Florida Democrats put up billboards to find candidates for November

Florida Democrats put up billboards to find candidates for November
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Democrats are putting up billboards in four counties to recruit candidates for dozens of legislative and congressional races where the party has yet to find someone to run in November.

“You’re already a leader. Run for office,” state the billboards, which are appearing in Seminole, Polk, Miami-Dade and Madison counties.

The appeal, which also will include digital ads, comes less than two months before the June 14 deadline to file for state House and Senate races and a little more than a week before the federal deadline to file for Congress on April 26. The cost of the campaign was not revealed.

“We all know someone who should run for office, and if there has ever been a time to step up and lead, it’s now,” campaign director Danielle Hawk said Wednesday. “We hope this campaign is the sign that leaders in our communities need to see to make the decision to run, and the Florida Democratic Party is here to help.”

Florida Republican Chair Evan Power was dismissive of the effort.

“Floridians are so turned off by the Democrats’ radical agenda that the Florida Democratic Party have had to spend tens of thousands on billboards just to attempt to find candidates,” Power said via text.

“While Nikki Fried [the state party chair] is lighting her limited campaign cash on fire, Republicans are growing our registration lead, flipping local elections, and delivering for Florida’s citizens,” Power added.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, on Wednesday there were 37 state House seats across the state with no Democratic candidate filed to run, compared to 20 with no Republican candidate.

While many districts without Democrats are in heavily Republican areas, others that lean Democratic on paper also have no party member currently in the running.

That includes state House District 45 in southwest Orange County, represented by freshman GOP state Rep. Carolina Amesty. In 2020, President Joe Biden won it by 5 percentage points.

The party’s statement about the billboard campaign specifically listed only 27 uncontested state House seats, omitting District 45 and nine others. Democratic spokeswoman Eden Giagnorio said it did so because candidates were planning to file for those seats.

Democrats would need to flip five state House seats to end the Republican supermajority in that chamber.

In the state Senate, there are four races in the Panhandle and South Florida without Democratic candidates. The party needs to flip just one seat to end the GOP supermajority on the Senate side.

“We are already competing in more races compared to 2022, but it is our goal to field candidates in every seat across the state and give Republicans a run for their money,” Fried said in a statement.

On the congressional side, the party listed three races with no Democratic candidate, in seats held by Republican U.S. Reps. Neal Dunn, John Rutherford and Gus Bilirakis.

The districts are a hard sell for Democrats, with all of them listed by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report as Republican strongholds for 2024.

Still, Aubrey Jewett, a professor of political science at the University of Central Florida, said having a candidate was vitally important.

“Not only might it increase the turnout of your own party, but it also ties down the other party and makes them have to worry about that seat, even if only a little bit,” Jewett said. “It means they have to run a campaign, it means they have to raise money, it means they have to buy ads. And it means that they can’t just spend all their time and money and resources on a few seats.”

Underdog candidates have also pulled off occasional upsets, he said, such as Democratic recruit Stephanie Murphy defeating 12-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica in 2016.

Florida Democrats are coming off one of their party’s worst performances in 2022. Their candidate Charlie Crist lost the governor’s race by 19 points. The Democrats also have a growing registration disadvantage, with Republicans having nearly 900,000 more registered voters as of March 31.

But the party has done well in elections since then, including winning the Jacksonville mayor’s race and a special election for a state House seat in Central Florida.

“Some of the seats are legitimately competitive,” Jewett said of districts such as Amesty’s. “And Democrats actually have a chance to win, and probably should have won two years ago if they hadn’t had such a dramatic drop in turnout.”

While there are no uncontested congressional or legislative races in Seminole, Giagnorio said the party hoped the billboard there spurred recruitment for county constitutional offices such as county clerk, sheriff and property appraiser, as well as County Commission and School Board seats.

“Seminole is a county that voted for Biden in 2020 but swung back [to Republicans] in 2022,” said Democratic analyst Matt Isbell. “But I can easily see Biden winning Seminole this year.”

In addition, Isbell said, by placing billboards in heavy traffic areas such as Central Florida, the I-4 corridor and Miami, “part of it is just advertising for the party. … It’s essentially instilling confidence.”