Democrats had a great year in Florida in 2012. Barack Obama carried the state over Mitt Romney and Bill Nelson easily defeated Connie Mack to keep his Senate seat. Democratic challengers defeated two Republican congressmen and cut down on the GOP majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. While Rod Smiths gubernatorial bid in 2006 and his role as Alex Sinks running mate in 2010 may have left him a loser as a statewide candidate, his stint as Florida Democratic Party chairman has to be considered a success.
But Allison Tant, Smiths successor, has had major problems in her time leading the party. Tant was front and center when Allie Braswell announced he was running for state CFO. When Braswell pulled out of the race a few days later after revelations that he had filed for personal bankruptcy numerous times, she was left holding the bag.
Tant is now engaged in a heated public dispute with Darryl Rouson who will -- unless a new vote is called and he is defeated -- lead House Democrats after the 2014 elections. Rouson is leading an affiliated party community for House races which is outside of Tants control. When she found out about it, she fired Jeff Ryan and Chris Mitchell who were respectively handling House fundraising and strategy. Rouson fired back, sending an email about his disappointment with Tant for going public instead of keeping it an internal matter. Complicating things is Rousons close relationship with Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor expected to be the Democrats gubernatorial candidate next year.
If he enters the race, Crist starts off as the favorite to beat Rick Scott in 2014. But Crists lead is shrinking as Scott gets credit for the economy recovering. Looking down ballot, Democrats havent impressed with their efforts to recruit candidates for state Cabinet offices. No major Democrats have filed for attorney general, CFO and agriculture commissioner besides Braswell, who turned out to be a disaster for Tant. While the election is still 14 months away, Tant hasnt impressed so far on that front.
Nor do things look better for Democrats at the legislative level. So far, no major Democratic challengers have filed to run against any Republicans in the Florida Senate. Granted, no Republicans have jumped in against Democrat incumbents but the GOP controls the chamber. There are a handful of Democratic opportunities to pick up House seats, including a special election in Pasco County next month. But Republicans are already lining up to defeatDemocrats in the House like Mike Clelland, Mark Danish, Karen Castor Dentel, Jose Javier Rodriguez, Joe Saunders, Linda Stewart and Carl Zimmerman.
Democrats have their chances to pick up some congressional seats at least, though even that seems to be a mixed bag as the likes of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) should be a larger player than Tant and the Florida party. Gwen Graham has a good chance against Republican incumbent Steve Southerland, and Jessica Ehrlich is in good shape to win a seat for Democrats if Bill Young retires. But Democrats like Joe Garcia and Patrick Murphy can expect major Republican challenges next year. Some Republican incumbents who were top targets in 2012, like Dan Webster and Vern Buchanan, have so far dodged major Democrat opponents. Republicans control 17 of Floridas 27 congressional seats. If Democrats are going to win the U.S. House from the GOP in 2014, they need to ramp up their efforts in Florida.
To be sure, Democrats have their chances to win big in Florida next year. If Crist wins, he will be the first Democrat to win a gubernatorial election since 1994. But, so far, Tants leadership hasnt impressed and Florida Democrats can be excused if they miss Rod Smith.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.