Soon the Florida Democratic Party will release its review of the 2014 elections and recommendations for the future. While not a member of the committee writing the report, I've been a part of ten election cycles, and fortunately more wins than losses. I could write for hours on the path forward, but I'll keep this to the high points. With that, here are my two cents.
1. Drop the pointless "left vs moderate" debate and build bench with candidates who can win where they run.
I'm admittedly over the handwringing over what a "real Democrat" means. In a nutshell, what a "real Democrat" means to me: an individual with a servant's heart, focused on the middle class and social justice...and who can win.
The latter is what matters. And guess what, one size doesn't fit all. In 2006, when we won seven seats plus two more specials, our winning candidates were all over the ideological spectrum, from NRA members on the right to those on the far left of the scale. They won not because they fit into a box, but because they had a real relationship to their district - meaning they had some following & ability to raise money, had resumes that sounded like state legislators, and had a world view that fit the community they lived in. Two of my favorite people in Congress, Gwen Graham and Debbie Wasserman Schultz would be unlikely candidates in the other's districts. But both work where they are. We need to embrace that.
2. Control what you can control.
State parties can't control the national mood, or for that matter the state mood. They can't define the narrative. And they can't control national waves.
What they can control is this: maintaining good voter data, recruiting good candidates and make sure local activists are doing things that matter, like registering voters and working vote by mail. Everything -- and I mean everything, is secondary.
Having a lot of good candidates means in good years, you have lots of options, and in bad years, you can stop the bleeding. Having local parties focused on real party building efforts mean that those candidates always have a strong & growing voter base to work from.
And you need good candidates to win, and down the ballot, demographics isn't destiny. Sure, lightning struck in a bottle in a few places in 2012, but we should look at 2004 as a more relevant cycle. The previous legislature had been a mess, Kerry had run a very base centric campaign, and the Dems lost three seats in the House. Why? With a few exceptions, it was a narrow and somewhat underperforming Dem field of candidates. Recruiting is hard. But it has to be the priority. It's also hard to tell good people you can't help them. But for the state parties, the only metric of success is winning.
For local parties, we have to get back to a focus on meaningful activities, starting with voter registration. Here's a stat: for all the positive demographic trends that legitimately should give Democrats a lot of hope, since the day we sent the 600 or so Obama kids home in 2008, the Dem voter registration advantage in Florida has dropped from just over 700k to just over 400k. Let's collectively focus on turning this around as a goal for local parties.
3. Break down our own echo chambers.
When we only listen to others who reinforce our own world view, we become limited in our ability to understand the electorate at large. We complain about Republicans who only get their news from the alternative reality that is Fox News, yet we are often guilty of the same. The partisan chattering class only represents the partisan chattering class. And even if everyday voters share lots of our goals, they don't share the partisanship. There is a reason why people aren't joining political parties - on either side. Who can blame them?
I often tell candidates to view a trip to Publix as a good take on the space we operate in. People in there are busy, often distracted & typically just want to be left alone. When talking to voters, you have to be able to break through to them in same way you would try to connect with the guy behind you in line at Publix. Voters already don't trust parties - or frankly politics. Don't reinforce that.
4. Money matters.
Winning campaigns usually spend more. It's just a fact.
Winning candidates usually raise more. Also a fact.
When candidates raise more, the party doesn't have to spend as much helping them get across the line to win - meaning they can win more races.
5. Stop blaming the party for everything.
The state has 20 million people, 12 million active voters, and 10 media markets including 4 of the top 10 in the nation for political spending, while combined the GOP & Dem parties probably have 50 full time staff. It's not their fault it rains on Saturday. Most of the thing the parties get blamed for are actions candidates and potential candidates take on their own accord.
With Presidential campaigns this is even more true. The modern presidential is its own machine, dwarfing party resources.
Moreover if you don't like what the FDP does, go do something else. Go help candidates you like, go register voters, go recruit smart people to run for office.
6. Don't overthink it.
As I said before, there are lots of things Democrats should be doing, but only a few they must do.
Focus on the one percent of common sense things we have to do to win: candidate recruitment, voter registration & voter turnout.
Candidates must have their own compelling reason for running. Their job is to find the message to get over 50 percent. The party job is to get them as close to that number as possible. Again, all the rest of is secondary.
7. Get out of Tallahassee
Part and parcel to #3, there is no reason for the FDP to be located in Tallahassee. It's geographically misplaced and it's an echo chamber that isn't representative of the state.
Go to the Orlando media market. That is where the state is most dynamic right now. Lay down a marker and start organizing.
8. Have fun.
Not all fun campaigns win, but virtually all dysfunctional and miserable campaigns lose. Politics is supposed to be fun, and if you aren't having fun, you are doing something wrong. As Gandhi said "be the change you want to see in the world."
You are engaged in the 240 year struggle to keep our democratic republic afloat. That's a damn cool thing. If you are enjoying it, others will come along.