Florida Democrats Looks For Answers And A Leader

November 15, 2016

After losing the state’s presidential and U.S. Senate races and failing to make major gains in the Legislature, Florida Democrats are groping for a way forward as the 2018 elections loom with battles for governor and all three state Cabinet seats.

The immediate issue is who will lead the Florida Democratic Party and its 4.87 million voters, with the announcement Friday that Allison Tant, who has chaired the party since 2013, is stepping down in January.

Tant, a former Tallahassee lobbyist who was known for her ability to raise money for Democrats, led the party through two difficult election cycles as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lost last week in the state and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist lost in 2014 to Republican incumbent Rick Scott.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who could face a challenge from Scott in 2018, defended Tant’s leadership Monday.

Nelson, who is the only Democrat holding a statewide office in Florida, called her “a strong and dedicated leader.”

“I hope the energy she brought to our party will stay with us for years to come,” Nelson said in a statement.

With the stinging election defeat less than week old, several names have emerged as potential Tant successors including former state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach; Alan Clendenin, a state party vice chair and Hillsborough County state committeeman; Annette Taddeo, a former Miami-Dade County chair and a 2014 candidate for lieutenant governor; Dwight Bullard, who lost a re-election bid last week for his Miami-Dade Senate seat; and Susannah Randolph, a former aide to U.S. Rep Alan Grayson and a longtime Orange County party activist.

“I think we will hear more names. I don’t think you’ve heard all the names you’re going to hear,” said former state Sen. Steve Geller, who was just elected to the Broward County Commission.

As for the election outcome, Geller said: “When you’re on the losing side, the question is always the same.”

“Did you lose because you didn’t go enough to the center under the theory that the majority of voters are in the center or did you lose because you didn’t go enough to the extreme (and energize the base)?” he said.

In Clinton’s case, Geller said the Democrats relied too heavily on the Obama “coalition,” which was weaker without the incumbent president on the ticket, and the Democrats were hurt by outside factors, including the FBI reopening an investigation of Clinton-related emails shortly before the election.

Geller said it was too early to speculate on how this year’s defeats, including U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy’s loss in the U.S. Senate race, will impact the 2018 elections, including the race for governor, a post the Democrats have not won since 1994.

“This week, people are still in shock,” Geller said.

The Florida Democrats will regroup in county-level elections next month, where the 67 party organizations will select county chairs, vice chairs and state committeewomen and committeemen.

Out of that group of local Democratic leaders, the state party will meet sometime in January to select Tant’s replacement, who would serve as the state chair for the next four years, including the 2018 elections as well as the 2020 presidential race.

Clendenin, who was narrowly defeated by Tant in the last party leadership election in 2013, said he is seriously considering running for the party chair again, but has not made a final decision.

“It’s a long road we’re facing,” said Clendenin, who lost a bid for a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board this fall. “And I think everybody in this party is doing some soul searching right now.”

If he runs, Clendenin said he would emphasize the theme he used in his previous leadership bids that the Democrats have to refocus their organization on a “grassroots” approach rather than “top-down driven” effort.

He said that was one of the lessons of this year’s elections, where the Democrats managed to turn out large numbers of voters in major urban areas but were overwhelmed in other areas of the state.

“You can’t possibly get enough votes out of our heavily Democratic areas if we completely ignore two-thirds of the state,” Clendenin said.

Although he was longtime Clinton supporter, Clendenin said he favored the shared approach of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump who both had “a bottom-driven movement that percolated up from social media and then was implemented into a grassroots movement that was real and in the field.”

With many names circulating as possible party chairs, Clendenin questioned whether some of the candidates will be eligible since they must first be elected as a county precinct committeeman or committeewoman to be eligible for a county leadership post and then the state chair.

Clendenin said it was possible for some of those candidates to maneuver their way into eligibility, but it would likely draw more controversy after the clash between the Sanders campaign and the national Democratic Party in this year’s presidential primary.

“I don’t think they’re going to be able to withstand that type of scrutiny this time around,” he said.

Bullard, who was defeated in his re-election bid last week by state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, said he is interested in the party leadership position.

Bullard said he would emphasize “a recommitment to our grassroots political ideology, putting everyday working families before special interests.”

“People want to know there is a party out there working for them and that it represents their voices,” Bullard said, pointing to issues like protecting Social Security, raising the minimum wage and protecting individual rights “regardless of sexual orientation.”

Bullard said Trump was more successful with voters based on a campaign strategy of “fear.”

“I would say the antithesis of that would be an atmosphere of positivity,” Bullard said, saying the party needs a message that appeals across the racial and economic spectrums.

“They all want better health care, a better education…a positive economic outlook,” he said.

by Lloyd Dunkelberger, The News Service of Florida


19 Responses to “Florida Democrats Looks For Answers And A Leader”

  1. david lamb on November 17th, 2016 5:29 pm

    Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto after bombing Pearl Harbor, was asked by one of his young officers about bombing Pearl. His response was ” I am afraid we have awakened a sleeping giant”.
    Hillary awoke a sleeping class by calling them “irredeemable deplorable”. It cost her the election.
    you can now get T shirts with a map of the US with all states in red, with country of deplorable’s on it.

  2. Mike J. on November 17th, 2016 8:55 am

    Excuses, excuses… “and the Democrats were hurt by outside factors, including the FBI reopening an investigation of Clinton-related emails shortly before the election.”

    No, the real reason Hillary won’t be President is because of Pres.Obama in 2008 when he came out of less than 2 years in the US Senate to run for President. He is much younger than Hillary and it was certainly her chance. He should have left it to her turn to beat John McCain, she probably would have. She could have been President these past 8 years (beat Mitt too) if Obama had not stepped in the race in 2008.

  3. Ponderosa hill on November 17th, 2016 7:41 am

    All this yak…..crying by the losers,sole searching( alleged ) by the DEM leaders
    Protesting ( or whatever) by paid interlopers. To me it boils down to one thing……
    The people who are PULLING the wagon…..have gotten sick and tired of the millions
    who only RIDE in the wagon but INSIST on telling the PULLERS how everything
    must be done. I’m an INDEPENDENT and warily watch the MEDIA, and anything
    Purported by the PARTIES. “We the People” have spoken…..now let’s watch what
    We get !

  4. john on November 17th, 2016 6:43 am

    What Democrats need to do is come back to the right, because they sure have veered to the left for the past fifty years. They also have turned their backs on God and like wise many Republicans. I voted for Trump…. not because he’s so great…. no because Hillary was extremely dangerous for Americans. Many people who voted for Hillary were young people, and all of us older folks know younger people are more easily deceived.

  5. billy on November 16th, 2016 9:39 pm

    I wont even do business with a known democrat…….just stay away from them

  6. david lamb on November 16th, 2016 6:35 pm

    In this election process, it was the people fed up with the Democratic party and their antics of trying to cook the books by getting any walking body with no knowledge of the issues to the polls to vote their ticket. It was also a matter of the candidate involved
    It included the fact that DEMS promised FREE everything. Guess what…. Some one has to pay for FREE, and there are becoming more wanting Free than there of us to pay for FREE. I would have never voted HILLARY!

  7. molinoman on November 16th, 2016 5:27 pm

    When I was very young and just barely old enough to understand I asked my dad a blue collar hard working man “dad what side should I be on when I grow up?” he looked at me and said “son I’m a democrat, they believe in the working class and making our lives better. The other side are for the rich and making themselves money on our backs.” As I grew up I paid attention more and more to what was said vs what was going on around me in politics. As an educated young man when it came time to register I went Republican and never told my dad. Now recently I find out my dad did the same. In times gone by what my dad told me may have been true. Not so much this day and age. I believe if everyone would settle down Trump may end up being the greatest president of at least my life time. This election Hillary fell short because she as well as other democrats have lost sight of their old values and they failed to resonate with ‘their people.’ If democrats want to stand any chance of getting what they want they must come with a message the working class can get behind. God bless America, the land that I love.

  8. anne 1of2 on November 16th, 2016 4:22 pm

    This country has got to get back to our grass roots and be a place to be proud of. . All I know for sure is I saw two men who wanted us to unite and get along assassinated 8 weeks apart. I remember thinking back then that we were being pitted against each other for nothing but our color. Hillary had no plans to improve this situation. This is why she lost. Trump is a businessman and he understands the only way out of poverty is a job. That’s a good start.

  9. No Excuses on November 16th, 2016 3:50 pm

    It’s not hate – it’s about following the constitution and working for a living. Gay? I don’t care. Transgendered? I don’t care – just don’t want a “man” in the ladies room with me or my kids. If that’s hateful, then so be it.

    It’s not hate until you liberals don’t agree with it – then suddenly, it’s hate! Can’t have it both ways, so you might as well have it the constitutional way!

  10. FaithinUS on November 16th, 2016 3:18 pm

    Apparently, Democrats are not as adept at making attention-grabbing headlines when discussing policies that benefit us, as are their counterparts on the other side.
    With the media focused on CONFLICT to generate ratings, there is no room for logical discussion of policy that benefits 99% of Americans.
    Stop trying to take the high road–Republicans have booby-trapped it.
    Stand firm. Make some noise. Shout at someone on the House floor for being a self-serving prick if necessary!

  11. Lee on November 16th, 2016 10:43 am

    We are only one week post-election and already it’s looking like a train wreck. It appears that conflicts of interest, lobbyists, and insiders did not get drained with the swamp. This is not the time to sit back and “trust the process.” Our country is in a vulnerable position right now. Regardless of party affiliation, we need to be vigilant, educate ourselves, and be part of whatever change we want to happen. It would be easy to get to the top of the hill just to slip down the other side.

  12. Dave on November 16th, 2016 9:20 am

    @ Sedition, I cant Trump that comment. Perfect…its called respect for what the people voted for and constructed by our founding fathers. Dont matter if you are either party..respect the constitution and the process .

  13. Against Hate on November 16th, 2016 7:11 am

    At least all of you who voted republican are gonna be screwed along with those of us who didn’t.

  14. chris in brandon on November 16th, 2016 7:08 am

    Florida republican politicians are riding the hate train.

  15. Sedition on November 16th, 2016 12:51 am

    Dems looking for answers and a leader?
    How about reading and supporting the Constitution? That might go a long way.
    How about dumping your socialist ideas and understand that we are a Constitutional Republic? That would be a boost as well.

  16. No Excuses on November 15th, 2016 3:43 pm

    The Panhandle did help to carry Trump to his win in Florida, but I can say that it did not used to be that way here. When I registered to vote (circa Reagan), I chose Republican. My father, who was a Democrat at the time (has since changed party to Republican out of disgust) told me that I might not get to vote in most elections as there would not be any Republican candidates on the ticket. How the times have changed! For the better, in my opinion.

  17. Wilekyote on November 15th, 2016 3:13 pm

    Patriot : The old sayin…..the further south ( Florida ) you go the further north
    You are. Miami. Tampa bay,Orlando,Gainesville, Tallahassee are
    chock-full of Democrats……without north Florida except (Tallahassee )
    Trump prolly doesn’t win . This really was a razor thin election and the
    only plurality ( trump) was the Electoral College. Apparently some
    segments of our populous didn’t show up to vote like the last two
    elections. I wouldn’t want a “do over” vote right now. If Trump
    can accomplish a large % of his promises then maybe he’ll win
    again in four years !

  18. Terry on November 15th, 2016 9:59 am

    I agree with you Patriot. The problem with the democratic party from my view is that they have completely forgotten about the blue collar middle class worker who is really carrying this country through their taxes. I agree that we need to take care of the true people in need, the sick that cannot help themselves, etc. We need good schools with things being taught that makes us leaders in the world. The issue becomes when you only have so much money to do something yet you spend more than you have or you just tax the heck out of the working few. The Democratic Party needs to do some real soul searching for leadership and both parties need to learn what the word “compromise” means. Sometimes, as in any business, you have to find the middle ground for the good of all. Just my thoughts.

  19. Patriot on November 15th, 2016 7:12 am

    Democrats aren’t popular because they’re selling a product that the majority don’t want. Changing the storefront signage won’t magically cause Floridians to become leftists.

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