TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Democrats were publicly upbeat during their three-day convention in Tampa this weekend. They danced late into the night, roared with Republican jokes and traded stories and drinks at various bars.
Privately, though, there was a sense of doom among state Democrats, who head into the 2022 midterms with an unpopular president, the highest inflation in 40 years, and headlines like Republican Governor Ron DeSantis raising in millions Y seeming unstoppable.
Adding to their problems is the scarcity of national donor groups that has limited how much they are willing to give to candidates after Democrats have suffered multiple defeats in recent election cycles.
“No one is coming to save us,” state Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa), the incoming House Democratic leader, said during a Saturday morning session held by black Florida Democrats.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running in the Democratic primary for governor, said flatly in an interview that Democrats will be deprived of domestic donors if she rivals Rep. charlie christ (D-Fla.) wins primary. Crist, who served as governor for one term while a Republican, narrowly lost to the then-governor. Rick Scott in 2014. Most of the polls shows Crist punching Fried before the primary on August 23.
“I think the cavalry will be here,” Fried said in an interview. “Let me paint this picture. They won’t be here with Charlie. That is without a doubt. They won’t be here if Charlie is the candidate. … They don’t think there’s a chance to fight.”
Joshua Karp, a senior adviser to the Crist campaign, responded that Fried is “turning to fiction to distract himself from his failed campaign. The fact is that over 100 Florida elected leaders have endorsed Charlie because they know the polls show him to be our best candidate to beat Ron DeSantis.”
Yet registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in Florida by nearly 200,000 after following them for years. Republicans control the Governor’s Mansion, the Florida House and Senate, and many local governments. Democrats face a sizable fundraising gap and President Joe Biden’s standing in the state is mediocre at best, especially considering he lost Florida by 3 points to former President Donald Trump..
Several Democrats said during the three-day “Leadership Blue” conference that they see opportunities that can be used to overcome Republican advantages. They see their best hope of a state victory in Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who challenges the Senator. blond frame and has surpassed him in fundraising in successive quarters even as she trails in most polls.
But party leaders also say voters are alarmed by the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down abortion rights and are upset with Republican resistance to addressing gun violence. They contend some Republicans were turned off by the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that left several people dead and has generated negative headlines in recent weeks as the Jan. 6 committee holds hearings that uncover damning details about Trump Y several republicansincluding the representative matt gaetz (R-Florida).
“It’s not about ‘okay, let’s do our best,’” Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz said in an interview. “This is a real belief in winning.”
However, Diaz maintained that Florida will get help this fall as they seek to deny DeSantis a second term and unseat Rubio. Diaz confirmed that the party recently received a $1 million contribution from former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, which is still a far cry from the tens of millions he poured into Florida to try to defeat Trump just two years ago.
“There is no doubt that we will have national money,” Díaz said.
Diaz mentioned, as he has in previous interviews, that DeSantis only won his first election against former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by just over 30,000 votes. He has drawn up a detailed plan to increase voter outreach and register Democrats.
But DeSantis’s rise as a GOP superstar, fueled by his handling of the pandemic and rejection of critical racial theory of gender identity, has put Democrats on the defensive.
That edge will be on full display next weekend when Florida Republicans hold a huge fundraiser and rally at a posh casino and hotel owned by Florida’s Seminole Tribe. The event, which will include remarks from DeSantis, will also feature radio personality Mark Levin and conservative commentator Dave Rubin.
Julia Friedland, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, scoffed at the Democratic meeting.
“We’re pleased that incompetent Florida Democrats are taking much-needed time to work on themselves,” Friedland said.
But Democrats say that in addition to gun violence and abortion rights, they can criticize DeSantis for the state’s growing affordability crisis due to rising rents and a lack of affordable housing. It was a theme repeated over and over by various Democrats during the Tampa event.
Adam Hattersley, the Democratic candidate running against Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, said he has stuck to “pocket” issues in his career, including blaming Republicans for the state’s ongoing property insurance crisis.
Crist insisted that DeSantis’ focus on higher ambition — the Republican governor is seen as a top contender for 2024 — made him vulnerable because he hasn’t exerted any energy on Floridians’ financial struggles. A Democratic consultant echoed that message, saying “this is a real feel-the-pain moment in politics.”
Driskell made the same point, saying that for Democrats to defeat DeSantis, they have to bring the problems in the state to his feet, just as Republicans constantly criticize Biden over inflation and gas prices.
“You don’t have to go to a dissertation,” Driskell said. “Democrats like to try to explain things. If people ask why the rent is too much, blame DeSantis. … We can play that game too.”