The Florida Democratic Party has nearly 600,000 more registered voters in the state than the Republicans, yet last night they failed miserably in delivering on a single important race. Their Governor candidate lost to a man who ran a company involved in the biggest Medicare fraud case in American history. Their Attorney General candidate, as sharp and competent a politician as you're going to get out of Florida, lost to a former Fox News legal analyst. Both state houses now have historically high Republican super majorities. Less than 50 percent of Democratic voters cast their ballot for the party's Senate nominee.
What the hell is wrong with the Florida Democratic Party and how can it be fixed?
Despite historically dominating Florida politics, the FDP's misfortunes are nothing new. They lost the State Senate in 1992, followed by losing the State House in 1996. Jeb Bush was elected as only the State's third post-Reconstruction Republican Governor in 1998, and Democrats have been locked out of power in Tallahassee ever since. Alex Sink is the only non-incumbent Democrat to hold a cabinet position in the past 15 years.
Why have Florida Democrats fared so badly lately? Is it a problem with maintaining a coalition? Money? Get out the vote? These aren't questions we can answer clearly the morning after, but you can bet we'll be keeping our eye on them. In the meantime, we offer some more general thoughts.
Sure, last night the mood in the country was decidedly favorable to Republicans. The President's party historically takes a hit in the midterms during their first term. That trend was exasperated by the fact that Democrats didn't have a magical wand to wave and mystically fix the economy. American's decided they wanted a change, or at least a split-government in Washington. Why didn't Floridians want the same in Tallahassee?
Florida's economic fortunes have been hit hard compared to the rest of the country. Was there not an opportunity to pin at least some of that blame on the party in control of the state government? There probably was, but the FDP did little to exploit it. Like their national counterparts, the FDP's 2010 effort was a failure in branding and finding a central theme to run on.
There's also the matter of the party's shrinking bench. Many Republicans quipped back in 2008 that the Democratic bench in Florida solely consisted of Alex Sink, and they weren't really wrong. Candidates like Kendrick Meek, Dan Gelber and Loranne Ausley may have been competent and experienced, but none of them had any experience in running a state-wide campaign and dismal name recognition across the state.
Perhaps if Democrats had had a stronger candidate in the senate race to begin with, Charlie Crist would have been less quick to run as an independent with an eye on Democratic votes.
Who is the next generation of Democratic leaders in Florida? We couldn't tell you. We do know that they'd better include some Hispanics. Everyone talks about how Hispanic voters are the future of Florida politics, but Republicans have put their money where their mouth is with successful candidates like Mel Martinez and now Marco Rubio.
Assuming popular incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson runs for re-election, Democrats have four years to build up a bench. It better be among the immediate priorities along with Obama and Nelson's reelections and the state legislature elections in 2012.
There is good news for Democrats last night though. Amendments 5 and 6 passed overwhelmingly, and they will help put an end to Florida's out of control gerrymandering that has favored Republicans and partially explains their dominance in the state legislature.
So in future elections Democrats should have a more fair playing field. They better bring their A-game.