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Democrats Blue Over GOP Gains

November 2, 2010 - 7:00pm

Florida's congressional delegation has shifted from 15-10 Republican to 19-6 in the GOP's favor.

And with Republicans firmly in control of the Legislature and the governor's office, look for the GOP to tighten its grip on Tallahassee while extending its advantage electorally as lawmakers draw congressional boundaries.

Oh, and Florida is due to gain two additional U.S. House seats before the 2012 elections. If current trends hold, that will bolster the party's presence in Washington, D.C.

Amendments 5 and 6 appear to be the only potential wrench in the works. They call for legislative and congressional districts to be drawn contiguously and compactly while favoring neither political party.

Those FairDistricts amendments, passed by the same voters who expanded Florida's GOP majorities this year, are written with wiggle words that virtually invite litigation. Indeed, the amendments' broad financial support from trial lawyers suggests that is exactly the intent.

But previous maps crafted by the Legislature have withstood court review, and reasonable attempts to consolidate communities and to balance racial/ethnic interests should, too. Fundamentally, lawmakers cannot break up existing minority districts without running afoul of U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

Democrats, including trial lawyers, point to the huge advantage Republicans hold in legislative and congressional seats, and claim that district boundaries discriminate against them. Pointing out that their party holds a 400,000 advantage in voter registration, they believe this should translate into rough parity in district representation.

But the 2010 election showed that Democrats are not necessarily competitive in statewide elections, either. Republicans swept all Cabinet level offices by large margins and handily retained their U.S. Senate seat.

And that GOP dominance didn't just show up this year. The 2006 vote elected only two statewide Democrats -- Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson.

Even when running in closely balanced districts, Democrats struggle. Joe Garcia could not beat David Rivera, a baggage-laden Republican, in South Florida's sprawling 25th Congressional District.

Sandy Adams, a state representative who won a contentious GOP primary, ousted moderate Democrat Suzanne Kosmas in the 24th Congressional District. Though that East-Central Florida district is also competitive for Democrats, Adams' blowout victory suggests that almost any of her fellow Republicans could have beaten Kosmas, too.

Another centrist, Alan Boyd, could not win a seventh term against a first-time GOP candidate, Steve Southerland, despite the fact that there were two other conservatives in the race to split the vote.

And in the race for the open 12th Congressional District seat vacated by Adam Putnam, Democrat Lori Edwards could not outduel Republican Dennis Ross, even with a TEA Party candidate siphoning votes on the right.

In each race, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama were liberally flailed with obvious effectiveness.

The same pattern of Republican dominance played out at the legislative level, as the GOP amassed veto-proof majorities in both the state House and Senate. That, of course, seems academic, since a putatively moderate Democrat Alex Sink (like her husband before her) could not muster a winning campaign.

Was the 2010 election merely a midterm speed bump for Florida Democrats, or have they hit the proverbial wall?

Kenneth Quinnell, director of the Florida Progressive Coalition, says "Democrats need to start from scratch and learn how politics works -- elections, policy, activism, organizing.

"It's pretty clear, despite an advantage in registration, few Florida Democrats have an idea how to win -- myself included."

Quinnell called Amendments 5 and 6 "a good start."

"Once it's implemented, it'll be harder for Republicans to gerrymander districts in their own favor.That will make Florida elections more fair and democratic.

"If Democrats learn from their mistakes, they'll have opportunities to rebound from these losses in the near future," Quinnell said.

For now, however, Florida Democrats are "virtually irrelevant," says Brian Crowley, editor of the Crowley Political Report, based in Palm Beach Gardens.

"Florida has never been more solidly Republican. Florida is now a one-party state. And that's bad news for President Obama in 2012 when the Sunshine State will have two additional electoral votes," Crowley concluded.

"The Democrats are eviscerated," observed Robert Watson, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic University, who noted that the emerging Republican dominance throughout the South has driven deep into Florida.

The poster boy -- or whipping boy -- for the scope and scale of Republican ascendancy is Charlie Crist. As the one-time GOP governor adopted increasingly liberal positions, he was effectively driven from the party (though he says the defection was his choice as his political philosophy "evolved").

Whatever. Instead of attracting a broader swath of moderate voters, Crist found himself stranded in no-man's land electorally. Without his former Republican base, his candidacy was dead on arrival.

When Crist tried to portray his Republican nemesis, Marco Rubio, as "radical" and "extreme," voters in the U.S. Senate race just shrugged and cast their ballots for the former House speaker.

Even with his personal popularity and slavish media support, the "independent" governor and Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek couldn't combine enough votes to outpoll the fresh-faced Rubio. The Miamian's landslide victory was called within seconds of the polls closing Tuesday night.

If Rubio is radical or extreme, Florida voters appear to be saying they want more of it.

Bill Nelson and Barack Obama, take note.


Contact Kenric Ward at or at (772) 801-5341.

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