/As 2020 looms, Florida Democrats are still dissecting 2018

As 2020 looms, Florida Democrats are still dissecting 2018

Andrew Gillum

Democrats were energized in 2018 with expectations they could gain momentum against state Republicans, only to have two top-ticket candidates, gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum (shown) and Sen. Bill Nelson, lose by razor-thin margins. | John Raoux/AP Photo

TALLAHASSEE — A report dissecting the Florida Democratic Party’s 2018 failures exposed rifts in the party as it prepares to mount a political offensive in the nation’s biggest battleground state for next year’s presidential election.

A summary of the report from the Path to Power Commission, a panel established in January to autopsy Democratic losses in 2018 and chart a path for the 2020 presidential campaign, was released Saturday to a divided audience as Democrats gathered in Orlando for Leadership Blue, their biggest annual fundraising and grassroots event.

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During an hour-long meeting to summarize the report, party officials and activists challenged co-chairs of the commission for what they saw as the report’s shortcomings.

“I was disappointed that the Path to Power Commission, a committee charged with analyzing and learning form the 2018 election, did not include any analysis of the 2018 election in their presentation summarizing their long-awaited report,” said Juan Cuba, former head of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and a critic of the state party’s leadership, including chairwoman Terrie Rizzo.

Cuba helped organize a failed push by state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-Miami) earlier this year to unseat Rizzo.

Saturday’s presentation was a summary; party officials have not released the full report to the public.

Democrats were energized in 2018 with expectations they could gain momentum against state Republicans, only to have two top-ticket candidates, gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum and Sen. Bill Nelson, lose by razor-thin margins.

Now, with Florida Republicans largely unified in support of President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, Democrats are fighting among themselves.

The Path to Power Commission was set up to examine how the party lost high-profile U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races in 2018. The commission is led by Sean Shaw, a former state representative and the party’s nominee for attorney general in 2018; the party’s 2018 nominee for CFO Jeremy Ring; and Cynthia Chestnut, a longtime Democratic activist.

Shaw opened Saturday’s meeting with a call for unity, pointing to Alabama, a state that has made national headlines after its Republican-majority passed legislation outlawing nearly all abortions.

“Florida needs a viable Democratic Party,” Shaw said, “so we don’t become Alabama.”

He sympathized with the frustration of party activists. He noted that state party leadership surveyed local party officials after 2018 to get their assessment of what went wrong, but did not make the survey results available to the Path to Power Commission.

“I have not seen the survey. It is a problem,” Shaw said. “The commission is disappointed we did not get the survey.”

He acknowledged concern with the report, including its timing and failure to dive into last year’s election data.

“We would have loved to spend more time on the report, but this is a plan for 2020 and it’s already June 2019,” Shaw said. “We wanted to get the report out so that we could start implementing.”

“The state party did not allow party members, even after multiple requests, to observe or listen to the committee in action,” he said. “We were not privy to their discussion or disagreements. We were only allowed to attend town halls.”

Rizzo has tried to expand the party’s footprint into rural, conservative counties with limited success. Democrats are less flush than their Republican counterparts and could not provide necessary staffing.

“There was no staff sent to a lot of our red counties,” said Ione Townsend, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party.

Chestnut praised Rizzo’s attempt to unlock conservative areas of the state.

“We must applaud Chair Rizzo. To my knowledge we did not have a strong, 67-county strategy before,” she said.

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