The Florida Democratic Party is faced with a huge dilemma. It hasn’t won the governor’s mansion in a generation and unless Democrats nominate the right person, they won’t have a chance at winning back the most coveted position in Florida government.
As a former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, I know the inclination of the party, certainly the new chair and executive director, both of whom are clueless about winning elections statewide, are likely to support the most liberal candidate.
That’s because the mantra from the extreme left is that moderate candidates haven’t motivated the base enough to turn out and win elections.
You see, the party elite believe that just because they have the superior number of registered voters, all they must do is turn them out and they win.
But, what they consistently fail to realize is that many of us who are registered as Democrats are Reagan Democrats, or Blue Dogs, and there’s no way we’re going to support an ultraliberal candidate.
So, of the five candidates that have filed or are rumored to run, let’s handicap the race through the eyes of a conservative Dem.
Let’s start with the ones who have filed.
Andrew Gillum is an Obama meme. He’s never not lived off the government dole. He’s a failed mayor of Tallahassee who doesn’t have enough name recognition or gravitas to win the nomination.
Moreover, he’s a flawed candidate. The first out of the box, Gillum narrowly escaped indictment for an email scandal that Hillary would have been proud of. His city has led Florida in crime for the second year in a row, and he hasn’t a clue of how to combat it.
He’s never met a tax increase he didn’t support. He’s refused to cut expenses, wants free abortions for his followers, wants all confederate statues removed, and oh yeah, his friends and campaign operatives are under FBI investigation for corruption.
He’s the prototype for a failed gubernatorial candidate of any party.
Then there’s Chris King, an Orlando businessman who kicked in $1.5 million of his own money to make a splash. A Harvard graduate, successful businessman building affordable housing, he believes his first race for elected office should start at the top. However, he’s not Donald Trump or Rick Scott. He’s as liberal as Gillum and what he has going for him is that none of the things true about Gillum, apply to him. But he also doesn’t have a record and he wants to tout climate change, LGBTQXZ rights, no guns, no Civil War monuments to shake the snowflakes who support him, and he endorses every other cause known to socialism.
Nice guy, but he doesn’t have the wealth or the deep support to allow him to be a force to be reckoned with through the entire primary.
Next comes Gwen Graham, the one-term congresswoman from North Florida who’s also the daughter of legendary Florida politician (governor and U.S. senator) Bob Graham.
She bills herself as a centrist, moderate Dem and interestingly, her voting record in D.C. reflects that. She refused to support Nancy Pelosi for speaker, and while it was a foregone conclusion that Pelosi would win and there would be kickback, she stuck to her guns.
While she supported climate change, she also voted for the XL Pipeline, so she showed that she can aggravate both Dems and Repubs with equal aplomb.
Her biggest advantage is her last name and the weight that name carries in the party. Her father will certainly campaign for her as he did when she ran for Congress in the conservative Panhandle, and a lot of folks remember him. Bob Graham has a reservoir of good will built up over decades.
The two folks still deciding about the primary are Phillip Levine and John Morgan, both very wealthy.
Levine is the current mayor of Miami Beach and many pundits insist he wouldn’t be able to be elected to a third mayoral term which is why he’s running for governor. A businessman, he has taken his fight with Airbnb public and it’s become rather nasty.
While he maintains he’s fighting for property rights for neighbors who don’t want loud parties in their quiet neighborhoods, Levine is also inhibiting the rights of homeowners to make money to help them keep their increasingly pricey homes in a high tax area of the state.
Levine also had a running battle with hometown reporters and has banned certain ones from his Facebook page -- which never looks good in liberal politics. He also has flirted with running as an Independent, which won’t sit well with some libs. And he has brought on board his campaign team one Adam Goodman, a heretofore GOP strategist, which twists the knife even more.
Yet, his politics are off-the-chart liberal, so in the end, he’ll be forgiven for those transgressions and his money will ensure that he’s there to the end.
The most well-known Dem thinking about running is the narcissistic John Morgan, an advertising trial lawyer whose moniker is on every television, billboard, bus bench, and marijuana joint in the state -- or so it seems.
Morgan is the wealthiest candidate among the five and he’s demonstrated he’s willing to spend the dollars if he decides to run. Charismatic, potty-mouthed by his own admission, irreverent and a classic non-politician who wants to make his first foray into politics at the top of the heap.
He’s gunning to become the Dems' Donald Trump, and the similarities were outlined above. But he’s got two things going against him: One, he’s a plaintiff’s trial lawyer and they rank even below lobbyists like me with the public. And second, he’s had two DUI’s.
But he bests Trump because he’s articulate, genuinely funny, and is deeply committed to advancing the socialist agenda of Obama, Hillary and Sanders, ad nauseum. He wants a $15 minimum wage, which would be devastating to small businesses. He wants legal marijuana, and why not? ... Only everyone else doesn’t have a chauffeur.
Bottom line, the Graham-Nelson wing of the party can’t afford to let Morgan be the Dem nominee. Not because he can’t fund it himself, not because he’s not true to his soul on the liberal-left agenda, not because he’s inarticulate, but because he has the potential of taking everyone else down across the state in their respective races.
Despite the Dems' time-honored belief, Florida is a centrist state that can swing just to the left, or just to the right, but never too far. Obama won twice, sure, but each time it was a close race. 2018 will be an off-year election, which means there isn’t a presidential election to foment an outpouring of voters -- in either party.
But Repubs have shown that they’re masters of the off-cycle election and despite money and some help from D.C., the Dems still can’t figure out how to win statewide. Except for Nelson. But Nelson is the last one, and even he may be finished when Gov. Rick Scott runs against him.
Clearly, the best hope for the Democrats is to nominate Gwen Graham because she best reflects the moderate majority of Florida voters. If she selects an African-American from South or Central Florida as her running mate, she has a fighting chance to win, and that’s the best that the party can expect.
Nominate a far-out leftie, and it's game over. No one north of Orlando will support a radical leftist and as Gov. Scott proved in his last election, even large margins in liberal areas won’t overcome moderate and conservative voters among the Democratic, Republican and Indie voter (these voters still tend to vote for the party they came from, according to analyses) in other parts of the state.
Levine or Morgan will be a total disaster. Graham is the only person who has a chance at winning the mansion back for the D’s.
Barney Bishop III is the former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party and he’s the past president & CEO of Associated Industries of Florida. A self-described conservative Democrat, he believes in a strong private enterprise system as the hallmark of a strong democracy.