When she took over the Florida Democratic Party, Allison Tant promised to take the fight to Republicans, running top-notch candidates for every Cabinet office and vowing to make inroads against the GOP majority controlling the Legislature. But a year and a half later, Tant simply hasnt come close to either of those goals.
Democrats have two major candidates running for governor in former Republican Charlie Crist and Nan Rich. There are also two credible challengers going after Pam Bondi in the attorney general race in George Sheldon and Perry Thurston. But there are still no major threats to either Jeff Atwater or Adam Putnam. Democrats will have to scramble in the days to come if Tant is going to make good on her promise.
But as unpromising as the Cabinet races are, things are even worse at the legislative level, especially in regard to the upper chamber. Democrats need to pick up seven seats in the Senate to swing it away from the Republicans. Right now, the Democrats arent even trying to pick it up. So far, only two Republicans face Democratic challengers and only one of them -- Jeff Brandes -- has a credible opponent in Judithanne McLauchlan.
At least on the House side, Democrats are fielding 40 candidates gunning for seats currently held by Republicans. Thats more than enough to take control of the chamber though only a handful of the Democratic House candidates trying to flip seats from the GOP are credible.
Things dont look much better on the congressional level as Democrats look to cut into the GOPs control of the U.S. House. Steve Southerland has a major threat on his hands in Gwen Graham, but other Republicans in the Florida delegation can take it easy, at least once the primaries are done.
Its telling that David Jolly beat Alex Sink by less than 2 percent back in a special congressional election in March. Jolly doesnt have a Democratic opponent in November. Pushing candidates from their own party out of the race, the Democrat leadership tried to back Ed Jany, a candidate with no party affiliation. But questions about Janys background, including lying about a degree from the University of Minnesota on a resume and attending a diploma mill, sunk him and he dropped out of the race. Now Democrats dont have a candidate in what should be one of the most competitive congressional races in the state.
Democrats have put all their chips behind Charlie Crist, a man who has switched parties twice in recent years and has flipped on a series of major issues. Thats not exactly the best strategy to make Florida blue or even ensure its a bit more purple. Oddly, they have offended a large chunk of the most loyal members of their own party by trying to put a boot-heel in the face of gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich, one of the most principled Democrats in the party today.
Instead of betting it all on Crist, Dems could look at how Republicans built up their party in the late 1980s and 1990s. Before Jeb Bush, Crist and other Republicans were winning statewide elections, the GOP was making inroads in the Legislature as the likes of Ander Crenshaw and Dan Webster came to lead their chambers. This strategy worked, giving Republicans a much deeper bench in Florida than the Democrats have.
Despite some nice wins under her belt -- including Amanda Murphy picking up a House seat and Rick Kriseman becoming mayor of St. Petersburg -- Tant has, so far, failed to build her party. Crist could certainly beat Scott in November, though his lead in the polls has evaporated. But there doesnt look like Democrats will have much more to cheer for in Florida come November.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.