Hammering on a theme heard throughout the day, former President Bill Clinton warned Democrats they won't win critical races this fall if they don't figure out how to get voters to cast ballots.
"We have to be creative in how we reach people and how we get them to the polls," Clinton told a crowd of more than 1,500 supporters who paid up to $250 to hear the former president speak Saturday night. "If we're going to preserve democracy, real democracy, we've got to show up."
About 130 million people typically vote in presidential elections, but 50 million of those stay home during the midterm elections like this year's -- "a recipe for gridlock," Clinton told the party faithful gathered for their major fundraiser of the year at a glitzy seaside hotel in Hollywood.
Clinton blasted Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott for adopting policies that help the richest Floridians, like lowering corporate income taxes, and harm the poorest and working class families, such as not supporting a raise in the minimum wage.
"It's not easy for them to vote. They have to know that it matters," he said.
He urged Democrats to reach out to voters who could benefit from a turnaround in those policies.
"Explain, explain, explain and figure out how to physically get people to the polls," Clinton said in a 41-minute speech. "I'm telling you, if you can reach Florida's portion of those 50 million people you will have the darndest celebration on Election Night you ever saw."
Clinton illustrated his point by saying that Democrat Alex Sink should have won a special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young in a Pinellas County congressional district. Sink was defeated by Young's onetime aide David Jolly.
"Alex Sink won the independent votes by almost twice the margin President Obama did. But the registered Democrats did not turn out," Clinton said, noting that Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe won his election because black voter turnout matched that in the general election.
"If they can do it, you can do it," Clinton said.
The Clinton event raised $1.1 million -- topping previous earnings for the annual "Leadership Blue Gala" fundraiser, formerly called the "Jefferson-Jackson Dinner" -- and nearly 1,600 supporters were expected to attend the event at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, another historic high, according to Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant.
Party loyalists were united in their enthusiasm for ousting Scott from office if not in their support for his Democratic challengers, former Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich and onetime Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
Tant echoed the overarching topic of the day's caucus meetings -- the importance of getting Democrats to the polls to prevent the "horrendous" possibility that Scott wins a second term.
"We are going to build the largest field plan that the Florida Democratic Party has ever seen," she pledged.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said the DNC has created a "vast and sophisticated voter file" called "Project Ivy" that it is sharing with state parties to help in turning out voters.
Black-caucus leaders reminded members that turnout among black voters dropped significantly in the 2010 election, from 75 percent in 2008 to 49 percent in the midterm. Now, black leaders have targeted 33 counties in which they hope to organize efforts to improve turnout in November.
Caucus chairman Henry Crespo Jr. said Democrats cannot win without support from black voters.
"The state party of Florida needs the black caucus in 2014 and beyond," he said.
Speaking to the Hispanic caucus earlier in the day, Latino lawmakers chided the GOP-dominated Legislature for playing "election-year politics" by passing laws aimed at helping Scott, who campaigned four years ago on bringing an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida. In a marked turnaround, Scott this spring signed into law measures aimed at soothing relations with Latino voters, including one that will allow undocumented students to pay cheaper, in-state tuition at colleges and universities and another that makes undocumented immigrants eligible for the Florida Bar.
Sen. Darren Soto, a Puerto Rican Democrat from Orlando, advised his fellow Hispanics to remind their friends and families that Democrats had been pushing those issues for a decade to no avail.
"Remember the history of who doesn't need polls to tell them when to side with you," he said.
The Hispanic caucus meeting also highlighted the significance of the upcoming gubernatorial race for Democrats on the national level as they seek to put the governor's mansion in Democratic hands in advance of the 2016 presidential election. Democratic National Committee Political Director Raul Alvillar told the Hispanic caucus that the national party's commitment to Hispanics "is stronger than ever." Alvillar said later that Project Ivy contains years of information regarding Hispanic voters
"We have some of the best data in the country. ... We know where all these Hispanic voters are. We're very targeted and we're able to go with laser precision and say, 'You need to vote Democratic because of all of the issues that the senator was speaking about,'" Alvillar said. "When people realize that and they keep hearing stuff that the Republicans are spewing, they're going to realize that these folks really do not care about the Hispanic vote. That stuff will also help us get our Hispanics out to vote, too."
Hispanics and blacks should pool their resources, Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairwoman Annette Taddeo told the black caucus.
"We need to create a black and brown coalition," she said.
Rich posed for pictures and made appearances at all of the Democratic caucus meetings in the morning, reminding attendees of her lifelong support for progressive issues such as gay rights, abortion rights and public education in frequent, if not subtle, swipes at her primary opponent.
"I am a lifelong Democrat and I will not be having any epiphanies when I get into the governor's mansion," Rich said.
Crist did not appear until just before the 7 p.m. dinner featuring Clinton. He told reporters he had been at an event in Nantucket, where the Democratic Governors Association gave the committee backing his run for governor $500,000, matching the same amount the group contributed to Crist's committee in April.
"So I'm very grateful for that again. They're all in. We're all in. And now it's great to be back in South Florida and I can't tell you how happy I am to be with these wonderful people," Crist said, hugging and posing for pictures in a crush of supporters.
Republicans continued to hammer Crist for failing to release his wife Carole's tax returns. A plane towing a banner reading "www.CharliesTaxReturns.com #WhatsCristHiding," paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, flew overhead prior to Crist's arrival.
RPOF Chairwoman Leslie Dougher met briefly with reporters to blast Crist for the tax returns and for his absence earlier in the day.
"What are you scared of?" Dougher said. "The more you hide something, the more people want to see it."
But Crist, flocked by supporters upon his entrance to the hotel, dismissed the demands.
"I wouldn't even consider asking Carole to do that unless Rick Scott would be truly transparent and answer 75 questions that he wouldn't answer under the federal investigation of his company,'' Crist said, referring to an investigation of Scott's former company, Columbia/HCA. "He's the most untransparent governor in the history of Florida. And for him to make transparency an issue is a gift to me."