A ‘new’ Florida Democratic Party wants to oust a rich senator? See it to believe it | Opinion

Al Diaz/adiaz@miamiherald.com
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The Florida Democratic Party finally has a few things going for it: positive news headlines, a new leader and renewed sense of energy.

Party leaders are calling the annual “Leadership Blue” fundraiser at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach last weekend a “new day” for them. Democrats had an embarrassing show in last year’s midterms, when they lost Miami-Dade County for the first time in decades. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio cruised to reelection by double digits.

Fanfare and fancy events aside, a new day will begin when Democrats start winning statewide elections again.

The party’s new chair, former Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried, scored an important win in May when a Democrat flipped a mayoral seat in the state’s largest city, Jacksonville. Fried is now gearing up to take on a Goliath in 2024: U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. As the Herald reported on Wednesday, the party is hunting for a candidate to challenge the Republican incumbent.

Among those considering a run is former Miami U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is the favorite of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, according to POLITICO.

Is he vulnerable?

Scott, a former two-term governor, has never been a charismatic or even well-liked politician. Democrats believe his vulnerabilities offer them one of the few opportunities to flip a Senate seat next year.

Scott is notorious for releasing a 12-point plan last year — part of which he later walked back — that would put funding for Medicare and Social Security at risk. His recent video posted on Twitter “warning socialists and communists not to travel to Florida” was equally cringe-worthy. It was an apparent, and awkward, attempt to mock travel advisories the NAACP and Equality Florida issued over the state’s policies limiting or banning classroom discussion about race and LGBTQ issues.

But Scott does one thing very well: pour millions of his own fortune to win every election he’s entered by razor-thin margins. He funneled $64 million to win his U.S. Senate seat in 2018, the Herald reported. His ground game with Latinos, a crucial group of voters, also helped him oust three-term U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

And that’s going to be the test for Democrats. Without money, they cannot win statewide. Without investment from the national party and donors who essentially abandoned Florida last year, hype will only go so far.

Demographic changes in the Sunshine State are also working against Democrats. The number of registered Republicans surpassed registered Democrats in 2021, and now the GOP leads by more than 500,000 voters. When Scott won his first gubernatorial term in 2010, it was Democrats who led by a similar margin. Even back then, Nelson was the only Democrat elected statewide.

In need of cash

Fried said at a news conference over the weekend that the National Democratic Committee has assured her that defeating Scott is a priority, the Herald reported. But the party’s resources will be split to defend Senate seats in conservative-leaning states such as Montana, West Virginia and Ohio, as well as in swing states like Wisconsin, where Democrats have fared better in recent elections.

All of that will weigh on donors’ minds. It’s no secret that many Democrats no longer see Florida as a purple state. Joe Biden lost Florida in 2020, but proved that the path to the White House no longer has to run through the Sunshine State. There will be tons of polling between now and the 2024 elections to gauge whether it’s worth investing in Florida Democrats again.

Winning an expensive seat race should not be the only measure of success. Democrats have set the bar so low that smaller local wins, and closer losses, will be a shift. Much work is needed to rebuild the electoral infrastructure the party neglected for so long.

There have been previous iterations of the “new” Democratic Party, while Republicans continued to grow their dominance in the state. Florida’s electoral future will only change when there are two competitive parties. One of them still needs to prove it can win elections.