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Ernest Hooper: Hillsborough Democrats need to get serious

My friend tells a bad political joke that won't sit well with folks on one side of the aisle.

"I don't belong to an organized party. I'm a Democrat."

That's harsh, but in the wake of Tuesday's primary results, Democrats have to wonder how much success they're going to have in local races come November.

Registered Democrats should be happy that in many of the Hillsborough races they have candidates they can vote for in November. The operative phrase: "should be."

With Florida's closed primary system, Democrats didn't get to vote in very many Republican primary battles. That's fine for people who simply cherish the opportunity to go to the polls and cast votes for people with "D" next to their names.

The changing landscape, however, has raised the stakes in the Republican primaries. With the emergence of the tea party, there is greater contrast in the choices on the GOP side. If a Democrat isn't on the ballot, Democrats can weigh in on those races and perhaps tilt the scale in favor of the "less conservative" candidate.

I don't want to label any of the GOP candidates moderate because that has become as ugly a word as liberal.

In my opinion, however, most Floridians are in the middle. Most of us love kids, care about education and want an improved economy. It's what makes us a battleground state in the presidential election.

Given that, moderate Democrats might prefer choosing between GOP candidates instead of getting locked out. Victor Crist's 26-percentage-point win over local tea party founder Sharon Calvert in the District 2 County Commission race, one of Tuesday's few open primary races, seems to indicate Democrats did take advantage of that choice.

For some Democrats, that may appear a better alternative than watching the Republican primary winner enjoy a cakewalk over a Democrat who isn't mounting a serious challenge in November.

To counter, Democrats must not only field candidates for local races, they have to field viable candidates who can compete. The days of people getting their name on the ballot and then raising scant funding, offering feeble speeches and failing to impress editorial boards have to end.

The Democrats have to craft an organized effort that gives these candidates a chance, even if they're in a district drawn to favor Republicans. They have to overcome a past of infighting that has plagued Democrats running countywide or vying for a seat in a district favoring Republicans.

Hillsborough Democrats insist this year will be different. For starters, they have candidates in the majority of the races. They argue that redrawn districts crafted after passage of the Fair Districts amendments gives them a fighting chance in some competitions. They boast of using new strategies in a county, believe it or not, that has more registered Democrats.

After years of Republican domination, particularly in districts outside Tampa, it might be folly to expect a complete reversal. The races, however, should be closer — single-digit deficits — if the Democrats are more organized and more effective.

And they really need to win a couple to build momentum for the next election cycle.

But if the Democrats yield 30- and 40-percentage-point losses, more people in their own party will argue they would rather choose between the traditional Republican and the tea party Republican.

And the jokes will get worse.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper: Hillsborough Democrats need to get serious 08/16/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 16, 2012 4:30am]
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