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Losing Pasco Democrats have themselves to blame

The Republican landslide started in Pasco County long before Election Day. In June, unemployment, family illness and a lack of commitment cost the Democratic Party a trio of candidates expected to fill the local ticket.

It meant a free ride for Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, in state House District 46; no Democratic alternative to Jim Norman's scandal-plagued candidacy in state Senate District 12, and only a nonpartisan environmentalist to challenge Commissioner Pat Mulieri, a vulnerable three-term incumbent who escaped a closer-than-expected Republican primary in August.

I'm not saying Democrats would have won those races — clearly Tuesday's results indicate that would have been highly unlikely, though the outcome of the Norman race is open for debate. In Pasco, more then 21,000 people refused to vote for Norman, the only named candidate in the District 12 race.

More to the point, the late scuttling of candidacies left three voids where Democrats could have helped carry their message to the electorate, or, perhaps given a party-line voter another reason to head to the polls. Instead, the Democratic message — if there really was one — got lost in the static of the tea party anger and the still dreary Florida economy.

In Pasco Commission District 4, incumbent Commissioner Michael Cox talked jobs creation and a majority of voters didn't care. He is a Democrat and that made him disposable. He ended up with less than 48 percent of the vote to the underfunded GOP neophyte, Henry Wilson Jr.

In District 2, Mulieri talked jobs creation and received more than 70 percent of the vote to squash an underfunded first-time candidate, Clay Colson.

Nationally, Democrats could have touted expanded grants to send more students to college, tax cuts, health care availability for the needy and extended unemployment insurance to the jobless. In other words, they helped the vulnerable while trying to dig out from the recession left by the Bush Administration.

Instead, some, like Jim Piccillo of Land O'Lakes who ran for the 5th Congressional seat, ducked the Obama administration, criticized health care reform and promised to extend the Bush-era income tax cuts for everybody without offering a corresponding deficit-reduction. Hence, the muddled message to voters.

"There was no message for Democrats,'' said Piccillo, who was critical of the Pasco Democratic Party's inability to support its candidates.

Cox's loss provided the most stinging rebuke to local Democrats, though it was matched by the ouster of Democratic incumbents in Pinellas and Polk counties and the poor showing of veteran Democrats in Hillsborough commission races.

"Michael (Cox) ran a stellar campaign on the ground. He was taking to voters, doing good things in the commission, his opponent jumped the gun with false accusations … and it still did not resonate with the voters,'' said Alison Morano, chairman of the Pasco Democratic Executive Committee.

"What seemed to take over was fear and hatred.''

And apathy.

Republicans have an enrollment edge of just less than 7,200 voters in Pasco County. But at the close of Election Day, Republicans held an approximately 17,000 voter advantage in turnout. It proved to be too great a deficit to overcome.

Cox acknowledged he saw the turnout numbers in mid-afternoon and headed to the Land O'Lakes Recreation Center, home to a pair of large Republican precincts, to conclude his Election Day campaigning.

"You could just feel it,'' he said of the Republican turnout.

It was a shared feeling.

"We could absolutely feel this apathy,'' said Morano. "You can't sugarcoat it. We could feel it.''

The blame there must go to the party. An incomplete slate of candidates, a poor message and an inability to turn out the party faithful paved the way for Republican domination.

You want to rejuvenate the Democratic Party? Start by giving voters a reason to go to the polls.

• • •

About the only setback for the Pasco Republican Party was the nonpartisan race of the Mosquito Control District.

Jessica Jordan Griffin, whose family twice played host to Marco Rubio campaign stops on their Hallelujah Land ranch, had the backing of the GOP bigwigs and plenty of cash to plaster her picture across Pasco County on hot pink roadside signs. She finished second, however, to incumbent Matthew "Skeeter'' Abbott who had the advantage of being listed first among the five candidates on the ballot.

It proved one thing when voters have no party affiliation to consider on a ballot:

A great name trumps a pretty face.

Losing Pasco Democrats have themselves to blame 11/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 6, 2010 11:45am]
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