1. Florida Politics

Romano: Lots of excuses, little real message in Florida Democrats' playbook

Published Nov. 16, 2014

Democrats in Florida are putting together another election task force.

Republicans in Florida are laughing hysterically.

That's the simplified version of where we are in state politics today. Democrats continue to look for something that Republicans keep parading in front of them.

Call it messaging. Or vision. Or a dang clue.

You might have heard that Democrats are whining about all the money spent by Gov. Rick Scott in the final days of the campaign. And I'm sure it did have some effect.

They're also moaning about the voters in Miami who failed to show up at the polls. And that was certainly a factor, too.

But if they were being completely honest — or smart — Democrats would start looking at themselves and asking why more Floridians don't like them.

Trust me, it's a fair question.

In a state where Republicans make up only 34.9 percent of the registered voters, the GOP somehow has the Governor's Mansion, the entire Cabinet, a majority of the state Senate and a supermajority in the state House. You don't have to be a math expert to realize those numbers don't add up.

Now I realize a good chunk of the equation involves crooked voting districts that almost guarantee Republicans an advantage in the Legislature. And the reality that corporations pour more money into GOP coffers is an undeniable factor.

Yet it is also true that Democrats contribute to their own demise by allowing Republicans to define them.

"People look at us as if we're the party of welfare,'' said state Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey. "How did we go from trying to help people to being accused of being the party of giveaways?''

How? By ceding the middle to Republicans.

Democrats have allowed the opposition to paint them as the party of special interests. Meanwhile, Republicans make themselves look like the responsible ones. The ones looking out for the average Joe or Jane. The ones with a vision for the future instead of just a partisan agenda.

"People have to understand that you're fighting for them, and you're not just nibbling around the edges of women's rights or voter rights or senior rights or gay rights or veterans' rights,'' said state Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg. "Those are all very important, but the average person wants to make sure you care about them, too. That you're fighting to protect everyone's pocketbook.''

State Democrats should listen to Murphy and Dudley. They're both rarities. They're Democrats who won re-election in districts with a majority of older, white voters.

And they did it by refusing to allow their message to be marginalized. Dudley has been one of the state's loudest critics of Duke Energy, and he was also visible on flood insurance, two issues that resonated in his district.

When Murphy got ad copy and scripts for commercials from the Democratic Party, she insisted on everything being rewritten because she didn't care for the message.

She wanted the focus on jobs and insurance costs.

"They told me, 'Those aren't real good issues for Democrats.' So I told them, 'Then we need to be better,' " Murphy said. "I want to represent who am I and who everybody I know in this district is.''

Democrats don't need to change who they are.

They just need to do a better job of articulating exactly who that is, or else they run the risk of having no say at all.