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Fresh Off Election Day Wins, Dems Look To Keep Momentum Going

Florida Democrats had what may be their best election day in a very long time. The Party managed to unseat several key state republican lawmakers and score congressional and legislative victories. But observers say the party still has a long way to go in wrenching power away from Republicans, who have dominated state politics for the last decade.

Powerful state Republicans, such as Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, future House Speaker Chris Dorworth and Representative Scott Plakon all lost their races to Democratic challengers. Bogdanoff faced off with fellow Senator Maria Sachs in a newly redrawn district. And Plakon moved to a different district so he wouldn’t have to face Dorworth. Both lost anyway.  Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith says the party is gearing up for a comeback.

We have a model out there. There’s a design in place, we know how to do it and we know the constituents who we have to energize.”  

That plan includes holding on to young Hispanic voters who voted 60 percent Democratic. Florida State University Political Scientist Dr. Carol Weissert says getting out the vote in the Hispanic community is  how Democrats scored several of their victories:

“Obama carried the people of Cuban descent, and that runs against everything we know about Cuban-American voters in Florida. But the reason is, the younger voters, the younger Cuban-American voters, voted for Obama," she said.

And non-Cuban Hispanic voters also went for Obama by wide margins. The state’s changing Demographics played a key role for Democratic victories, but the party’s real test will come in 2014, in an off-presidential election year, where legislative and cabinet-level seats will be up for grabs:

"And an off-presidential election you don’t have youth turnout, you don’t have the turnout you had here. So if I’m a Republican, I’m thinking, I survived this we’ll win in 2014 and we’ll worry about it in 2016—so that’s my concern: that it’s a blip on the screen, they say, ok this is an aberration, and in 2014 we’ll be back in power again," said Weissert.

Democrats were able to benefit from a constitutional amendment passed two years ago requiring the legislature to draw more compact and competitive district lines. And Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith says the party’s next goal is to keep up its momentum and score statewide victories in 2014:

“What we’ve got to  is we’ve got to take this model that’s out there, that we successfully used last night—if we follow the model we’ll be successful because the demographics tell us that what we did is right," said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith.

But for now, Florida Democrats did managed to break Republican’s super-majority in the state legislature. And that means they may be able to stop certain pieces of legislation, where before, they were powerless. Democratic allies, like teacher’s union President Andy Ford says he hopes the Dems will use some of their new power to negotiate changes to proposals that have already passed—like a new teacher evaluation law which the union opposed.

“With the election over, it’s time to start over again. And hopefully with the loss of the super-majorities, the climate in Tallahassee will become a little more favorable to real dialogue. We have a chance to start over here, and I think we ought to seize that opportunity," Ford said.

But Republicans still hold the Governorship and other cabinet-level positions, and they are still the majority in the legislature. The state’s top Republican, Governor Rick Scott, was asked about what the Domocrats victories mean for the next election cycle, when he too is up for re-election.

“What I’m focused on in the next two years is making sure people can get a job if they want one, that people can get a great education, and that this is a place where people can afford to live.” 

The Party won both Congressional races with the re-election of Senator Bill Nelson over U.S. Representative Connie Mack, and the defeat of Representative Allen West by Democrat Patrick Murphy.  But they failed to unseat Congressman Steve Southerland, who won re-election over former state senator AL Lawson. Future state House Speaker Chris Dorworth appears closer to defeat—he’s trailing his Democratic challenger, retired firefighter and lawyer Mike Clelland, by more than 120 votes and a recount is necessary.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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