When Will Florida Go Blue

What will it take for Florida to go blue in 2020 and help usher in a Democratic president? A miracle, according to Nelson Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Republican Party.

“It would take a miracle for the Democrats to win Florida in 2020 - or at least an incredibly good Democratic candidate and an extremely well organized state and national Democratic Party and a lot of money and a highly motivated Democratic base,” said Diaz. “Right now, the Democrats have none of those things. Their state and national parties are in complete disarray. They have no funds. They also lack a motivated base or a motivating candidate.   They are only hoping that people will not vote to re-elect President Trump. I wouldn’t bet on the Democrats winning Florida in 2020.»

Given the outcome of last November’s election, leaders of the Florida Democratic Party agreed with much of what Diaz said, except for the miracle part. They intend to overcome that by not repeating the mistakes of the past.

Florida is an important state when it comes to presidential elections. Since 1936, Florida has picked the winner of the presidential election 19 out 21 times and in no other state has the Hispanic vote proved more valuable in helping determine who will lead the nation for the next four years. Presumed dark horse candidate Donald Trump won the sunshine state by 48.6% to former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton’s 47.4%, giving the real estate mogul and reality TV star 29 electoral votes and a red carpet to The White House.

Clinton almost won Florida, but to quote Donald Trump’s legal mentor, the late Roy Cohn, “almost does not count in this world.” In the end, Trump won the presidential election by 304 electoral votes to Clinton’s 227, although Clinton won the popular vote by 65,853.6516 to Trump’s 62,984.825.

Florida Democratic leaders say the road to victory in 2020 will depend on how the road to success is paved after  the midterm elections of November 6, 2018 when 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 33 seats in the Senate, and six governorships are up for grabs.

Sally Boynton Brown, president of the Florida Democratic Party  (FDP) is confident that the community engagement strategies outlined in its Leadership Blue  “2018 FDP Election Plan” will help Florida achieve the kind of success in next year’s mid-term elections that will establish a foundation for victory in 2020. It’s  a call to action for every Florida city that has a Democratic club, and every Florida County that has a Democratic Party, to engage its members in grassroots voter registration, voter outreach, voter education, and recruitment and support of candidates on the municipal and state level.

“We know that neighbors talking to neighbors about the issues is a winning strategy. It’s important that we take what has worked in the past and continue innovating and improving on what isn’t working. Our community engagement program aims to do just that,” Brown said.

And beyond the recruitment and support of candidates is ensuring that that the messaging is effective as voters respond to candidates that hammer out the message that they are for change and for improving the lives of voters.  Brown said that the word “Better” will factor into much of the new messaging. “We’re excited to see the national party’s economic focus. We know talking to voters about how we can ensure they do better in their lives will resonate,” she said.

In addition, the website of the Florida Democratic Party and its press releases are now fully bilingual –making it easy to communicate to Spanish speaking audiences and Spanish language mainstream media outlets.

Florida state Representative Richard Stark – whose 104th District, includes southern Broward County, stretching from Pembroke Pines to the Collier County border agreed. “Having a strong clear and memorable message, raising more money for both the state and national Party, and reaching out to the Spanish speaking community and minority groups is key to victory,” Stark said, pointing out the number of Venezuelans and Colombians in his District that he felt the Democratic Party could have done a better job in reaching last November.

Stark said that although the Democrats are the party for middle class and working class, the Party frequently fails to communicate that fact to voters.  He pointed out that Republicans, who are better financed, have generally had better messaging  with the voters. He recalls the strategy of Former Speaker of the House Newt Gringrich’s Contract with America that proclaimed less government and lower taxes.

The huge exception to that was President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 race – in which he won Florida both times. The all -important message -- Change and Hope -- was the mantra, put forth by an inspiring leader with a clear message, who knew how to communicate to voters. That’s what ensured his victories, Florida leaders said.

Who ever becomes the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 has to be a dynamic person with a clear message who connects directly with the voters. “As a Party we never capitalized on President Obama winning twice,” said Cynthia Busch, president of the Broward Democratic Party. “As a result, people who voted for Obama twice wound up supporting Trump and then we witnessed an outpouring of white voters who had not voted in eight years.”

Busch, who was active in the Obama campaigns, said the success has to come from those in the state, not directed by those from out of state, as was the case with the Hillary Clinton campaign.   And greater emphasis has to be placed on states such as Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania which should have gone to Clinton.

But Busch’s focus is on Florida – and in the last few months the Broward Democratic Party has placed the emphasis on: Number one, canvasing training to better teach volunteers how to speak with and persuade voters.  Number two, candidate training to encourage and train people how to run for elected office. And three, an emphasis on making sure there are good candidates for all races on all levels – from the municipal to the County to the state to the federal.

Daniel M. Mulieri, president of the Broward Democratic Hispanic Caucus said that the messaging to Hispanic community cannot be just on standard message, but adapted to the needs that are unique in the Cuban, Venezuelan, Colombian, Mexican and Puerto Rican communities. “And we are doing this by going directly to those communities and listening to them and giving them a reason to vote for Democratic candidates in 2018 and again in 2020,” Mulieri said.

A particular challenge is  young voters, especially those who passionately supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries, but turned their back to Hillary Clinton. “When these voters in a close election say that they have to vote for their conscience, it has to be made clear that voting one’s conscious means voting for the best candidate of the two, not wasting your vote on a candidate that has no chance of winning,” Mulieri  said. “There was a lot of voter remorse when Trump was elected – even surprise as so many people expected that Hillary Clinton was going to win. In elections, you cannot assume that the better candidate will win.  You have to work as hard as possible fearing that the worse candidate is going to win -- that is how you achieve victory.”

John Ziegler, president of the Plantation Democratic Club, one of the many small Democratic clubs that exists in cities throughout Florida said that he and his members are working toward victory in 2018 so that the White House can welcome a Democratic president once again. Ziegler calls it the Four Freedoms approach.

”My colleagues and I in the Plantation [FL] Democratic Club are relentlessly registering new voters on weekdays and weekends, year long, whether an election is approaching are not,” Ziegler said. “We also make sure that an existing voter’s information is up-to-date with the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office: current address, party affiliation and recent signature. Plus, we encourage voters to consider voting by mail and have the request cards to do that. Finally, through public records, we keep track of registered voters in our precincts and urge them to vote at election time by phone and door-to-door canvassing.”

Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and Robert Sutton, chairman of the Broward Republican Executive Committee did not respond to repeated requests for an interview or an e-mail response as to whether Florida could turn blue in 2020.

But overall,  FDP president Brown is confident that the groundwork  that is being done for 2018 will be the foundation for victory in 2020.  She says it requires a lot of work, a lot of organizing, a lot of fundraising and a lot of voter education and outreach. “Florida is a microcosm of the United States and what we achieve over the next three years we hope will win back the White House in 2020,” she said.

By Roberto Santiago