Florida Democrats say they aren’t giving up, profess optimism about November

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Florida Democrats, from community activists to the top of the state party, say they’re energized and ready for the November elections — vowing to organize, mobilize and compete.

They face strong headwinds — including the ever-increasing numbers of registered Republican voters, an inability to generate enthusiasm in the 2022 midterm elections, and difficulty attracting the kind of big-money financial support needed to help them dig out of their hole.

As hundreds of Democrats gathered in Fort Lauderdale over the weekend, they vowed not to cede Florida to the Republicans.

“We’re going to give them a good fight. We’re going to try to take back Florida,” said Laurie Plotnick, president of the Democratic Senior Caucus of Florida. “We’re not going to lay down and give them this state.”

Nikki Fried, chair of the state Democratic Party, offered a similar assessment during a break Saturday night at the Broward Democratic Party’s annual Obama Roosevelt Gala at the Broward County Convention Center.

“Democrats are hungry. They’re hungry to take back the state. We’re seeing, no matter where you are, … Democrats are coming out to events,” Fried said. “They’re signing up to run for office. They’re volunteering for campaigns because we understand what’s on the line in November.”

Truly competitive?

After decades as a swing state that could award its presidential electoral votes to either the Democratic or Republican nominee, Florida is now widely seen as largely Republican red.

To many, including Democrats speaking privately, that means Florida is less likely to get attention from the presidential candidates — except to raise money from the state’s deep-pocketed donors.

Democrats are not writing off Florida, said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee.

“That’s completely untrue, factually untrue. We are an expansion state on the Biden campaign map,” she said. “They are in the process of standing up a coordinated campaign, hiring staff, coordinating with our state party and our local parties. Florida is going to be in play and then we’re gonna make a real aggressive statewide effort.”

Wasserman Schultz, like Fried, cited victories since the 2022 midterm elections — when Florida Democrats received a shellacking — and the success of a petition drive to get an amendment on the ballot to enshrine abortion rights in the Florida Constitution.

The Florida Supreme Court still has to rule on whether the proposed amendment will appear on the ballot. Democrats like Wasserman Schultz and Fried see it as something that could make Florida more competitive by increasing turnout of people who favor abortion rights.

“Presuming that we have substantive issues like reproductive freedom on the ballot, we will have an infrastructure in place to be able to get people to the polls,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We have momentum and we’re going to capitalize on it,” citing what she called “the contrast right now between the MAGA extremists in the Republican Party, whether it’s Ron DeSantis or Trump versus ‘Team Normal’ in Democrats led by President Biden.”

Fried too said national Democrats haven’t given up on Florida.

“Every single conversation that we are having with our national partners with the national surrogates, they understand that if you’re going to take back democracy for the country and fight for freedom, that you’re going to come to the belly of the beast. That’s here in the State of Florida,” Fried said. “We are part of the expansion map, and we are ready to make sure that we flip Florida and to deliver it to President Biden.”

Expansion states are the ones that could get attention in addition to the half-dozen swing states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that could determine the outcome of an election.

U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Parkland, was less optimistic, pointing to the long decline in the party’s fortunes that preceded Fried’s election as state party chair in February 2023.

“I think, frankly, we made her captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg,” Moskowitz said.

“This is not something that’s going to be fixed in a year or two years. We’ve had a systemic breakdown and it’s gonna take a while to fix that. And we have a math problem: There are 800,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats,” he said.

Democrats have some wins since 2022, so “I don’t think all is lost, but we’re not starting from an even place. We are starting from behind. At the end of the day, if the Biden campaign invests in Florida, then you can put it in play.”

Republicans scoff

Joe Budd, the elected state Republican committeeman from Palm Beach County, sees little chance of Democrats prevailing in Florida in 2024.

“Not Florida. I believe this is a securely red state,” Budd said.

Richard DeNapoli, the elected state committeeman from Broward and a former county party chair, said via text that there so far hasn’t been the kind of national Democratic Party money and involvement that Fried and Wasserman Schultz said might come.

“It does not seem that the national Democrat Party considers Florida flippable, given Florida’s status as an increasingly Republican state and the massive amount of money it takes to campaign in such a large state and its media markets.”

DeSantis, in a news conference last week, said the state has trended so much toward the Republicans that a robust presidential campaign in Florida is unlikely.

“I don’t anticipate there being much campaign here for the top of the ticket,” he said. “As people look at kind of how the election will turn out, I don’t think Florida is gonna be a place where you’re gonna see a lot of activity, and that’ll be the first time in probably most of our lifetimes where that’s been the case.”

The Republican governor also mocked Florida Democrats’ abilities. “They have a really serious habit of just doing dumb things over and over again,” he said. “They continue to shoot themselves in the foot.”

Harris visit

Fried and several other Democrats pointed to Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to Parkland earlier on Saturday as a sign the Biden campaign hasn’t written off the state.

It was the vice president’s 11th trip to Florida since she was sworn in in 2021.

“When a state is not in play, I can tell you from experience, the travel doesn’t happen,” Wasserman Schultz said.

The vice president spent about five hours at the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where she toured the building that was the site of the 2018 massacre in which 17 people were killed and 17 wounded, met with family members of victims, and promoted initiatives she said could reduce gun violence.

The trip was official business, but it generated criticism from some Republicans and spurred back-and-forth among some family members whose children were killed at Stoneman Douglas about whether the trip was political.

Ryan Petty, father of Alaina Petty, told Fox News last week that he found her visit political, terming it “offensive.” Fred Guttenberg, father of Jaime Guttenberg, and Max Schachter, father of Alex Schachter, said on social media that it emphatically was not political, but aimed at identifying ways to prevent gun violence at schools.

Moskowitz, a Stoneman Douglas graduate who represents Parkland and helped arrange and guide the tour, strongly pushed back at the notion that politics was in play. “The vice president was here to honor the families, to go through the building before it gets torn down,” he said. “It was not politics.”

Harris was near the Democratic Party’s dinner venue Saturday evening as the event was beginning. Air Force Two left Fort Lauderdale at 6:12 p.m. But she didn’t stay later to stop at the event, as some rank-and-file party members hoped she would do, a move that would have fueled the contention that her trip was motivated by politics.

The Parkland visit was praised by Democrats. And many Caribbean American Democrats have positive feelings toward Harris, whose father is Jamaican American.

Republicans, by contrast, revile just about everything she does.

A March 17 nationwide USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll found 38% of voters said Harris is qualified to be president and 54% said she is not.

Among Democrats, it’s 75% qualified and 17% not. Among Republicans it’s 6% qualified and 92% not qualified.

For many Republicans, Budd said, their “greatest concern is Biden does become unfit to be president and we end up with Kamala Harris. I think that’s a major concern for Republicans,” adding that for many “the biggest reason not to vote for Biden is we’ll get Kamala Harris, who really doesn’t seem like she’s up to the task.”

Last week, after she voted for Trump in the Republican presidential preference primary on Tuesday, Joyce Holzapfel of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea offered two reasons: “First of all, I’m a Republican,” she said, adding, “A vote for Trump is a vote against Kamala.”

Holzapfel described Harris as “dangerous,” and objected to the vice president’s speaking style. “She’s talking to us like we’re first-graders,” she said.

Broward warning

Democrats gathered for the Broward event outlined plans to mobilize voters for November, and sought to warn other party activists what’s at stake in the state’s largest remaining Democratic stronghold.

Broward Democratic Chair Rick Hoye exhorted party members to remain optimistic. “Don’t ever let anybody tell you that Florida is written off,” he said, before sounding some cautionary notes.

“You guys have seen the Trumpers at, at early voting and not on Election Day. It’s always strength in numbers,” Hoye said, adding that the opposition party is “continuously putting money in here to make Broward not blue. We can’t afford for that to happen. We just can’t afford for that to happen.

Joshua Simmons, a Coral Springs commissioner, cited an upcoming local election. “The Republicans are trying to crack back into Coral Springs, and we are not gonna let that happen.”

And Steve Geller, a former Democratic leader in the Florida Senate who is running for reelection to the Broward County Commission this year, sounded a note of urgency.

In the 2022 midterm election, “I saw something different than what I had ever seen before: There were more Republican volunteers at the polls in 2022 than there were Democratic. And that’s just not OK,” Geller said.


Organizing political operations takes money, and that was the purpose of Saturday night’s Broward Democratic gala.

Hoye said the money would support several programs in neighborhoods, including open houses and other events to energize and educate voters and recruit volunteers. The keynote speaker, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, sent a brief video from an airport after weather delays prevented him from making it to Fort Lauderdale.

Some 400 or so people attended, and the event raised $203,000, Hoye said.

The contrast between the fortunes of Florida Democrats was illustrated by another county party fundraising dinner eight days earlier.

On March 15, the Palm Beach County Republican Party held its annual Lincoln Day dinner.

The event was held at Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump’s club and residence in Palm Beach. The gathering featured several high-wattage headliners, including Trump, who was given the county party’s “lifetime achievement” award and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Panhandle Republican, who was honored as “Statesman of the Year.”

Palm Beach County Republican Chair Kevin Neal said via email the event was sold out, with 800 attendees. He said the dinner broke a fundraising record, taking in more than $1 million.