Michael McKenna Presents a Grassroots Challenge to Dan Webster
Around the State
Navy veteran Michael McKenna pulled off an upset win in the Democratic primary to challenge Dan Webster the old-fashioned way: he personally knocked on more than 57,000 doors during his campaign.
McKenna’s win was extremely unlikely, though the primary to see who would take on Webster was not exactly front-and-center on Tuesday night. By Aug. 6, McKenna had spent $16,373. Attorney Shayan Modarres, who had done some work on the Trayvon Martin case, had spent almost $49,500 by the same date. Business owner Bill Ferree, who had served on the Eustis City Commission, spent $32,566.
But McKenna’s focus on grassroots campaigning bore fruit. When the smoke cleared on Tuesday night, McKenna won the three-man contest with 49.7 percent of the vote. Modarres took second with 30.6 percent and Ferree brought up the rear with 19.7 percent.
Granted Modarres and Ferree were not exactly major-league opponents but McKenna beat them in an impressive fashion. It’s an impressive testimony to the importance of grassroots campaigning even in this age of media buys and social media.
Things aren’t going to get easier for McKenna in the months to come, though. Democrats came close to taking Webster down in 2012 when Val Demings almost beat him. But Demings had Barack Obama’s and Bill Nelson’s coattails to help her, pumping up Democratic turnout. As Central Florida continues to change, this district, which had been set up in 2012 with an almost 5 percent Republican advantage in registrations, could be trending purple. Judge Terry Lewis ruled the district violated the FairDistrict amendments and it could be more Democratic in the years to come after it is changed in the latest round in districts.
Still, despite his often underwhelming attempts for higher office at the state level, Webster should not be discounted. Webster has been winning elections in Central Florida for almost three and a half decades and has raised more than $738,300 so far for this campaign. If Webster needs help, the national GOP can be counted on to bail him out.
Webster starts off as a pretty solid favorite in the general election but McKenna has proven himself a hard-working candidate, though he will now have to reach out to independents and even some Republicans as he looks to take the congressman down. Still, with his blue collar persona, Navy background and proven work ethic, McKenna could be a role player, if not a star, for Florida Democrats in the years to come. He’s active with the Democrats’ veterans efforts and has a knack for grassroots campaigning. Even if he doesn’t come close to beating Webster, Democrats would be wise to keep an eye on McKenna for party building and for future electoral bids.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.