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Florida Democrats Question Their Future After Election Losses

Aerial image of the State Capitol Building in Tallahassee, Florida.
Felix Mizioznikov
Adobe Stock
Zip code 32304 is considered one of Florida's poorest. Low-income families live alongside college students who are more likely to be infected with the coronavirus. But Epidemiologist Dr. Perry Brown says the risk low-income families in the area have has less to do with living near college students and more to do with the choices they make every day.

Florida Democrats are doing some self-reflecting after Republicans flipped 3 seats in the state House during the 2020 election. They now have a 77-43 disadvantage. In the Senate, Republicans gained one seat. Many democrats are questioning how the party should move forward after yet another disappointing election.

Sean Shaw is a former Democratic state lawmaker who now runs the group, People over Profits.

"It’s not getting better here unfortunately it seems to be trending away from us. Donald Trump did better in Florida this time than he did last time," said Shaw. "Which if you’re a Democrat should be awfully scary to you."

Shaw lost the state attorney race in 2018 to Republican Ashley Moody.

President Trump won Florida by 3.4 percentage points this election cycle, compared to 1.2 in 2016 when he beat Hillary Clinton. And a long-held theory by Democrats—that demographic trends favoring younger, browner people—would eventually move voters in their favor. Shaw says that myth may have been busted this last election. He believes the gains in minority groups were overshadowed by the number of retirees moving into the state.

“They are coming from the Midwest and they are escaping taxes and it appears that a lot of them may be Republicans," said Shaw.

He says that reality should serve as a wake-up call to Democrats.

"I think we’re going to have to get our way out of this by learning to talk to Floridians rather than just hoping demographics save us," said Shaw.

Shaw believes without demographics in favor, Democrats will have to try and appeal to a wider audience. Florida Democrats, in particular, may soon be forced to pick a side in their warring factions, progressive and moderate.

"Changes that one might propose as a really progressive Democrat is going to be hard to sell in a statewide race to the general electorate," said Shaw. "It may be great in a Democratic primary, and it may excite a lot of us on the left. But you’re going to be going up against a red state essentially or a state that leans red."

Newly elected Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-Miami Gardens) agrees Democrats failed on messaging. He also says the party didn’t do a good enough job with connecting to voters.

"Our main focus need to be us campaigning year-round, engaging people year-round, and not just when election times have come around," said Jones.

Orlando area Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani says Democrats need to stick to a more grassroots effort. Something they stopped once the global pandemic began.

“We also need to talk to folks belly to belly," said Eskamani. "You can’t just throw TV ads on and hope they see it you actually have to have transformational conversations and stand for something.”

She says those who didn’t see the TV ads were left hearing misinformation about the Democratic party instead.

"We didn’t see any type of message from the democratic party that allowed us to get run over by propaganda and misinformation campaigns around things like socialism, like defund the police," said Eskamani.

Eskamani believes this led to many would-be Democratic Floridians voting for Republicans because they were uninformed of the Democrats agenda.

“So many Floridians voted against their best interests. Because you heard [House Speaker Chris Sprowls] agenda today, there’s not one word about things like eviction, like rent, like the unemployment system," said Eskamani. "Those are the issues that are impacting the everyday Floridians and as Democrats, we’ve got to do a better job of delivering that message and results to the people of Florida."

The next big election for Democrats in Florida will be the gubernatorial race in 2022. U.S. Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio will also be on the ballot. It’s the next time Democrats will get to try again.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.