The Florida Democrats who just might win statewide races | Column
Democrats “long for some victory parties after the polls close on Nov. 8, 2022, rather than their usual election night wakes,” writes columnist Mac Stipanovich.
Clockwise from top left: Dave Aronberg, Val Demings, Lauren Book and Charlie Crist.
Clockwise from top left: Dave Aronberg, Val Demings, Lauren Book and Charlie Crist. [ Times files ]
Published Jan. 21
Updated Jan. 21

There is good news and bad news for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, all of whom are up for re-election in 2022.

Mac Stipanovich
Mac Stipanovich [ Mac Stipanovich ]

On the plus side, the departure of Donald Trump from the White House means they will not have to wake up each morning during the next two years and wonder what new outrage they will have to defend that day, what new humiliation they will have to endure, in order to remain in their master’s good graces. The downside is that after four years of abjectly defending outrages and enduring humiliations, they are joined at the hip with the only president in history to be impeached twice, a man who cost the GOP control of both the U.S. House and Senate, who lost his re-election bid in a popular vote rout and a decisive Electoral College defeat, and whose favorability rating has plummeted into the mid-30s in national polls.

This bodes well for Florida Democrats who long for some victory parties after the polls close on Nov. 8, 2022, rather than their usual election night wakes. But getting to the balloon drops and champagne won’t be easy. Republicans will again trot out the Venezuela bogeyman against Democratic candidates up and down the ballot — the charge that they are socialists who, if elected, will turn the Sunshine State into an impoverished, violent hellscape.

Seriously. The off-the-shelf Republican campaign plan is bug-eyed fear-mongering on an industrial scale about race, socialism and lawlessness. And it works, as the Democratic debacle in Florida in 2020 demonstrates.

That being the case, Democratic nominees for statewide office in 2022 will need résumés that armor them against the socialist slander. They also need to be clearly qualified for the offices they seek. And it would not hurt if, collectively, they embodied the state’s diversity and hailed from its most vote rich areas.

With these criteria in mind, Val Demings could be the antidote to Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate race. Member of Congress. Female. Black. Twenty-seven years a cop, including the last four as Orlando police chief. On Joe Biden’s short list for vice president. Married to Jerry Demings, formerly sheriff of Orange County and now its mayor. She’s no wild-eyed leftist looking to defund the police. Demings would give the invertebrate Rubio all he wanted and then some.

The word is that Charlie Crist, perhaps the best retail politician in Florida, is already limbering up to challenge DeSantis. With six statewide races under his belt and having been elected commissioner of education, attorney general and governor as a Republican before apostatizing and becoming the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014 and then being elected to Congress in 2016, it is unlikely that allegations of socialism or disdain for law and order would stick to the man from the Tampa Bay area once known as Chain Gang Charlie. Crist can be criticized for being inconstant, but not for being a leftist loon. If he has not called you yet to ask about your children by name, be patient. He will.

Ashley Moody should fear Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg. Harvard undergrad and law school. Former Florida assistant attorney general. Eight years in the Florida Senate where he served with distinction. The last eight years as perhaps the highest profile and most aggressive prosecutor in the state, so no friend of the lawless. A familiar face on national television talk shows. A Gold Coast native. Aronberg might need some persuading, but it would be well worth the effort if Democrats could lure him into the attorney general race.

State Sen. Lauren Book from the Democratic stronghold of Miami-Dade County could prove to be Jimmy Patronis’ nemesis. Intelligent, articulate, an author with a strong backstory, and the working mother of twin pre-schoolers, Book is an avatar of suburban women, who are a linchpin in any winning Democratic coalition. She would be a formidable candidate and a boon to the ticket.

These are not the only adequately armored and obviously experienced center-left options available to Democrats, mind you. Perhaps they could do better. But the Republican incumbents should hope they do much, much worse.

Mac Stipanovich was chief of staff to former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and a longtime Republican strategist who is currently registered No Party Affiliation.