The same old reasons Florida Democrats lost – again

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Note: This version is updated from the commentary appearing in the November 6, 2020 issue of the Florida Courier.
  • State Democratic leadership still believes that Black and Hispanic political support is an entitlement, and refused to invest serious money in long-term registration and turnout activities. The numbers tell the story.

Democrat Joe Biden lost to Donald Trump by about 3.4 percent (377,000 votes of 11 million cast). That’s twice as bad as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss in the state.

Republicans ran the table on Florida’s Democrats. The GOP won the race for the presidency, got close to a supermajority of the seats in the state House, won an additional seat in the Florida Senate, and flipped two Congressional seats – even though Dem candidates and associated entities spent an eye-popping $300 MILLION (including $100 million from New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg) during the 2020 campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

How in the hell do you get beaten from top to bottom like you stole something with that kind of cash? And where did it go?

We didn’t get it

It didn’t go to effective Black-focused advertising or Black “get out the vote”(GOTV) drives, especially in South Florida’s tri-county area.

It didn’t go to Black-owned businesses – political consultants, ad agencies, caterers, printers, transportation companies, graphic designers, etc.

And it didn’t go to long-term Black voter registration. From a Politico story entitled, “‘Something’s in the water:’ Florida Republicans see surge in voter registration,” posted September 24:

Voter registration is a key metric in top-of-the-ticket Florida elections, which are often decided by about a point or less. The practice used to be dominated by Democrats and liberals and was a key ingredient in Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 wins in the state, according to his campaign advisers.

But Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Florida Democrats never sought to emulate the scope and scale of those efforts. The party lost top-of-the-ticket races for three consecutive elections, including in 2018 when Democrats, betting on a blue wave in the state, ignored  warning signs  it might not crest due to relatively anemic voter registration efforts.

No collaborative strategy

Instead, Biden’s people, the state party, Black politicians, and sympathetic unions never put together a cohesive, collaborative voter registration and GOTV plan that included Black community institutions and stakeholders like churches, Black-owned media, small business owners, young digital and social media influencers, and Florida-based entertainers and athletes, among others.

Democrats and their leadership refused to bring all the stakeholders to the table early to get input on a winning strategy – something that should have been done years before Election Day 2020, regardless of whom the presidential would be.

COVID-19 laziness

Florida Democrats got lazy during the pandemic and relied on general-market television commercials, millions of ineffective digital ads, Zoom calls with a handful of voters, and a COVID-19-reduced “Souls to the Polls” voting effort on the Sunday before Election Day.

Dems refused to invest in success by hiring qualified local Black campaign and media consultants and paid campaign workers who know and respect Black Floridians.

And they won’t even return phone calls from their own candidates, as one Black female candidate told me about Democratic State Senator Gary Farmer. Farmer – who controlled a $29 million budget designed to support state Senate candidates – was notorious for his silence.

Wilson ignored

Such high-handed lack of communication isn’t just a state Democratic phenomenon. From a Politico article entitled, “‘We’ve got to stop the bleeding’: Democrats sound alarm in Miami,” published October 29:

…(Veteran Miami-Dade) congresswoman Rep.  Frederica  Wilson…said there are still skilled operatives in her district who excel at turnout work who have yet to get approved by the (Biden) campaign, a puzzling delay for an operation that raised a record $363 million the month before.

“I screamed. Hollered. I called. I lobbied from the top to the bottom,” Wilson said of her efforts to get turnout operations started in the community, including sending written proposals to Biden’s campaign and having virtual Zoom meetings with his advisers.

Still didn’t listen

It was the same in Florida’s Hispanic communities. They’ve been warning Biden’s people for months. From a Politico article posted October 5 entitled, “Biden mounts late fight for Miami:”

After months of  dire warnings  that Donald Trump is making gains in this liberal bastion,
Joe Biden is finally listening to South Florida Democrats.

For much of the campaign, Miami Democrats have been sounding the alarm at Biden’s relatively tepid support among Democratic-leaning, non-Cuban Hispanic voters here and throughout  Florida. The problem was compounded by Trump’s outsized support among Cuban Americans.

Florida Democrats have always spent dollars to turn out White voters, and pennies to turn out Black and Hispanic voters. They’ve never allowed local, smart Black staffers and consultants to have any amount of substantial budgetary control.

It seems that they would rather lose than pay Black people, especially for the hard political work only we can do in our own communities.

As a Black (Republican) head of a political action committee told me, “White folks don’t trust Black folks to handle real money.” And that’s true in both parties.

Go figure

Ironically, even by spending millions of dollars among themselves, Democrats barely campaign in Florida’s more rural areas west of Jacksonville all the way across the Panhandle to Pensacola (Tallahassee, the home of Florida A&M University and Florida State University, excluded).

Neither the Biden campaign nor the Florida Democratic Party put resources into cutting into Trump’s lead there. Were they afraid to knock on White folks’ doors in the Panhandle?

Democrats refuse to have a 67-county strategy which would leave no vote behind, and will not support Democratic candidates in the Panhandle who are willing to fight on the party’s behalf in that hostile political arena.

And calling some races “unwinnable” because the numbers aren’t favorable doesn’t help.

Democratic “Senate Victory” indeed. Where did the millions go?

Self-defeating ‘law’

It’s a law of political physics that to win Florida statewide, every statewide Democrat must run up the vote count in South Florida: Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. Those three counties are three of Florida’s largest by population, have the largest number of Democratic voters in the state, and have high-density Black populations that generally vote Democratic 90 percent of the time.

But it’s a self-imposed, ultimately self-defeating law of political physics that has exposed the Florida Democratic Party’s basic incompetence, laziness and fear of doing the hard work of growing and developing a viable coalition of diverse voters across the entire state by coming up with unifying issues and knocking on doors.

So when Biden lost South Florida between Blacks and Hispanics, his goose was cooked. And a red Republican wave did the rest with regard to the Florida Legislature as well as many municipal and county elections.

  • A dysfunctional 1980s-era Florida Democratic ‘machine’ still exists. It’s no match for the GOP’s culture of “win at all costs.” In 2021, there will be the usual purge of Democratic leadership. That’s something that happens regularly whenever they lose (which is regularly).

But the leadership change won’t matter because the current set of Democratic consultants, especially those handling Black-owned media, has lost election after election for almost 20 years. They should be permanently dumped.

  • With regard to Black voter turnout generally, it was same strategy, different election cycle. Joe Biden’s campaign theme? “I’m not Donald Trump. Be very afraid of him. This is the most important election of our lifetimes. We must bring our country together.”

Biden and the Democrats did not try to create election messages that would inspire and motivate Black Floridians, their most loyal base. On the media side, there was no long-term multimedia strategy regarding voter registration or branding Biden as a more than an acceptably nonthreatening alternative to Trump.

Knowledgeable young Black voters know Biden as the grandfatherly-looking guy who signed off on the Clinton-era crime bill that put thousands of Black men and women in jail for drug possession, use, or distribution. They saw him grill Anita Hill. They knew him as the guy who said, “If you don’t vote for me, you ain’t Black.”

CNN exit polls indicate that nationally, 19 percent of Black voters between the ages of 30 and 44 voted for Trump. That’s the highest percentage of any Black pro-Trump voting bloc regarding age. Biden was Granny’s candidate, not theirs.

Where were they?

And where were Biden’s young surrogates? Trump’s people paid off (and/or bamboozled) Ice Cube, 50 Cent, and Lil Wayne in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Meanwhile Biden sends…Barack Obama (a formerly cool dad who has lost his mojo) and Kamala Harris (a hardcore former prosecutor who locked up single women who couldn’t get their kids to school) to try to convince young Black men in South Florida to vote for him. C’mon, man…

What was the result of Trump’s strategy? According to the CNN exit polls, Trump increased his Black male voting percentage from 10% in 2016 to 13% in Florida in 2020.(Trump’s Black female vote increased from 6 percent in 2016 to 7 percent in 2020.) As close as Florida’s races generally are, those increases are significant.

Biden and the Democrats would have been better off paying some exotic dancers (also known as “scrippers”) to do GOTV activities among young brothers in Miami. It would have been cheaper and more effective.

In fact, the best video commercial of the ones that have been running ad nauseum over the state is the one produced by a youthful production company, WinBlack. They called it “Get Your Booty to the Poll.” (Click here, and hold onto your hat.)

And speaking of Obama, you know he ain’t from around here. He shows up in Miami looking like a Wall Street nerd in slacks and a rolled-up long sleeve shirt as he sweats through it in South Florida’s October heat. (Yeah bruh, it’s still hot down here in the fall.)

Then he speaks once more about “being patient” while Joe Biden makes things better, but not perfect, after he’s elected. That “slow down” or “follow me” theme is something Obama pulled out with regularity whenever he spoke to predominately Black audiences as president.

I remind Bro. Prez (again) of this excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech:

This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise…to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Not Obama’s crowd

Most of the Black folks who still love Obama – middle and upper-class Black folks, senior citizens, church folks and especially Black women – had already voted by mail or voted early.

If the Biden campaign was consciously “woke” and really wanted to motivate Black men, especially the stereotypic and mythical “Pookie” Obama pulls out when he is cajoling and castigating Black people for making excuses, not voting, etc., they should have sent LeBron or Rick Ross or FloRida or better yet, Megan Thee Stallion.

But Obama? Have a seat.

He was a cool dad when he was president with two young daughters who thought he was Superman. Those days are long gone, brother. Even your girls aren’t listening to you anymore, much less some hardcore, politically sleepwalking jitterbug living in Northwest Miami. (I feel Obama’s pain.)

If Pookie is in the club or watching to see “who is the father,” I’m sending Megan or Ms Damn or some wannabe fashionistas on Model Mayhem to get him registered and drag his booty to the poll. Not Obama or Kamala.

  • Black politicians can’t turn out Black voters for anyone other than themselves. Florida’s Democratic leadership continually puts the burden of turning out Black voters on current and former Black elected officials, most of whom have no strategic training and experience in elections other than their own – and virtually no financial resources. Black politicians both in and out of office should quit embarrassing themselves, resist such pressure, refuse the few dollars they (and their friends) may be offered, and refer the Democratic National Committee and the Florida Democratic Party to qualified, full-time Black political and media consultants who can get the job done.
  • There was no ground game. Democrats have never understood that the Black community “ground game” is also “seasonal full employment.” When the Biden campaign eliminated door-to-door campaigning due to the pandemic, that acted as a mass layoff of Black folks who could get a nice piece of campaign money IF resources are provided to companies, people and influencers with credibility – and who won’t pocket the cash.

There was no thought as to how to adjust to Biden’s “no soliciting” order, either with regard to person-to-person contact with Black voters or to the lost income of GOTV workers.

Let me tell Democrats straight: The vast majority of Black workers, particularly in inner-city urban centers, will NOT volunteer for GOTV activity. They know politics is a billion-dollar industry. PAY THEM. Even when churches, civic organizations, fraternities and sororities send volunteers, DONATE TO THE ORGANIZATIONS. Get your lawyers figure the legal details.

  • The GOP’s long-term legal and regulatory voter suppression tactics of “death by a thousand cuts” worked by disqualifying hundreds of thousands of people of voting age over the last 20 years. Florida Republicans have been whittling away at voter registration, early voting, and restoration of voting rights of ex-felons (also known as “returning citizens”) ever since the GOP captured control of the Florida Legislature in 1996.

The strategy bore fruit long ago, during the disputed 2000 presidential election of George W. Bush (who won Florida by 537 votes).

Voter suppression has borne fruit twice for Rick Scott, who won close gubernatorial elections partially by making it difficult to legally conduct voter registration drives and restore civil rights.

Gov. Ron DeSantis continued such efforts, assisted by the language of 2018’s Amendment 4 which restored only voting rights (not complete civil rights) and contained payment of “fees and costs” language.

DeSantis appealed a federal judge’s decision that would have restored the voting rights of thousands of returning citizens, many of them Black, who probably leaned Democratic. That decision was put on hold by an appeals court led by Trump-appointed federal appeal judges.

Then there’s confusion about the payment of “fees and costs.” How many returning citizens didn’t want to take the risk of getting locked up after casting a ballot? We’ll probably never know.

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