Politics

Florida Democrats Struggle to Find Candidates Under Allison Tant

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: May 9, 2014 3:55 AM
Allison Tant

Allison Tant

With only six months left until the general election, Allison Tant is having a hard time recruiting candidates, calling into question her ability to lead Florida Democrats even as the party has a good shot for its first gubernatorial victory in 20 years.

The Florida Democratic Party chairwoman assumed that position in January 2013, promising to “out-raise, out-organize, and outwork the GOP” across Florida. But it simply hasn’t happened.

To be sure, Tant has had some successes. Amanda Murphy won a special election for a Florida House seat in Pasco County, cutting into the Republican majority; Rick Kriseman won the St. Petersburg mayoral election.

But there have been major problems. Back in August, Tant endorsed Allie Braswell to run for state CFO. Five days later, Braswell exited the race after revelations that he had filed for multiple personal bankruptcies, raising questions about whether Tant and the Florida Democrats actually vetted him. Democrats still don’t have a credible candidate to challenge either Florida CFO Jeff Atwater or Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and the clock is ticking.

Nor are Democrats doing much better at the congressional level in Florida. Alex Sink pulled defeat out of the jaws of victory against Republican David Jolly in a special congressional election back in March. After Sink opted out of a rematch, Democrats cleared the decks as the likes of Jessica Ehrlich and Manuel Sykes also stayed out of the contest. Democrats expected Joel Cantor to run but he decided not to. When the smoke cleared, Democrats didn’t have a candidate in one of the most competitive congressional races in Florida, forcing them to back Ed Jany who is running with no party affiliation.

Democrats have to be happy about Patrick Murphy’s and, to a lesser extent, Joe Garcia’s chances to keep their seat and Gwen Graham’s odds of beating Steve Southerland. But many Republican congressmen from Florida aren’t even remotely threatened by the Democrats this year. Republican Dan Webster was almost toppled by the Democrats in 2012. This year, Webster should blow out whichever Democrat he faces. Ander Crenshaw has a serious Republican challenger but whoever wins the primary won’t face a Democrat in November. Republicans Gus Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are already headed back to Washington since there are no Democrats or other candidates running against them. Ted Yoho might be concerned with Republican primary rival Jake Rush but whoever wins will run over Democrat Marihelen Wheeler in November. Jeff Miller faces Democrat retread Jim Bryan, who he usually beats by around 40 percent, yet again up on the Panhandle. Democrats have little chances to take out the likes of Tom Rooney, Ron DeSantis and Bill Posey. With the exception of Southerland, for the moment, it’s hard to imagine any Democrat beating a Florida Republican congressman come November.

Nor are Democrats doing much more at the legislative level. There are 16 Republicans in the Florida Senate running for re-election in November. With six months to go until the election, only one of these Republican state senators -- Jeff Brandes -- has a major Democratic opponent. Not exactly a good sign for Democrats looking to cut into the Republican majority in the Senate.

Democrats are also playing defense in the Florida House. Granted, Democrats have some opportunities to defeat Republican incumbents such as Erik Fresen and Bill Hager in South Florida. Democrats can also pick up open seats such as the one held by the term-limited Ed Hooper in Pinellas County. But Republicans are salivating over taking out Democrats in the House like Mike Clelland, Karen Castor Dentel, Linda Stewart, Jose Javier Rodriguez, Mark Danish and Carl Zimmerman.

Florida Democrats should feel good about Charlie Crist’s odds against Rick Scott. But Crist is relying on his own organization more than the party apparatus --  no surprise considering he left the Republicans in 2010 and only joined the Democrats 18 months ago. Pam Bondi has two Democratic opponents but the Republican attorney general is leading both George Sheldon and Perry Thurston in the polls.

Democrats can certainly rack up some big wins in November, namely over Scott and Southerland. But there is nothing that shows Democrats are serious about making inroads in Florida to chip away at the Republican majorities in Congress, the Florida Cabinet and the state Legislature despite Tant’s pledges.

In 2012, with Barack Obama’s and Bill Nelson’s coattails, Democrats led by Rod Smith gained ground on Republicans in Florida. With the exceptions of Crist and Graham, Democrats led by Tant will be hard-pressed to find similar success in 2014.



Tallahassee-based political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.


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