Florida Democrats think 2012 gains will pay off in 2014

Nov 7, 2012


The following article was published in The Florida Current on November 7, 2012:

Democrats think 2012 gains will pay off in 2014

By Bill Cotterell


Florida Democrats showed signs of a political revival in this year’s general election, sweeping statewide races and gaining seats in both chambers of the Legislature. But can they keep it going in 2014 — the point of a two-term presidency when the party in power usually suffers at the polls?

“We’re moving in the right direction but comebacks are always done in fits and starts,” state Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith said in a morning-after assessment of returns Wednesday. “I believe this was the first significant pick-up of seats since the 1980s, but what we can’t do now is lose momentum.”

Smith said he was pleased with victories in four congressional races, a gain of five state House seats and two in the Florida Senate. That was fueled by heavy turnout in big cities and strong Democratic support among Hispanic voters in the Osceola-Orange County area.

Whether that spells re-election trouble for Gov. Rick Scott, whose “Let’s Get to Work” campaign committee has raised about $5 million in the past two years, will depend on whether the Democrats can find a strong challenger and galvanize anything approaching the precinct-level organization that President Barack Obama assembled. Voter anger over long lines at early voting stations this past week, and Scott’s sputtering purge of non-citizens and felons from voting rolls, also will be used against him in 2014.

“For the governor last night, the more daunting prospect was overwhelming rejection of the constitutional amendments and the lingering reaction to the long lines at polls, which were totally unnecessary,” said Smith, a former state senator who ran for governor in 2006 and lieutenant governor two years ago.

Republicans put 11 amendments on the ballot and eight failed. The GOP also tried to defeat three Florida Supreme Court justices, who won with more than two-thirds of the vote.

Scott, a Republican who spent about $70 million of his own fortune winning his first political outing in 2010, said he will run on a record of improving education, adding almost 160,000 private sector jobs so far and keeping down the cost of living in Florida. The governor said that’s what voters showed they want nationwide, in re-electing Obama.

“In two years, my goal is to make sure all Floridians know that I am focused on the three things that are most important to them,” he said Wednesday. “What I’m focused on over the next two years is to make sure people can get a job if they want one, that they can get a great education and that this is a place where you can afford to live.”

Lawyer John French, who heads the governor’s campaign committee, said Scott’s popularity in polls has risen from about 30 percent just after he was elected to above 40 percent now. French said an improving economy should help Scott’s currently low popularity rating.

“He’s going to be in pretty good shape by 2014 and he’s going to be imminently re-electable,” he said.

Democratic National Committeeman Jon Ausman of Tallahassee, a veteran political consultant for Democratic candidates, said his party showed strong signs of life this week. Whether it is the first turnaround in 20 years, or a blip, will depend on finding a candidate whose personal story can connect with voters in 2014, Ausman said.

That probably means someone outside Tallahassee. Former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich of Weston, whose legislative term ended Tuesday, has announced her candidacy for governor. But Ausman said other viable candidates will include former state CFO Alex Sink, who narrowly lost to Scott two years ago, and Mayors Buddy Dyer of Orlando, Jack Siler of Fort Lauderdale, Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, Alvin Brown of Jacksonville and former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.

Rich said putting 11 constitutional amendments on the ballot, some of them very lengthy, and refusing to extend the early voting period last week will “negatively impact” Scott’s image among voters who were wary of him already. 

“It was voter suppression and people got it,” she said. “They understand what was going on here.”

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