like Florida Democrats may lose further ground in the state on COVID response.
While all this happened, Republican candidates up and down the ballot, especially in South Florida, have gained some new strength, especially in their challenges to incumbent Democrats.
In Florida’s 26th Congressional District (which stretches from Southern Miami to Key West), Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is mounting a challenge to incumbent progressive Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. After Gimenez’s profile rose in the wake of Miami’s COVID response, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has taken notice and both sides are heavily in advertising. Even though Hillary Clinton carried the district by sixteen percentage points, Mucarsel-Powell was only able to pull a 1.8% win in 2018 against then-incumbent Congressman Carlos Curbelo and the race has been rated as a by most analysts.
Meanwhile, Laura Loomer, who we’ll talk more about in the coming weeks, has massive sums of funds in her Quixotic race to unseat Congresswoman Lois Frankel in Florida’s 21st Congressional District (home to Mar-a-Lago). This has required Democrats to reinvest in the already deeply Democratic seat to ensure that the seat isn’t lost in an upset, especially as Loomer has upped her outreach to the district’s Jewish voters, even running widely-criticized ads in the district equating support for Black Lives Matter with the Holocaust.
And finally, Congresswoman Donna Shalala is once again facing charismatic, now very pro-Trump, Cuban American journalist Maria Elvira Salazar in Florida’s 27th Congressional District. Though the race is not as competitive as it was back in 2018, Shalala has made various missteps, among them to properly disclose stock holdings in corporations that received COVID payouts. With 59% of Cuban American voters supporting President Trump, Salazar and the NRCC are banking on his coattails to turn out the district’s large Cuban population in her favor and are investing massive financial resources into the race. Like with Frankel, this has required some eleventh-hour reinvestment by Democrats, and for good reason: every seat in Florida matters right now.
Democrats need to hold on to every single seat they have in Florida to ensure that they have a majority in the state delegation. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has made it clear already that she is for the unlikely scenario where the House of Representatives is forced to decide the result of the Presidential election. ( Read more about how this process works in this excellent explainer piece by Forbes ). Democrats need to flip control of four more state delegations, and Florida provides one of the ripest opportunities for that. With Florida’s congressional delegation split between 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats, each pickup and each hold matters in the state, which adds to the collective stress of Florida Democrats as the clock counts down and the Republicans keep regaining ground.
Plus, the wild card factor of the past two weeks reigns supreme as we approach the end of the game. Will Biden sustainably expand his lead over Trump following the first debate? Will Trump regain sympathy following his COVID diagnosis? Will Democrats prevail against Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who is actively working to Amendment 4 implementation on the eve of the voter registration deadline? Was yesterday’s of the voter registration site a preview of what’s to come in the next two weeks?
It’s too early to tell how it’ll pan out on November 3rd, but one thing is for certain: we’re in the fourth quarter and the lead is tightening faster than the Florida Democrats should be comfortable with.
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 October 14, 2020.