For the chief of the Democratic Party in Hernando County, Tuesday's general election and the wave of Republican victories it brought was a life lesson.
"Perhaps we Democrats learned something: How NOT to run an election," chairman Jim Singer wrote in an open letter to the county's Democrats late last week.
In his letter, Singer outlines an action plan for the local party leadership. The plan includes a return to basic party ideals such as a focus on community social needs and environmental issues. It also encourages more unity and less internal bickering.
In Tuesday's election, the county lost the only Democrat left on the Hernando County Commission when Wayne Dukes took approximately 60 percent of the vote and defeated incumbent Rose Rocco.
Additionally, Republican Robert Schenck won his third term in the Florida House of Representatives, defeating longtime local Democrat and former county Commissioner Diane Rowden by a similar margin.
Both Rocco and Rowden credited the Republican sweep nationally as at least one factor in their respective defeats.
The huge number of GOP victories has generated considerable discussion at the state and national levels as analysts examine voter sentiments, and local officials have weighed in with their thoughts, too.
Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the Hernando Republican Executive Committee, said the election results were an affirmation of the criticisms he has had of Democrats.
"I believe that since 2008 the Democratic Party has exposed themselves as the party of fiscal irresponsibility, bloated budgets and wasteful spending, so naturally it was a repudiation of the Democrat agenda," Ingoglia wrote in an e-mail to the Times. "Having said that, our Republican candidates are fiscal conservatives, and that is what the local electorate wanted."
After her defeat, Rocco voiced concern about issues that have been important to her that could be ignored under an all-Republican commission, including infrastructure improvements in predominantly black south Brooksville.
Ingoglia said that social issues are important to Republicans. It's just that they don't see government programs as the answer.
"We don't always need government to solve public problems as evidenced by the REC's Conservatives Care initiative, which donates nonperishable food items and clothing to local food banks without using a dime of taxpayer money," Ingoglia wrote.
Republican county Commissioner Jeff Stabins said the defeat of the universal garbage collection referendum, with 67 percent of voters casting "no" votes, was an indicator of the current public mindset. And a school tax referendum lost by a slightly larger percentage.
From schools to garbage to money for public transportation in Tampa, "it was not a day for government-sponsored referendums," Stabins said of the strong opposition by voters.
"It was a day to vote against government, to vote against incumbents and against the ruling party in Washington," he said.
The Democratic losses saddened Singer, who has headed the Democratic Executive Committee for only the last two months.
In his letter to fellow Democrats, he suggests to party members that they must make themselves popular with the voting public, working for the public well-being and concerning themselves with "the issues that raise the standard of living for our citizens."
To that end, "we must end the public bickering (among Hernando Democrats)," he wrote.
He explains that the party's website is reserved for positive and helpful messages while he has blocked the senders of negative e-mails.
Singer reminded Democrats that he has set up committees to work on important issues in the county, and he predicted that by the 2012 election, Democrats will be able to capitalize on the "throw the bums out" slogan for their own purposes.
Singer's letter prompted a response on the executive committee's website by another longtime county Democrat, Vito J. Delgorio Sr., who repeated Singer's call for unity and focus.
"As Democrats, we must have a true desire to serve our community in whatever capacity we can," Delgorio wrote. "We cannot accomplish this unless we are all unified in our common objectives as a team and efficiently organize ourselves to provide those we serve with dedicated leadership and candidates who represent the basic principles of the Democratic Party."
With much of the energy in runs for political office focused on attacking one's opponent, finding candidates gets more and more difficult, Singer said.
"Anyone with self dignity and self-respect refuses to throw themselves into a situation where only negativity can succeed," Singer said. "All that rolling in the dirt with pigs is not going to attract good people."
"It's probably going to be more difficult now than ever to get good candidates after this slaughter that took place Tuesday," said Glenn Claytor, a lifelong Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Schenck in 2006.
Claytor, like Singer, believes that the party's focus needs to be drawing younger people in so they can prepare a new generation of leadership. Finding a way to energize that new blood is the key, they said.
"They probably need to be vetting candidates, identifying younger and stronger people, people with passion," Claytor said.
That would be a much more productive use of the party members' time than the infighting that has characterized the Democrats in the recent past, he said.
Issues that might fall by the wayside because a Democratic voice is missing from the County Commission need to be taken up by the party, he said, mentioning the cleanup of the old Department of Public Works compound in south Brooksville as an example.
"The Democrats should be raising hell about that," Claytor said, noting that decades after the contamination of the site was acknowledged, cleanup still has not taken place.
Singer and Claytor both agree that, if the party follows an action plan that represents Democratic ideals, the political landscape will change.
Claytor said he thinks the pendulum will swing back in the next election cycle.
"By then," he said, "people will realize that they voted against their own best interests."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.